Monday, December 15, 2008
ID is the least defensible field in product development
(and that is why design is powerful)
Hear me out on this. I've given some thought over the years about the core responsibilities of industrial designer. What could you take away form our workflow- and still be considered an industrial designer? Concept engineering is something that we do all the time, as is market and brand analysis. Life cycle analysis could be something we might have to do more of. But take them all away and you would still be considered an industrial designer. To me it seems like styling and ergonomics are the two things that you cant take away and be an industrial designer- ie: design a product to make sense to the user, and make a product that is beautiful.
What are the technical skills that we possess that no-one else could take responsibility for?
Ergonomics is a field unto itself, and the level of ergonomics that we practise is something that most people can pick up quickly. Most people I know from various departments can come up with good ergonomics given some effort.
Beauty on the other hand is something that needs years of experience to generate. The generation of usable beauty for all seems to be the core of industrial design. Beauty is hard to generate, and hard to defend- but I think that even above ergonomics beauty is what drives industrial designers.
What about design thought?
Personally I am not a big proponent of the term design thought. It is my belief that everyone is creative, and we box in other peoples thoughts by saying that designers are the only ones that can brainstorm, prototype and make connections. Sci-fi writers make new connections all the time, as do businessmen and software engineers. To say that we are the only ones to think of a product or service from the customers point of view is simply not true. We happen to be the ones earlier in the product development cycle and have to generate those ideas. You could even take away functional innovation and brainstorming and still be a designer.
I posit that beauty is what drives designers. Beauty is also the most subjective aspect of what we do and the hardest to analyse. Is the Ipod 25% or 200% more attractive than the Zune? ID runs into the fact that beauty is very low on the totem pole of importance in product development (I think that it should be that way). Functionality >ergonomics> beauty.
It is like the curse of oil. Oil rich countries tend to be unstable, and non-innovative. Oil-poor countries like Japan, and China tend not to be one-trick ponies, and have mulltiple economic and innovation strategies.
Industrial design is like a resource poor country. We have very little to call our own. We have difficulty defining our own profession. We cant afford to rely on one set of expertise or technical knowledge. It also means that we jump through more hoops outside of our core expertise to shepherd what matters to us through to the final product.
This constant weariness and position of defence makes us hungry and that is what makes us potent product developers.
Just some jetlagged thoughts from my hotel early in the morning :)
Posted by Thomas Parel at 4:05 PM