Oct 29, 2013

Renovation of Industrial Design as a Discipline

Truly functional products should fulfill a list of experiences that range from the physical to the psychological. To achieve this, there are specialists who focus on maximizing every aspect of the interaction we have with the new product, thus making sure that the user gets the maximum possible gratification for what he/she has paid.

For industrial designers, ergonomics and user interface have traditionally been restricted to the mechanical interaction with products. Said in another way, user interface limited to tangible aspects.

For decades, designers have mastered that of the user experiences. They add lines, arrows, comfortable or uncomfortable textures, etc., whatever it takes to communicate whether you should, should not, or even how to use a product. A fundamental word here is precisely, communication. Products communicate with users, and our product should communicate its functions in the most simplified and complete manner.

Around a year ago, the news that Jonathan Ive, Apple Inc's current Industrial Design VP would include one more responsibility to his already hefty position got all the headlines, becoming now in the company's leader of Human Interface, with the responsibility to coordinate both physical and software design.

Jonathan Ive
(Image taken from Apple.com)
The news was received with a lot of interest, especially because of the anticipated -now unveiled- renovation of iOS, and writers and blogger around the world saw it as the triumph of the “designer” over the “coder”. Personally, I don’t think this is a a matter of profession, but of aptitudes.

Let’s leave Apple’s internal affairs for them and focus on the big picture. It has been a few years now that Jony Ive became one of the most successful and influential trendsetters in the world. It is interesting then, to learn that Jony himself declared he was a bit scared of computers, and as far as we know, he might lack programming skills. His abilities lay in the ability to create communication processes between products and users. And if he has managed to do that in such a superb way with physical objects, I think we should expect more amazing thing in his future digital interfaces.

Another success story: Tim Brown and his prestigious studio IDEO have become famous not only for their outstanding and innovative design, but more importantly, for creating communication processes that go far beyond physical products to include services and experiences, innovating in areas such as banking, hospitality, medical services, and assistance for the developing world.
Tim Brown
(Image taken from IDEO.com)

Starting to see a pattern?

Industrial design and industrial design education are now in the verge of a radical change. Universities have the responsibility to see the industry not only for the next 20 years, but for the next 3 or 5. What will happen in 5 years? For example, how many smartphones, its accessories and apps will be invented, exponentially used, and then become obsolete before a regular 4-year university term?

But that is not the only thing. It is necessary to identify where the new added value and innovation will found be in products, so that design studios can project accordingly. What intangible functions will add value to products for the coming generations of consumers? What is only cosmetic, and what is true ergonomics, interaction, feedback? 

And, a necessary question: Where in this value equation will design and designers contribute? Are industrial designers prepared? At interloft we have worked on a lot of projects in plastic injection, aluminum, metal, electronics, and there is no field that ever stops innovating. Electronic projects made in 2008 have now a cheaper, more complete alternative. Even cables transport more information than they used to a few years ago. It is up to designers and academics not only to keep up, but to innovate where value is sought after. One out of the many approaches is the internet of things. Medical equipment. Many more are out there for us, ready to be found.

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