I don't know how many people wander over to this part of the inter-webs, but if you read this, I strongly encourage you to go to my brother-in-law's site to see if you can help. He has been diagnosed with high grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Your help ...
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"Howell Creative" - 5 new articles

  1. Request for Support
  2. Design discussions without the designers
  3. Successful Products
  4. Forward looking
  5. Nature, nurture, and great design
  6. More Recent Articles

Request for Support

I don't know how many people wander over to this part of the inter-webs, but if you read this, I strongly encourage you to go to my brother-in-law's site to see if you can help. He has been diagnosed with high grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Your help would be much appreciated by his family as well as myself. Thanks.

Design discussions without the designers

Sometimes, when there is a product review, the reviewers focus more on features than on design when calculating a products rating.

Design and discussion of design is not mainstream. I do not think it will ever become main stream, unless it is enveloped into something else (like business, marketing, or historical context jargon among others...).

Design discussions are absent from non designers because the design vernacular is absent from main stream. I might say that most do not know how to rationally communicate why they don't like something or why they prefer another design over another, aside from mere preference because their individual contexts are different and non transferable. Perhaps within "erudite" design discussions, contexts are equalized so that various design principles and elements can be discussed somewhat rationally.

So, the problem here (which might be extrapolated to other philosophical areas) is one where design discussions become meaningful only to those people that are not necessarily the people the design is intended for. For example:

Say I am designing a product for company X. In our design requirements, we have identified (perhaps even based on early research) that the product should be a modern contemporary design. Through iterative processes, we (as designers) discuss various elements of contemporary design, such as color, radii, proportion, as well as ergonomics and manufacturability. Say we even come up with what we perceive as a successful design among designer's circles and win some design awards. Despite all this "good design", a consumer can come up to the product in the store and immediately (and rightfully) reject the product because of bad design. What if the consumer wanted a playful product that looks like an animated character and is intended for children and not the parents?

The context of the designers and those of the consumer can be different. A major problem here is that the number of contexts vastly outnumbers the designer context.

The reason why designers might have problems describing what it is that they are expert is because of the lack of words that can translate through these various contexts.

So what can designers do about this translational challenge?

Designers continue to try to develop the story about a particular product in the context of the end user. But even the idea of "telling a story about a product" is something that is foreign to most consumers. I can imagine how well it would go over if I stood in the store beside the products I designed and told potential buyers why my product has better surfaces, radii, and proportion than the others.

Dr. Machael Drout, a philologist at Wheaton College has a theory that explains how tradition and culture work to influence language and literature (among other things). His Meme Theory as it is called talks about how tradition is composed of many persistent big and small concepts that flow in and out of heads until the congeal and become a tradition or recognized pattern that can be used symbolically to represent the idea. This requires a little more editing here.

The reason why this theory is interesting to product design and development is because it attempts to explain how complex ideas can navigate through a culture under an intuitive course, as apposed to more complicated overreaching theories.

In design, I would adapt the theory as follows. Art is a type of language (despite what some Post -Minimalists might think). If it is a language, then there are certain traditions that are becoming largely canonical. Maybe cotton-gin, steam engine, q-tips, post-it notes, i-Pods, bics, etc... designs that are ubiquitous and classic, or becoming such. We even have periods of design that are popular enough that people have heard of them. Victorian furniture, modern architecture, handycraft, etc.... Perhaps what designer need is to be more explicit in soliciting the already culturally accepted memes of design.

This is starting to want to push toward a categorical division of design elements and principles, which is something that designers will not do. Designers resists definition. So we are back at an impasse.


What to do.

Successful Products

I am starting to think that the success of a product may not have as much to do with innovation and good industrial design as it has to do with having a "perfect storm" of collaboration among various individuals who have influence in particular areas.

Jim Collins in Good to Great describes it as "getting the right people on the bus." He argues that it doesn't matter if you don't know where the bus is headed, because the "right people" can figure that out.

I think that a successful business is born out of meeting the right people who can help provide a product or service that is meaningful and competitively unique.

In dealing with one company, I am seeing that they have a potentially unique relationship between a consumer focus group as well as a patent law office. Part of the collaboration could be as follows: The lawyer can train the designers to understand patents better. If the designers understand patents better, they can create more valuable intellectual property for the lawyer. They can be a tool of the lawyer to increase the scope of his business.

Collaboration between industrial designers and consumer groups could provide an opportunity for the consumer group to take brainstorming information and feedback and turn them directly into rapid prototypes for client evaluation; a service that they do not currently offer. The result would be increased the scope of their business as well.

A successful collaboration is one that allows for all parties to be enabled to perform a better service for their clients. All three groups can extend the services they offer, as long as they remain in the scope of their business, without investing in the capital necessary to bring the service in house.

If someone is looking for a prediction about what the economy is going to start doing in this next period of slowed growth, I am willing to posit the idea that the borders between industries are going to become a little more nebulous to allow for such collaborations. At the very least, these collaborations will continue to grow.

Forward looking

I gravitate towards industrial design because I like to resolve ambiguous problems that don't have right or wrong answers. I am not quite sure how many other professionals share this directionless method of problem solving, but I sure get joy from deriving conclusions on my sheer gut reaction. "Should this surface be convex or concave?" Who knows-but I usually have a feeling that it should go one way or another.

The only drawback is that I can make myself quite comfortable in this unconstrained void. At times I think, "Why resolve anything when brainstorming is so much fun?"

The problem here is the very lack of direction I claim to enjoy. It is free to dream, but reality requires much work and concentration.

Nature, nurture, and great design

There is an ongoing debate between "nature" versus "nurture" when it comes to talent. What is more important to design?

We may have heard an anecdotal story about someone who wasn't very "talented" but stayed up day and night practicing and eventually surpassed a more complacent and talented counterpart. This story may be true in some respects. Recent studies have shown that "experts are made, not born." Nevertheless, I believe becoming truly great requires much more then either talent or experience.

Neither natural born talent, nor technical skills hold any weight without passion. Without passion, any God-given talent would atrophy or any learning would be stifled.

I have a friend who is quite gifted in design. However, he liked to rock climb just slightly more than he liked to sand Bondo. The result was a conflict of interests on his time, and both his talent and experience were short-changed.

We all like to do things that we find pleasurable or interesting. I have found that truly great abilities lie in individuals who will do what it takes to make their design superior to the rest. Mediocre design is the product of individuals who fail to harness these passions.

If you are trying to figure out if you are as talented as someone else, don't bother. Make sure your passion is kindled for creating great design.

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