I am an industrial designer. I respect the time and care taken when considering the angle of a handle and the life expectancy of a living hinge. I worry about how products will change consumers experience of brands. There are so many details of product I concern myself with. Most people don’t even take the time to see the plate or the way the new toy fits together. I live for it.
I just read an article on Apple designers. It points out something that my colleagues and I have known for years. Manufacturers rarely support design! Apple supports their designers and it sets them apart as having “ultimate designers”. Really all Apple does is let their designers influence products.
Industrial designers are a group of educated, experienced professionals who work with other educated experienced professionals. Why can’t more companies make it work? I remember watching designs thrown out of conference rooms because lead engineers “could not see it coming in at cost” or because marketing teams “didn’t feel it”. Nobody ever said something like “I don’t have the vision, but let’s see HOW we can make it come in at cost”. That was never a possibility. Ego is too important. The creativity available on the design side of the table was usually wasted on repeated revisions. The result; creative input was eventually squashed out of the product and most details were replaced by previously proven solutions. If a designer’s intentions remained intact it was generally something everybody else over looked.
I remember one design director who would occasionally stand up at the beginning of a meeting with a very rough model. He would do a quick halfhearted presentation of his jerry-rigged idea and then hastily retreat to the back of the room. I was never sure why he did this. Was it the repressed designer trapped inside his corporate-controlled shell trying to break out, even just for a moment? Was he fishing for some go-getter in one of the other departments to spear-head a new product launch for him? I never saw any of his minute-long presentations turn into a project.
I know other design-director types who have had more success, but not much. A bath caddie at this company or a laundry tub over there, spear headed by one designer who has developed some close relationship with a more vocal marketing or sales team member. Industrial designers are like the housewives of product development. Over-worked, potentially hugely important, occasional appreciated in a patronizing sort of way and yet still there.
I am working for myself these days, in large part because I don’t have to watch as designs are squashed. If my work is reduced to matching a winner from six years ago, I can charge for the revisions. It is no longer my job to sit in meetings and watch designers be ignored, bullied or belittled.
I chose this profession because of my skill set. I wanted to use my abilities to help people. I wanted to make beautiful, functional, interesting objects that reach thousands of people. I never did it for recognition or fame. I am in it simply to improve the mundane routine of your life. You don’t even have to recognize it, but if I made your morning run a little smoother by putting that wonderfully formed, smooth mug handle in your hand, I did my job. I am satisfied. If a package I worked on made a child’s face light up, I feel accomplished. By bringing ease and beauty into lives, I believe I am improving your existence. I am changing you.
I may be quiet and easy to influence, but try to understand. I am quiet and easily influenced so that I can bring more to your product. I use the information I collect when I am being quiet and easily influenced to inform my designs. Watching is not doing nothing. Watching is informing. Try it sometime but remember, do not judge it – let it influence you. You will be surprised.