– Jurgen Brand, Designbrand Ltd
When receiving the suggestion to write this article I had to make a choice of the right ‘angle of attack’, just as designers’ need to ask the first question to define the way we embark on the product development path.
Usually we would ask WHO we are designing for – who, as in the user, because that is ultimately what defines the product in almost all its user attributes. A product will rarely develop in the way one first expects and the WHO of our first question needs to be differentiated further.
For example, if you are designing a sleep solution for babies, is it the baby or the parents you are designing for? If you are getting the product right for the baby, you would inevitably win over the parent, yet the emotive quality of the product has got to address the parent first – it is them who make the purchase decision.
The design process will constantly enable you to question the design criteria, make changes and even arrange a shift in focus, if the knowledge gained through the design research/investigation justifies this shift. Every project runs through a series of questions before conceptual design starts in earnest.
Some projects are far more complex than others. Other products have a set of users and their different objectives have to be considered. So far I have only mentioned the ‘actual’ user. Imagine the case of a care-giver assisted off-road wheelchair for the mobility impaired! The design criteria for the care-giver are vastly different from the criteria of the passenger.
However, this is only the very front end of a design development. There are many aspects which will influence a product’s appearance, its user experience, functionality or manufacturing process.
Within the New Zealand manufacturing sector one will find a great variety of technologies and processes.
Anything, from the 50-year-old punch press to the latest in sophisticated computer driven manufacturing automation can be found across the industry.
Someone will make the product we design and it has to be suitable for their plant. When we take the approach of ‘best practice’ in selecting the right processes for the manufacture of our product, we might achieve all its sophistication and inherent qualities only by using materials and processes which cannot be found locally.
Therefore it is up to the designer to set up all the aspects of a successful product by being able to design for manufacture – in our case manufacture in New Zealand.
We cannot afford to involve ourselves too much in the business case of a new development. It is impossible for designers to have the same conviction as the person/s who own the idea. If we are designing for an inventor or entrepreneur, the design for manufacture becomes secondary as long as we can suit the available budget and achieve the product attributes defined by the design intend of the concept.
However, if we are designing for a manufacturer it would be futile to develop a product depending on processes this manufacturer has to ‘buy in’, requiring higher manufacturing costs or investment into new technology and generating smaller margins.
Without becoming too ‘wordy’ with my spiel, I would like to emphasise the responsibility designers carry for the NZ manufacturers.
We should be seen as enablers, as professionals with a set of skills to enable innovative development of new products within the constraints of the existing manufacturing industry.
At the same time one should expect a manufacturer to show the willingness to expand their horizons by supplementing their existing processes with new ones.
Over the years I have spoken to many manufacturers to make a case for design and innovation. Often I have seen stagnation, justified by difficult markets, the Chinese Manufacturing Threat or the excuse of insufficient capacity.
While protecting client confidentiality, I am at liberty to compare manufacturers with one another.
One manufacturer rejects design innovation, invests heavily into better machines in a declining market to find these machines sitting idle because they get beaten by cheaper cost from overseas, whereas another manufacturer embraces design innovation and has the existing machines work at full capacity due to the resulting demand. Whose books are going to look better at year’s end?
It is the designer’s ability to design for specific processes and increase the value produced by the existing manufacturers.
It is also the designer’s responsibility to return value to the community by being considerate of the industry by making best use of the resources, machines and skilled labour force that is available already.
We can return value to the country by making good use of what is here already, use ecologically sound principles, renewable materials and energy.
Would it not be nice to make this path perpetual by making it fully sustainable and allowing the next generation to benefit by embracing this design thinking?