“Design is really about having a holistic approach to improving the whole user experience, not only about form and function."
“We designers talk about giving consumers something beyond basic functionality – an emotional experience, an experience that creates a ‘wow’ response in a person. This can start with a brand, a product or even a service, like Apple with the iPod and iTunes, which create significant consumer interest by allowing an on-going exploration of music.
“The Electrolux E-dish, for example, goes beyond introducing new features, or just changing the shape of a product. It is a complete rethink of how an appliance fits within your kitchen and life. The form and functionality, as well as use of materials, have all been re-interpreted. The result is more than just another kitchen appliance. We see it as bringing poetry into the kitchen.
“The mobile phone is another good example of how people can become emotionally connected to a product. A person’s mobile phone becomes a part of them, an expression of their personality, an extension of themselves.
“Mobiles allow people to save their memories and thoughts so that they can share these with others. And the design can be personalised with different backgrounds and sounds.
“Not understanding the scope of design is a global problem, but in Europe there is a deeper cultural link to design and the arts. This helps designers when they are communicating with clients and marketers.
“When we talk about emotional design with staff at our design centre in Australia, it tends to be misunderstood and needs to be explained quite thoroughly. Stretching the meaning of design beyond form and function to include the emotional aspects is quite a big task.
“I like to think of excellence in design as being narrow and deep. A designer should have the ability to stretch themselves further than just product development, to encompass service and systems development. Our best designers are able to look at and analyse things in very different ways.
“The Swedish Industrial Design Association, SVID, promotes this holistic approach to design. SVID recently worked on the design of a popular ski resort. In this case, rather than looking at new architectural directions, the group took a fresh look at the resort’s systems – from ticketing through to infrastructure – and successfully redesigned the entire resort.
“Of course, a well-designed product must look good and work well, and there is no excuse for ugliness or bad functionality. But the real question is about each design’s emotional relevance to the human being using it.
“Today it is standard practice to have products that clip together nicely, plastic mouldings that are perfectly shaped, and technology that is well executed, but these things do not add up to design excellence.
“In our business we also talk a lot about ergonomics. But ergonomics today is really just a ‘ticket’ to get you a position in the marketplace. Design excellence needs to go far beyond this.
“Designers have a social responsibility to create products that can be easy to assemble, disassemble and be easily recycled. Products today need to show an awareness of our environmental issues and social democracy.”
“To talk about design excellence, I think you really need to look at the meaning of design. The word ‘design’ is misused today. It is a broad term used by different people and meaning different things, and we have become too relaxed with the use of the word. This may be because ‘design’ in the English language is a broad term.
“For example, some people without design qualifications call themselves designers. I’ve come across ‘kitchen designers’ who come from a sales background – they are not qualified designers. This happens all around the world.
“Going forward, the design community as a whole has to join hands and needs to agree on what sets the boundaries for design excellence.
"I think the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) definition of design comes close to getting it right: ‘Design is a creative activity whose aim is to establish the multi-faceted qualities of objects, processes, services and their systems in whole life-cycles. Therefore, design is the central factor of innovative humanisation of technologies and the crucial factor of cultural and economic exchange’.”
All together now
“The key driver of design excellence in any country should be its design community. This is essentially where the power to define and promote design excellence rests. The more designers you have discussing and thinking about this, the better. A small design community will have a more limited view.
“Design excellence means different things to different people, but the design community needs to have an aligned view on its meaning.
“Some designers think good ‘flow lines’ in plastic mouldings and well-defined surfaces represent design excellence, but I believe a cohesive design community can drive design excellence to the next level.
“Design excellence is about two important measurables. The first is about making an impact on form development or by setting a trend – for example, the Apple white or iPod form language. The second is about design having a fundamental and ground-breaking impact on a business.
"This has happened for Electrolux with the Utzon barbecue. This product has created a new product direction – outdoor cooking appliances – for Electrolux. Awards for design excellence need to reward these two measurables as symbols of excellence.
“The design community in any country needs to be aligned with the design education system, the professional design body and an awards program. Government needs to support design also.
“Awards can drive design excellence, but the design community has to agree on the definition of design excellence in order to reward design and then publicly promote the awards. We all need to understand this so that when we are judging or rewarding design, we are all on the ‘same page’.
“The design community, not awards programs, needs to decide whether products fit their standards of design excellence. This is what we have to work on and agree on.
“In Australia, the design community should play a major role in driving innovation, whether in products or services. Innovation is about looking at new models in business and society. Designers should be actively involved in innovation at these levels.
“Designers are stuck at the moment. The only way this situation will move on is through action from designers themselves.
“Nobody else can do it for them.”