He is also well known as the co-founder of the Chilean design firm 3Design, which created furniture, bicycles and household appliances from 1982 to 1996. Belinda Stening, Curve editor, asked him for his thoughts about global design trends, design education and the changing role of designers.
As president of Icsid, and as a designer with extensive international experience, you must meet designers from every corner of the globe. What are the issues that you hear most about from industrial designers around the world?
The way that governments, as well as business leaders, still regard designers as mere stylists is often discussed. There are a number of examples (including Tupperware, P&G, LG, NOKIA and Poggenpohl) to support the fact that with extensive training, time and funding, and an understanding of both user and context, designers can build upon their ideas and develop products that they believe in.
The willingness of business to ignore quality for the sake of profit and the tendency for governments to avoid nurturing and developing design industries are major concerns.
Education quality is also a recurring industry topic and a primary focus for me as an educator. In terms of gaining equal status in relation to other technical programmes, the design education sector would benefit from improved resources in the technical aspects of product development.
Reputable design education programmes are the breeding grounds for great designers, and design educators can be further empowered with the proper knowledge tools. The desire for stronger partnerships with governments is echoed in almost every region as one solution.
Another common issue pertains to the shift in business practice, where business models have changed in response to the transformation from a knowledge-based economy to a creativity-focused economy, as well as the impact of new information and communication technologies.
As such, today’s designer is ready to take on a more pro-active approach to business in terms of promotion, sales, client relations and an understanding of the manufacturing process, as well as working with international markets.
What common trends do you see emerging in industrial design as a profession?
In the new global economy, industrial design is clearly recognised as a social, cultural and economic development tool. Communities are embracing the ability of design to re-invent cities.
During the competition for the World Design Capital™ designation, Icsid heard from several cities that have harnessed the power of design in a manner that has helped the growth and prosperity of their city. The role of designers to respond to the needs of communities is clearly an emerging trend.
I encountered some great examples when I was in Torino, Italy – World Design Capital for 2008. There, industrial design has made outstanding contributions to the re-invention of the city, as well significant strides in research and development related to globalisation and transculturalisation, which are emerging issues for the profession as a whole.
Another consideration relates to implementation of digital technology within the industry. In the mid-60s, when the dissemination and gradual spread of information technology began, computer-generated images were nothing more than a budding technology, used exclusively in large research centres such as MIT, or in military applications.
Forty years later, information technology and the digital world are integral components in countless arenas – the family home, the entertainment industry, education, medicine, biology and scientific research, design, architecture, engineering and technological innovation, painting and graphic arts, advertising, television, film and animation.
Designing over a digital platform helps to create value for users and helps designers to network and connect with the world.
In terms of tangible movements within the industry, design will always recognise tradition and artisanry, but it is also quite transitory as it reflects current trends and environmental shifts. Today, the issue of sustainable design is being addressed as the industry develops products that reduce the use of non-renewable resources.
New materials support this trend and designers are more involved in sensible production methods. Technological innovations allow for the development of materials with characteristics and properties that can be maximised to enable faster processing, increased safety and reduced waste and costs.
Design for developing economies, with a particular focus on disaster relief, healthcare, natural and local resources (water, energy), disabilities and housing, are also underlying themes in the context of emerging design strategies.
In terms of consumerism, the greatest trend has been an increase in the public’s appreciation of product design and an acute awareness of well-designed products that fit into everyday life.
What trends do you see emerging in industrial design education? And what are the most important issues?
Increased demand within the global marketplace for qualified creative professionals continues to stimulate design and innovation in industry. The integrity of the profession is thus a direct variable of the quality of its design graduates, of which there has been a growing number over the last two decades.
The growth of the manufacturing and service sectors, as they relate to the global trend towards mass education in design, are also prime indicators of the need to identify new learning models in design education, as the quality of educational patterns becomes paramount for economic development. In this respect, design education must remain closely involved with the corporate sector to establish collaborative and complementary activities.
Mentorships and internships are other key areas that have been beneficial to heightening the level of preparedness of design graduates. Young designers with more real-world exposure can hone manufacturing, administrative, project management, commercialisation and marketing skills.
A multidisciplinary approach that provides design students with a more acute knowledge of business and commercialisation should be encouraged in design education.
We need to develop conceptual and methodological tools to strengthen the weak connection that currently exists in the design field between the educational sector, the requirements of a productive world and society in general.
The development of continuing education programmes for practising designers is yet another area for future development. In addition, I believe that educators, as well as the media, can play an active role and raise awareness amongst the general public about the design profession.
As technology democratises cultural life, new generations will become increasingly comfortable with design interfaces. Although this comfort level with design is great, it is also important for users to be aware of design as a skilled profession, as more than a talent or art form.
What are the best ways for designers to communicate and share knowledge internationally?
Knowledge sharing on a global scale can be a challenge, as issues are not homogeneous, but this is where organisations like Icsid and other like-minded government and non-government organisations can contribute. Of course, in the age of information, online resources are the most viable tools for gathering information.
In the case of Icsid, collaborative environments and initiatives enable regional exchanges via congresses and regional meetings that foster and promote the exchange of ideas. It is our hope that the World Design Capital initiative will also create the opportunity for a transfer of ideas, knowledge and know-how.
The World Design Report is another ambitious tool currently in the pilot project phase. The idea was initiated and developed by Icsid over a six-year period and is at present being implemented by Icograda on behalf of the International Design Alliance (IDA).
It aims to provide a better understanding of the magnitude and impact of the design economy in an international context, and to look at unique cultural differences. It also aims to facilitate the base of policy and relevant research, to encourage and support research partnerships and facilitate the transfer of knowledge regionally and internationally.
European countries such as Italy have a highly developed design sector. In which areas of the world do you see the least support for design as a profession?
This is a difficult question for which little research data is available. However, it would not be unfair to say that the profession as a whole would benefit from increased support. Based on Icsid membership, I would have to say that the areas currently most in need of increased support are Africa and Latin America.
As a whole, these communities rank high in the sector of craft design but have the capacity to grow and prosper. The Middle East also ranks low in terms of support but is showing increased interest and is beginning to invest in design education and public design.
Oceania in my opinion has made tremendous strides in recent decades and the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Design Award is a testament to this. But, again, this is another community that could do with solid public and private support.
In which regions does design have difficulty flourishing, and why?
Based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, competitiveness is judged according to factors such as the quality of the macro-economic environment, innovation, human resources, training and technological capacity. Most Latin American economies occupy very low positions on this competitiveness index, which tends to reflect their degree of development.
In the last decade, various governments and private sector organisations have established economic, educational, production, corporate and technological strategies to help resolve the competitiveness issue. However, educational advancement in low-scoring regions is growing at a considerably slower rate than in regions such as Asia.
Outsourcing is of course another major issue for those markets where designers have grown in number over the last twenty years, but, paradoxically, this oversupply of designers has failed to respond to the needs of industry and society in terms of competitiveness.
However, I do not see this as a problem but rather as a great opportunity for change as designers are educated to meet the opportunities offered by current scenarios.
According to international, and particularly Korean, experience in this matter, when the per capita GDP reaches US$5000, the growth of the design industry becomes more rapid, and it accelerates when this indicator exceeds US$10 000.
When the per capita GDP is under US$5000, the attributes of products and services sold in this market are very basic. When the GDP is over US$10 000, the products and services tend to focus on more symbolic aspects, above basic needs.
Do you think industrial designers struggle to be heard in the manufacturing arena?
Nowadays, it is a fact that companies are looking for new ideas to improve the quality of their products and to reduce production costs and the time needed to place these products in the market, with the aim of fulfilling customers’ needs.
Designers can help define a project’s methodology so that repetitive cycles in the product design and development process are avoided, with changes and modifications made mostly in the early stages so that the job will not need post-processing in the final stages.
It’s quite common in the automobile industry for companies to use holographic techniques, as well as real-time modelling tools over the Internet, to show products to users in the early stages of conceptual design, with the aim of gathering information on the users’ preferences and, in turn, to allow users to participate and intervene directly in the design process.
Working on a 3D model facilitates the synergy within a product development team in the detailed design stages, eliminating some of the communication barriers between designers and engineers and helping everyone speak the same language and respect the user’s voice in all subsequent development stages.
Are there other important challenges for design at the moment?
We hear many business leaders talking about the merits of design and their strategies for thinking more like designers. It is now important for designers to be recognised for their ability to learn management skills.
I believe designers are now ready to take on other responsibilities and be accountable for meeting firm revenue and profit targets. Designers who become business leaders can help emphasise the value of design in business and government.
Finally, I think it is important to consider a few issues that relate to the practice and professional profile of designers, as well as promotional initiatives and design education that promote collaboration within the industry. These include:
• the diversification of academic approaches, including the growth of design schools worldwide and their impact on design education
• change as a consequence of a knowledge-based society and the impact of new information and communications technologies
• changing business models
• changing employment models, based on new market requirements
• changing technological and production scenarios
• changing cultural and social contexts
By undertaking a proactive role within their institutions, corporations and community, designers should seek a knowledge-based network to engage with. Icsid, as a global organisation, offers the best possible platform for the creation of bridges and networks among its four key pillars (education, profession, promotion and corporate management) around the world.