After being called in to rescue a failing media group in London, he turned the company into one of Europe’s most successful media corporations.

Hames co-founded Global Business Network Australia, and is now the director of The Hames Group, an international network of strategic advisors with a focus on the future.

As corporate philosopher with Thoughtpost in Australia, he helps boards and individuals to change their ‘thinking habits’ and expectation.

Hames spoke to a captive audience at the Melbourne Museum recently about the future for design in manufacturing. For Curve he shares more of his views on new technologies, globalisation and branding:

We live in a world of extreme and disruptive change where manufacturing and design, and the interface between them, are changing in ways that were entirely unforseen even a few years ago. 

Technology is key here, because when technologies shift everyone goes back to zero. Information and communication technologies continue to shrink the world, bringing us closer to each other.

The rate of technological progress, especially in the convergence of robotics, nanotechnology and biotechnology, is allowing us to invent new materials and to do new things with those materials.

We are now designing materials and machines at the molecular level – an idea that was fiction barely a decade ago. 

Contemporary history demonstrates that each new generation starts with more capital goods, consumer goods and knowledge than the previous generation.  Until now, the driver of economic growth has been innovation.

Yet there is a growing sense that we have created a world that is spinning further and further out of control.

Pollution, climate change and the continued loss of biodiversity are escalating issues leading to the quest for renewable energies, smart materials, and more sustainable practices in all walks of life.

These are just some of the more visible patterns of change that will continue to impact the design of manufactured goods well into the future.

We live in a designed world. Everything from where we live, to how we get to work, to what we eat and wear, is the result of an endless series of design decisions by countless individuals. 

Clearly, design is integral, not merely an afterthought or an aesthetic ‘add-on’ to the manufacturing process. Rarely, however, has thought been given to the design of end-to-end life-cycles or attention paid to how systems should work together effectively.

Effectiveness is often sacrificed for cost. But this is wasteful, short-term thinking and will not be tolerated by future generations. 

Because much of the design in our world is undervalued it is also flawed, and with each new technological advance we find ourselves faced with yet another set of unintended, and frequently damaging, consequences.

Taking note of the dynamics of change, and adopting more integral approaches to design will help rectify this. This kind of thinking I refer to as ‘deep design’. Deep design is integral, benign, resonant, and involves creating ‘soft’ pathways.

Deep design explores a way of thinking that invariably starts with the question, “What is our ultimate goal?”

Designs that begin with such a question, whether in products, buildings, technologies or communities, are sensitive to living systems and can accomplish their mission without the seemingly unavoidable side effects of contamination, corrosion, congestion and stress.

Such deep designs meet key criteria for renewability, recyclability and non-toxicity. Often based on natural systems, deep designs create ‘soft’ pathways that are easy to understand and to implement.

They provide more elegant approaches to getting the products, service and functions we need. They resonate more deeply with us as individuals, appealing to our notions of identity and ethics at an emotional and spiritual level.

Soft pathways represent the full cost paradigm. You take all the economic implications into account for the life of the product.

Architects are now thinking of design in these terms as are automobile manufacturers like Volkswagen in Europe who accept responsibility for recycling the products they sell.

Implications for manufacturing

Design will continue not just to shape products but the patterns of human consumption and production – and even knowledge itself. Meanwhile the realities of living in a globalised world will continue to impact on product culture:

• As global brands become commodities consumers will seek products that reinforce our sense of identity and individuality. This will take us beyond fashion as we currently understand it.

• As a consequence, look for a shift from mass production to mass individualisation.

• Brand resonance – the emotional attachment accorded products by their purchasers – will become more and more important.

Part of the intelligence a product designer will need to understand is what resonates well with customers or consumers. This is not just in terms of the aesthetics but what consumers will emotionally identify with so that a product becomes indistinguishable from their personality.

Consider my watch, for example.  It is a simple beautiful artefact. It tells the time so it is functional. It is as though this timepiece is a part of me. It assumes my identity, just as my identity is partly expressed by its presence on my wrist.

So its the resonance that carries through (and gathers value) long after the product has been designed and sold that becomes important.

In fact the whole notion of brand is shifting away from corporate marketing to ‘Brand You’. This is the personal brand – who you are and your sense of who you want to be. So consider how you might brand yourself. How you might celebrate what you stand for?

Young people in Tokyo’s Shibuya district are playing out the future of this phenomenon today. New technologies are allowing them to change their appearance by altering skin pigmentation, fusing jewellery onto nails, teeth and eyebrows, changing eye shape, or artificially lengthening limbs – ideas originating from tribal practices now morphing rapidly into astonishing uses for cosmetic surgery.

Perhaps changes to our appearance on a regular basis will become a significant distinguishing feature for many of us in the future. 

Design is integral to manufacturing and pervasive in terms of our physical environment. The challenge for manufacturers is to incorporate new knowledge and innovative processes into their work so that deep design can take its place as the fulcrum of human progress in tomorrow’s world. 

Collaboration and cooperation

As we move into the future, particular characteristics of working together will become absolutely essential in order to innovate, to be able to think outside the square and to think ‘soft’ pathways.

In the city of Whenzhou, just south of Shanghai, the manufacture of cigarette lighters began in the mid-1980s when locals brought them back from Japan as gifts. The enterprising citizens of Whenzhou broke the gadgets down into their component parts and quickly learned to reproduce replicas. 

By 1990 more than 3,000 small entrepreneurial families in Whenzhou were making lighters. Intense competition between these families soon forced a shakeout.

The smaller family businesses switched to making components for the lighters while the larger companies focused on assembly and distribution and the Whenzou network, a network of some 700 companies operating as a single cohesive, interdependent entity, was born.

Over the next few months specialisation, low overheads and the absence of bureaucratic trivia, drove down manufacturing costs sufficiently to allow the network entry into the international market. Although lighters were initially sold on price, higher margins were earned as the network learned to produce new designs faster. 

By 2003 the Whenzhou network manufactured 750 million lighters and enjoyed a seventy per cent share of the world market, wiping out most of the Japanese and South Korean companies that once dominated the lighter business and thriving in markets that require rapid responses to changes in demand.

One can see from this example how important collaboration and cooperation will be as drivers of business behaviour in the future. 

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