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Design That Matters

Where do you sit as a designer on the product design spectrum? Perhaps you know exactly where you stand in today’s vast variety of Industrial Design disciplines but lately I have been doing some soul searching into what type of designer I want to be, the fields I research, the motivation behind each design, and the values I hold each time I undertake a new project. Increasingly the word design is widely used to cover everything from science at the one end through to art at the other. I have always placed the discipline of Industrial Design at some midway point between these two stakes.

While I was at university studying Industrial Design it seemed that fellow students and tutors held the works of people like Marc Newson, Phillip Stark, and Konstintine Gricic in the highest regard, and while I love and am inspired by the work produced by these superstars of Industrial Design I have become too focused on only one end of the design spectrum. Lately, I have opened my eyes wider to see the full spectrum of design and have begun looking into new places for inspiration and accrediting value to a different path for my future in design.

I want to highlight three products that lie at different places along the design spectrum.

The first is an infant incubator design by Medicine Mondial in New Zealand. CEO and Inventor Ray Avery set up Medicine Mondial to improve the access to quality healthcare outcomes on a global scale. They are currently working on a infant incubator for the developing world market that can be manufactured for US $1500. Worldwide every year five million infants die as a result of low birth weight and infection. The majority of these deaths could be prevented if infants had access to high tech life saving infant incubators. Sadly, first world incubators cost over $15,000 and cannot be serviced and maintained locally and are not designed for use in the challenging developing world market. The Liferaft Incubator will be going into production in 2012 following successful lifecycle trials. Ray Avery and his team are also responsible for designing a cataract eye lens that is being made for $10 in South Africa and a low cost IV flow controller.

Marc Newson is a critically acclaimed Australian product designer famous for his unique one off design items in the luxury goods sector that push materials to their limits. Newson’s 25-year-old Lockheed Lounge, a curvaceous divan made from aluminum, sold for $968,000 in 2007 at Sotheby’s auction house in New York, setting a record for the highest price paid in history for furniture by a living designer. The divan lounger represents the charge upmarket bringing Industrial Design into the rarefied world of contemporary art collectors. Prototypes and one off explorations with new materials become sculptures and highly sought after items that represent contemporary design.

“Generation” chair by Formway for Knoll is a product example of a thorough Industrial Design process. Formway Design spent over 3 years studying how people sit. The result was an office chair that enables people to work and communicate effectively and, importantly, to be able to express themselves. Formway understood that the office chair was an extension of the user’s body and through rigorous prototyping and material tests they developed the “Generation” chair for Knoll furniture. It was a simple golden insight that has created a paradigm shift in office seating. It was drawn from spending the time to fully understand the end user – an insight that everyone else in the office chair game has missed.

If you could align yourself against one of these examples who would you choose? Which example resonates with your identity as an Industrial Designer? Until recently I would have said Marc Newson or Konstintin Gricic, but seeing the life-changing results of the work that Ray Avery and his team at Medicine Mondial are producing inspires me to align myself with people who are having a crack at the hard, world changing issues. They are using the design process not just to experiment with new materials, forms and desirability but to provide solutions that literally save lives. What design pushes society forward? Has the true meaning of Industrial Design been lost to the pursuit of fame and fortune?

I understand that we all have to pay the bills but with the knowledge and skills we have as Industrial Designers – what issues and challenges could we be tackling if we chose to look beyond the high-end, desirable products that have become the pedestal for the Industrial design industry? Does your design work matter?


About the author: Alexander Wastney is an Industrial Designer working for medical equipment company Howard Wright in New Zealand. You can contact him at awastney@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @AlexWastney


{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Laura Loomis November 8, 2011, 8:57 pm

    Great post – thank you!!! We need to stop buying junk on impulse, and purchase well designed products we’ll love forever. Our standards have sadly been compromised by cheap big box merchandise and inexpensive knock offs.

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