Design, it is all around us. Good or bad, just about everything we touch, see and use, has been imagined by a designer of some sort. Signage, products, machines, vehicles, roads, books, websites, food, clothes, this newsletter – are all products of design. Knowingly or unknowingly we interact with design at every moment of our lives. Design makes an iPod attractive. Poor design is what makes most Indian cities so complicated, confusing and difficult to live in.
Just like with everything else, design keeps changing with the times. New materials, new tools, new possibilities and indeed new thinking makes for an ever evolving design continuum.
The 4 pixel favicon has given graphic designers a new thing to worry about when they design logos and icons. Proliferation of LCD and other kinds display offer multimedia designers helped the folks at Tronic studio create these idents for Target. The availability of epaper and cheap electronics could change packaging design forever. Rapid protyping that low cost FAB machines promise will revolutionise product design just like the Macintosh and laser printing did to publishing and graphic design some two decades ago. Listen to Chris Anderson talk about 3D fabricators in this presentation.
Like with everything else in marketing, customer generated design is big these days. Brands like Jones Soda have given ordinary people the power to design their labels. Even old fashioned packaged goods brands like Heinz have yielded to user generated content by putting the tools of creation in the hands of ordinary customers.
But is design all about creation? Making more and more things and making them better looking and easier to use seems to be the only way forward. One of the criticisms leveled against design is that it often tries to do to much, when it can do less. With all the sustainability debate around there is a school of thought that is urging designers and indeed all of us to use less. In the UK organic brand Beunpackaged has done away with packaging of any kind and made it their calling card. Porsche, the design icon, is being seen in a different light these days. When the life of an average car in the US and Europe is 6 years, a Porsche, it seems, continues to run and run. According to this meme 60% of all Porsches ever built are still on the road today. In the fashion world, a new debate is raging. Why have a fashion cycle that changes twice a year when most clothes can be worn for years? Indeed Howies another UK brand designs its clothes to last. By staying away from flavour of the month design aesthetics, fashion at Howies focuses on long term wearability.
On another front design is going beyond designing. Now design thinking is a subject of study.The new Design School at Stanford being the most high profile exercise in this space. The school believes that everyone, not just designers need to be design thinkers. Simply put design thinking is about solving intangible problems. The use of design, not just as a verb, but as a way of thinking about situations. Like this IDEO case study for Kraft Foods. Where design was used to improve relationships and uncover new value at a supply chain management level.
There are other areas that design is moving into. Like designing for the bottom of the pyramid. Using design for the unwealthiest 90 percent. This Rolex Award winning idea ironically helps subsistence farmers in Sub Saharan Africa preserve to vegetables using a simple pot-in-pot fridge. Or this Malawian teenager’s home made windmill. Not pretty in a design sense but one that aims to solve problems that his ancestors have had to live with forever.
One of the things about design is that it is seen as an art form and hence mired in a lot of subjectivity. But if there is one thing that most people agree with is the fact that design is all about solving problems. Million dollar designer cars or one dollar pot-in-pot refrigerators. The attempt has to be to design for real people and now for a better world.