A New Era For Industrial Design - Designers Respond

May 18 2019 - 1:28pm


In the Spring 2019 issue of INNOVATION magazine, Max Burton, IDSA, Global Lead for Connected Products at Fjord, outlines 10 key points the modern industrial designer must consider given the current landscape of our industry. He then invited nine world renowned designers with diverse backgrounds their thoughts on a simple question: 

"In your career, what major change or impact have you noticed being a designer? Based on that, what advice would you give to a young designer embarking on their career or a seasoned professional seeking a way to progress?" 


Below, we share their responses. 



The Entrepreneurial Journey

I am seeing more designers using their training in creating objects and experiences to explore authentic career paths that align with their core values. Although working as a designer in-house or in a corporate, consulting or agency setting or in a freelance role are great ways to gain technical skills and discover personal strengths, designers are increasingly breaking free of the traditional ways of working to find more fulfillment in their work and daring to pursue entrepreneurship, particularly women. The rise of crowdfunding has helped democratize design and lowered the barrier to entry to secure initial capital for many consumer products. 

After working for others for most of my early career, I felt it was time to focus on a product area that was most meaningful to me and would be of help to others. For me, that area was in personal pleasure for women, but, in general, opportunities are ripe, particularly in taboo industries, or formerly taboo areas, such as cannabis, adult toys, feminine products, death, and money. 

If you are interested in entrepreneurship, keep in mind that Design + Market = Business. 

Just because your design is awesome does not necessarily mean you have a business. You need enough people who are willing to pay for your service or goods to build a business; otherwise, you just kind of have a hobby. Products that have more depth than aesthetic will be more sought after and have a greater chance of success in the marketplace—if you are enhancing people’s everyday lives. 

While entrepreneurship can be glorified and romanticized, truthfully, it is not for everyone. Having an idea is only part of the equation, and 90 percent of the journey is the pursuit of realizing the idea and building a sustainable business. Most importantly, keep in mind that the entrepreneurial journey has a lot of ups and downs, and if you’re just looking for fame, fortune or a founder title, it may be very hard to handle the roller-coaster ride. 

—Ti Chang, IDSA
Chang is an industrial designer/entrepreneur passionate about designing products for women. She is the co-founder and VP of design of CRAVE, specializing in modern sex toys.



Embrace the Ambiguity

The range of products, systems and relationships we endeavor to reimagine through thoughtful design is more varied and complex than ever. Therefore, design practice, in parallel with design education, has been under constant pressure to continuously evolve in order to stay relevant. The good news is that design, however it is defined, is receiving unprecedented interest, not just in the outcomes of our efforts but in how our community thinks and works. Numerous articles in print and online appear almost daily about how design thinking can be successfully applied to everything from social justice to increased profitability. After taking this all in, I can't think of another time when designers have had as many opportunities to define for themselves how they wish to participate in our world.

My advice for emerging professionals is to embrace the broad applicability of your design talents. Understand the value in applying your analytical skills to framing open-ended, ambiguous and tough problems. Help others synthesize disparate sources of information, opposing objectives and conflicting narratives. Make use of your communication skills to create compelling visualizations and iterative tests that propel us to engage in conversations about challenging subjects and lead us toward good decisions. And be thankful that your design training gives you the foresight to focus on understanding the whys before you go about designing the whats. 

As technology continues to break down boundaries between disciplines, the fluidity of our profession has given birth to forms of practice that didn't exist less than a generation ago. For many of us, interaction design, systems design, design strategy, futures design, speculative design and social design were not part of the vocabulary when we began our careers. Finding one's niche in this dynamic landscape isn't easy and can be daunting. My own experience has shown me the possibilities that arise when we focus on our values and embrace the ambiguity that comes with working in a constantly expanding field. 

—Helen Maria Nugent
Professor Nugent is dean of the Design Division at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco and a founding partner of Haelo Design. 

Photo Credit: Nicholas Bruno / CCA (edited by IDSA)



People Are At the Center of Good Design

When I was starting out, users were seen as subjects and designers saw themselves as the experts. Now the lines have blurred in a beautiful way. Today’s best designers, young and young at heart, have to understand how to include everyday people in the design process and work with them creatively to identify new opportunities and solutions.

Bringing simplicity and beauty to today’s highly complex products requires closer teamwork than ever. The boundaries between consultants, clients and other partners have also blurred, and our physical and digital spaces are much better tuned for working together more fluidly.

The designer’s toolbox has evolved vastly during my career, and I have found it important to constantly experiment with new tools and methods, not necessarily to master every tool but at least to understand the benefits and drawbacks and to appreciate the expertise of others.

Despite the significant change I have seen in the design industry, the understanding of people and what makes for good collaboration has—and will always be—at the center of good design.

—Richard Whitehall
Whitehall is a designer and partner at Smart Design where he leads the firm’s direction and is constantly looking for new ways that design and technology can make a difference to organizations and everyday people.




I was schooled as an industrial designer with a Dutch / Japanese background. When I graduated, I was intrigued to work on projects that entailed designing new experiences. This meant that I worked my whole career on products that included hardware, software and services. Looking back, I have noticed that most disruption in the past 25 years has come from areas converting from analog to digital, transitioning from products being born with predefined functionality to products becoming ever-evolving experiences. These disruptions create opportunity. Opportunity for designers to impact the end product even more. Why?

No product can be made by one discipline. No experience can be made without the fusion of hardware, software and services. The most successful designers keep abreast and excel in their area of competence, but also lift themselves up to a conceptual level where they are able to bridge and impact other disciplines. Because, in the end, any product is only successful when there is cohesion. To achieve cohesion between so many disciplines, a product needs a clear point of view of its purpose and differentiation. Who comes up with this point of view? Turns out, often it’s the designer.

I have been most impactful as a designer or design leader when being involved in the product or even company vision overall. In my mind, the lines are often blurred between product management and design. I have founded disciplines in both areas and always aimed for more cohesion.

Where convention tells us that product management is about defining product requirements and designing is about coming up with a solution that best meets these requirements, the reality is that this often leads to unsuccessful experiences, especially when you are trying to come up with something new.

Product managers are trained to find and assess data. If they do this well, they take in an enormous amount of data looking at user intelligence, market intelligence and technology opportunity. This alone is a Herculean task. Then to take all this data and find the unique point of view and opportunity is incredibly hard. It requires creativity.

This is where you come in. Designers are trained to take that data and come up with new ideas. Of course, there is also the dirty secret that new experiences don’t come with data in the first place. You need to design first and create a unique point of view before you can test and determine if it is a good idea.

All this needs to happen before product requirements are locked. So don’t wait. Swim upstream and make it known you are interested in collaborating from the outset of a new initiative. Creativity in product definition is crucial. In my latest project, I co-designed the company strategy for Sonos. No surprise: it is heavily experience driven. And perhaps is an example that as a designer you can impact a company far beyond the limits of the look of a product.

—Mieko Kusano
Kusano is senior director of experience strategy at Sonos. She founded Design & Product Management at Sonos, leading Sonos experiences from its first product introduction all the way to becoming a billion dollar business.



Coming Soon​

  • Leif Huff - Partner and Executive Design Director at IDEO New York
  • Albert Shum - CVP of Design, Experiences & Devices Group at Microsoft
  • Gina Reimann - Wearables Industrial Design Lead at Google 
  • Brett Lovelady, IDSA - Founder and Chief Instigator of ASTRO Studios
  • Alastair Curtis - Chief Design Officer at Logitech