With an award-winning track record at Motorola, RIM Blackberry and Kyocera, Frank Tyneski of IDSA stresses the importance of close cooperation between designers and engineers.
Are manufacturers relying more on industrial design in product development?
There's no question that industrial designers are playing a greater role and CEOs keep saying that design is a cornerstone of their business objectives. However, most companies still have not recognized that industrial design is worthy of being a stand-alone department that reports to the CEO or COO. I would love to see companies with a CCO — chief creative officer. I am also concerned about the difficulty many young designers have getting grass roots experience. Today, most industrial designers are not co-located with manufacturing, which prevents them from getting practical hands-on experience.
How important is it for designers and engineers to forge close relationships?
It's absolutely necessary. Certainly, the two professions are wired a bit differently and there will always be some creative abrasion. Designers traditionally place a greater value on the look and feel of products, whereas engineers focus more on pragmatic design. But smart companies make bridging this gap a priority and it turns out best when industrial designers and design engineers can work together on an equal footing.
Is business-to-business catching up with consumer products in design?
Commercial products traditionally are based on function rather than aesthetics and that continues to be very important. At Motorola, where I worked on the design of a radio for police, fire and military use, our boss always emphasized that we were designing mission-critical products and he challenged us to come up with elegant solutions without compromising important functions. If you do a bad job of designing a radio for police and fire, a user could take a bullet.
What are some of the biggest trends in industrial design?
The ease-of-use focus will continue. In consumer electronics, it is time that we made early adopters an endangered species. We ought to be designing first-generation products that regular consumers will be able to use without a Ph.D. in engineering. Apple achieved that objective with the iPhone.
How about other major trends?
Green design and material sustainability are certainly much more important. However, we have a long way to go. Watching Leonardo DiCaprio's film, “The 11th Hour,” I couldn't help feeling some designer guilt. The designers and engineers that I know enter their professions with the best of intentions. But we work under tight deadlines. As a result, it is often impossible to introduce a new material that meets sustainability goals and still stay on schedule. The upshot is that we tend to take the easy way out and go with what we know.
In an age of instant communications, are regional design differences fading?
Unfortunately, yes. With the Internet, we see everything in real time. Years ago, if one of our colleagues traveled to Japan, we would all wait anxiously to see suitcases loaded to the gills with Japanese products. We tore into the stuff because it was so different. Now, we have lost that element of surprise because we have a virtual global talent show going on all the time.