Is Industrial Design Dead?

DN Staff

October 3, 2009

2 Min Read
Is Industrial Design Dead?

Some striking comments are emerging about the industrial design profession and, specifically, its professional  society, The Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA), founded in 1967. “The IDSA has served a valuable role in the evolution of design as a professional discipline, and has helped advance the field to a point where the IDSA is now essentially irrelevant,” comments Jon Kolko, a creative director at frog design. He made the comments in a blog post after attending the IDSA annual conference in Miami.

Practitioners of industrial design sometimes consider themselves more closely aligned to the art community than the engineering community as they conceptualize new product designs. And that could be part of their undoing. On the one hand, says Kolko, the function of industrial design is become more of a price-sensitive commodity, and new practitioners are popping up all over the world, particularly Asia. On the other, there’s the growing sophistication of materials technology and processing.  ”This is advancing in the opposite direction of a commodity - it’s becoming increasingly specialized, increasingly intellectual, and incredibly complicated,” he writes.

He cites a keynote presentation at the IDSA meeting by Dr. Andrew Dent, a vice president at the Materials Connexion. Dent made several interesting points in his presentation, particularly emphasizing the need for industrial designers to consider environmental issues in their conceptions. He referenced for example what he calls “mono materials”, which are really designs that take into account ease of recycling or re-use. They aren’t painted; they come from one class of materials (e.g. polyolefins in an auto interior), and they consolidate parts. These are not new goals to design engineers, who more likely see them first as routes to efficiency and reduced cost. Kolko says: “While material sciences will absolutely not become commodities, they also will soon be out of the grasps of designers.” And he also mentions the importance of electronics integration into design, now popularly called mechatronics-but certainly nothing new.

The blog post popped up in a few places, and many other industrial designers chimed in. One commented: “Designers who never learned ‘process’ but only ‘form’ are part of the blame, and of course the ones paid the most to extinguish their profession.”

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