Monday, March 10, 2014

Beginning to see the light...

In my last post, we looked at how some Google nGrams reveal a dramatic increase in the use of the titles "Industrial Design" and "Product Design" over the last 50 years. What does that indicate? Were there no Product or Industrial Designers before then? Exactly what is an Industrial or Product Designer, what do they do and how does that tie in with "Design Thinking"?

In his 1940 book, Industrial Design - A Practical Guide to Product Design and Development, Harold van Doren defined Industrial Design as;

"...the practice of analyzing, creating and developing products for mass manufacture.  It's goal is to achieve forms which are assured of acceptance, before extensive capital investment has been made, and which can be manufactured at a price permitting wide distribution and reasonable profits."

Van Doren was one of the 15 co-founders of the Society of Industrial Designers (SID), and became its president in 1948. At a 1944 meeting of the Associated Industries of New York State, he declared:

"The modern industrial designer is concerned with 3-dimensional products, equipment and machines made only by production methods, as distinguished from traditional handcraft methods. His aim is to enhance the desirability of these products by (1) Increasing convenience and improving adaptability of form to function; (2) attracting buyers by applying a shrewd knowledge of consumer psychology; and (3) employing to the fullest the esthetic appeal of form, color and texture."

In the June 2008 Issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article by IDEO president Tim Brown pushed the definition even further and started to put it into the context of Design Thinking;  

"Thinking like a designer can transform the way you 
develop products, service processes-and even strategy."

That statement is really interesting for what it says, both directly and indirectly, about design and Design Thinking.  It's not just about physical products anymore.  Today's designers are capable of, and trained to think about, much more than mass produced consumer goods.

In a talk given at the MIT Media Lab in July of 2013, IDEO's founder, Dave Kelley, explained that he started using the term Design Thinking  when he instinctively began adding "Thinking" to "design" when anyone came to talk with him about design.  Dave's view is that being a Design Thinker means that you think like a designer.  That's fine as a starting point. The problem is that's using the word design in the definition of Design Thinking, leaving open the question;

How does a designer think?

For an answer to that, let's go back to the Harvard Business Review article where Brown says several things about Thomas Edison;

"...Edison's genius lay in his ability to to conceive of a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device... he invariably gave great consideration to user's needs and preferences."
"Edison wasn't a narrowly specialized scientist but a broad generalist with a shrewd business sense."

"Edison made it a profession that blended art, craft, science, business savvy and astute understanding of customers and markets."

 Then Brown takes aim for the center field fence and hits this one:

"Edison's approach was an early example of what is now called "Design Thinking..."

If true, this could push the Design Thinking event horizon back, at least to Edison's death in 1931, and possibly much further, as Edison's first patent was filed in 1869 and the majority were filed between 1880 and 1920.

This all got me thinking about how Edison thought, and designed, which I'll address in my next post; How to be like Tom.


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