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Industrial Designers, Design Your Future #2: Be Nimble

You no longer need a degree in industrial design to design and manufacture a product.

Even if you don’t know how to use CAD or how to source and manufacture, these services are increasingly for hire at low rates. They’re just a Google search away.

Fast-Track Profound Product Experiences

The first post in this series was about being tactical by taking on or deepening skill sets outside industrial design’s realm to survive in an increasingly tech-enabled world. (If you didn’t see that post, click over to Be Tactical: Virtualize the Industrial.)

This second post will look at honing skills traditionally associated with industrial design, such as front-end research and brand strategy: As design and manufacturing become more commoditized, strategy to inform product experiences will be valued higher than implementation. This is good news for product designers who love digging into upfront work.

Future of Design: Be Nimble

Expect a Flowering of Niche Products.

Much has been written about 3D printing as the advent of a new industrial revolution. I agree that additive manufacturing is ushering in big change, but not exactly in the way it has been predicted. I’ve read forecasts of local 3D printing labs where everyone will go to make their own products or print out replacements for broken ones. But I think that argument builds on fear more than anything else.

You can already figure out how to repair anything on your own, but do people take the time to do it? Do they mend socks, fix furniture, or tinker with carburetors? Even with all the resources at our disposal, the majority of us are more likely to buy a new one or bring it to an expert. Yes, a few people may design their own products, but I very much doubt it will be mainstream. The more likely outcome of the rise of additive manufacturing is a flowering of niche brands and the subsequent growing importance of product branding.

Master Rational Thinking for Emotional Product Branding.

This mushrooming of brands is already underway — think of all the launches on Kickstarter, and the different brands featured on day after day — but it will become even more amped. Right now the capital investment to launch a brand is significant, but this will decrease as the adoption cycle of rapid manufacturing processes keeps spinning.

More than ever people will need to communicate something specific and profound with strong brand identities and product experiences that cut through the noise.

This is dovetailing with the decline of advertising and a growing immunity to traditional forms of marketing. Designers’ know-how about front-end research and strategy and how that informs user experience will become more valuable. It’s no longer just about the working, appealing product but about the emotional product and the whole product experience.

Move as Quickly as the Future Marketplace.

Savvy grassroots brands are a few steps ahead of big brands — they know they have to be all about the product. But large corporations are coming to realize the need to be consistent and to deliver on their brand promises. If a product is presented as cheeky, then its look, feel, and interactions need to ooze cheekiness. Products need more than a good story to tell — the product needs to communicate the good story.

More smaller brands mean a greater need to differentiate and to tie the product branding to smaller subsets of users. With the increasing democratization of rapid manufacturing processes, designers will need to know how to design these specialized, compelling brand experiences — and how to do it swiftly to suit accelerated speed to market.

What this new reality will do is weed out the people who design with no focus. The brand-focused strategic designers will remain — those who use form and aesthetics to create something special. People will always need designers to come up with a cohesive brand language for products that will be wanted, used, and loved. There will always be a place for design with a purpose, with rational thinking as a driver.

(Globalization and rapidly developing technologies are transforming industrial design. Happily, major transitions usher in major opportunities for the nimble and forward-thinking. In this second of three posts in the Design Your Future series about the evolving role of industrial designers, Bresslergroup Design Director Mathieu Turpault outlines some key opportunities.)

Read Parts 1 and 3 of Mathieu’s series:

Industrial Designers, Design Your Future #1: Be Tactical

Industrial Designers, Design Your Future #3: Be Flexible