A few points that could shape the future of our profession

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It was a pleasure and a relief to read Jeremy Myerson’s article on client consultancy design alliances (DW 6 March) and the Michael Evamy interview with award-winning consultancy Ideo (DW 13 March).

Their views echo my own and confirm that the design profession is evolving to (hopefully) emerge in a much stronger position at the end of this decade. Both articles highlight important items which will, or should, shape the future of our profession.

Design is customer service driven – as such, more service organisations may become the future clients of product designers; but not with the ad hoc relationships designers often have with manufacturers – instead with long-term design alliance relationships that Ideo’s David Kelly describes as more profound. We have a long-term design alliance with BT, a client that believes design is customer service driven. BT is one of the UK’s biggest service sector companies using design to deliver a better service experience to their customers; and is one of the biggest product design buyers without manufacturing a single product itself.

Innovation is a multidisciplinary affair. Customer-focused creatives, technologists, engineers and marketers work together dreaming up new ways to keep customers satisfied in the future. This type of relationship delivers the greatest results when a long-term view is adopted.

New technology will determine customer service delivery – its methodology, speed, satisfaction and the new-product development strategy of many manufacturers. Currently, manufacturers do not see themselves as “delivering a service to customers”. They are therefore not motivated to change. This makes it hard for product designers to make a business case.

If leading product design consultancies such as Ideo pick up the mantle and accept our changing (for the better) role we will be in a position to drive product design development through customer-focused service delivery.

Progress is all about change. If we are to progress, we must change. We should take advantage of the customer service focus of major brand-owners and recognise that strategic design is the solution to their service delivery problems or opportunities. Apart from design-led customer focus, strategically switched-on manufacturers, like Dyson Appliances, might themselves be demoted to the role of implementer/maker; rather than driver/creator. After all, the investment by product designers in state-of-the-art CAD/CAM, prototyping and engineering equipment packages often far outstrips the investment made by small to medium-sized manufacturers.

A major shift may occur where customer-focused groups employ multiskilled product designers to deliver the strategies as well as the hardware/product solution; which then sub-contract manufacturers to produce dir-ectly by licence, or by royalty, the product designer’s solution.

Groups like Ideo make that scenario possible. I congratulate it on its much deserved award wins – and to Tim Brown, I say welcome back to Europe.

Gus Desbarats

Managing director

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