Seek out areas of common interest to build alliances

It will be interesting to see how product designers react to the bid by architects to boost their involvement with manufacturers through the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Product Innovation in Architecture group.

Will they take up arms against their fellow professionals as the interiors lobby did under the guidance of Interiors Forum founder Callum Lumsden when they perceived a threat from architects? Will they dismiss the venture as too much on the technical side to be of great concern? Or will they hold out a hand of friendship to the new group in the belief that a united front will enhance the reputation and scope of product design?

Signs so far are that the last – and best – option could find favour with both parties. Irving Brauer and product designer Paul Priestman, chairmen of PIA and the Design Business Association respectively, are both making the right noises. But, unfortunately, Brauer’s comments to Design Week reiterate the common misunderstanding that product design is purely about styling, taking no account of engineering and functionality.

Brauer can be forgiven for his view for now. Product designers themselves have proved there is a great schism between self-styled ‘engineering designers’ and what they see as ‘stylists’ – or, you might say, the entrepreneurial element. In 1999, for example, the Product Design Coalition set out to improve representation and raise the profile of the sector, but by all accounts foundered through differences between the two camps. And that’s before you start debating the relative merits of consultancy and in-house design.

But Brauer’s words should spur product designers and architects such as Lord Norman Foster and Nicholas Grimshaw who have product designers on their teams to enter a dialogue with PIA and identify the opportunities for collaboration between product designers of all types.

We have often cited the example of Italy where architecture is a common training for 3D designers, particularly those involved with product and furniture. But that hasn’t stopped non-architects such as the UK’s Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton making a mark in Milan. By the same token, in the UK, architects such as Peter Higgins at Land Design Studio and Tim Pyne, now of Table, have had no problem in shifting into exhibition and brand experience territories.

A mix of approaches is surely healthy within all disciplines. So let’s call on design’s key product spokesman such as Priestman and Design Council director of design and innovation Clive Grinyer to work with Brauer and his colleagues to identify areas of common interest on which an alliance can be built.

Latest articles