Product Design Takes The Higher Ground….as In-house Teams Move Up

Jones Garrard’s quiet disclosure of its new “brand” Think is timely, given the continuing debate on the role of product design, not least on Design Week’s Letters page. It fuels the argument that product designers are capable of far more influence than most allow themselves in shaping the future, but that it is up to them be proactive in changing clients’ perceptions of what they can do. Though not yet a company in its own right, London-based Think allows the Leicester design group to broaden its offer beyond the product design for which it is best known, especially in transport. The theory is that the facility can help a client “design” its own structure, or design management procedures – it has already helped the Royal National Institute for the Blind develop design guidelines for its Rights of Way mobility campaign (DW 28 May). Think can also collaborate with groups specialising in branding or other complementary areas to provide a total service, and talks along these lines are already underway. This is not new thinking, particularly among branding people. But it is relatively rare for what is essentially a product design group to take the lead and a good move for design. Jones Garrard director Mike Rodber even talks of working in the fmcg sector – a bold bid, it seems, until you realise that the consultancy’s previous projects, such as British Airways’ plane seating, have put consumer needs first – a fundamental aim for good fmcg design. Still on product design, an emerging issue is the growing prowess of in-house designers. In-house teams have long been regarded as poor relations by some, perceived as attracting less creative folk keen on a nine-to-five life. But that is no longer so. Apple Computer’s in-house team, led by British designer Jonathan Ive, has put the computer giant back on the map through products such as the award-winning iMac. Clive Grinyer’s influence at Tag McLaren Audio is about to show, with the first tranche of products soon to be revealed, and Grinyer’s former colleague at Fitch, Bill Sermon, is beavering away at Nokia. It could well be that product design’s new heroes will emerge on the client side, if, like fashion designers, they are are sufficiently respected by their employers to be named. Then more manufacturers might move forward through design, fielding a top-flight in-house team working alongside specialist consultants.

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