Designers held in low esteem

Designers are the least important source of new product ideas for companies, according to damning research by 3i, an investment capital group.

3i’s findings show that while small and medium-sized European companies (SMEs) are committed to innovation, external designers are considered less important than their own staff, key customers, market trends and competitors in coming up with new ideas.

This low opinion of designers was consistent across the 700 companies surveyed in retail and wholesale, construction and tran-

sport, manufacturing, services and communication sectors in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Professor Paul Burns at Design for Learning, which carried out the research for 3i, suggests the cost of designers is a factor: “Companies do not see designers as offering value-for-money solutions to their needs.

“Its not good news for designers – they have got a major marketing job to do,” he adds.

Design Business Association chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill says: “I am not surprised. That is why manufacturing in the UK has taken the hammering that it has.”

Design Council chief executive Andrew Summers says: “The results don’t surprise us – they highlight similar perceptions we are currently tackling in our research programme. Through the Business Links network, we will work towards a radical culture change within SMEs about the role and effectiveness of design.”

However, some product designers claim clients recognise their wider contribution to innovation and include them at the

creating phase as well as the development and implementing stage.

“The trend is towards outsourcing,” says Cambridge

Consultants marketing commun-

ications manager Richard Peoples. “It’s less risky and more economic. It’s a major theme for us.”

“Product design is moving towards a role further back down the chain of development,” confirms Marc Tanner, head of industrial design at IDEO.

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