‘Move into upstream new product development or teach your industrial design students Chinese’ was advice I gave recently to the design department at a UK university.
The reason for this challenge has now been supported in a study by Cambridge University Institute of Manufacturing, as reported in the Financial Times on 29 July.
According to the FT, design and development jobs could follow the exodus of manufacturing operations to countries where costs are low. The article continues by stating that companies need to move into high-value fields of industry.
The output of many students on design courses appears to be the design and development of widgets (sometimes visually seductive, often not) with the accent on demonstrating vocational skills such as 3D CAD, computer visualisation and prototype-making.
While all these non-academic skills are worthy and useful, they are easily being transferred to and replicated at far lower costs in countries such as Taiwan and, more recently, India. It won’t be long before the inextricable link between design, development and manufacture will settle in China.
If this is, indeed, the inevitable situation, then the design industry will need to identify how it can align itself towards the knowledge-led goods and services industries that the Government is advocating for economic growth.
Some groups are already doing this, but it is tough to reinvent design as a less vocational activity and to be more expert in creating innovative consumer-led concepts, often embodying leading-edge technologies, within the context of a brand vision and business case.
I am sure that there are many in the design industry who would like to encourage the Government and universities to identify how design can be relevant and add value to key generators of wealth.
It is interesting to note that Clive Grinyer, a 3D product designer of long standing, went to work for Orange and not for Nokia/Eriksson. Could it be that there is more added value in text message services than in phone hardware?
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