Treasure to be claimed in uncharted territory

We hardly need to be told that things are changing, particularly in retail. You can’t open a newspaper these days without being told how we’ll be shopping soon.

But it’s my bet that whatever the technology can do, it’s the consumer who will decide in the end. What’s important for designers is that they are aware of the potential of any change and help steer its course for the benefit of both client and consumer, something we touch upon this week (pages 14 and 17).

But while retail is getting a hard sell in the popular press, it isn’t the only area of rapid change – and opportunity. Take product design and the whole manufacturing ethic. The decline of the UK’s traditional industries is well documented, and manufacturers have been roundly, and rightly, chastised for their failure to appreciate good design – something the Design Council is pledged to remedy. But product designers worth their salt aren’t waiting on any such initiatives. They’re acting now.

We’ve charted bids by the likes of Seymour Powell and Priestman Associates to venture into new-product development (DW 25 August). Now it’s the turn of BIB with the Turbo Table ironing board (First Sight, page 11).

Interestingly, BIB’s traditional product design – working to a client’s brief to make a 3-D object – accounts for only a third of its work, yet business is booming. Design and manufacture of products such as the Turbo Table make up a further 30 per cent, while the rest is given over to interface projects.

International trailblazer IDEO, whose founder Bill Moggridge can claim to have invented interface design, is meanwhile stepping further into the client’s camp, offering consultancy in the broadest sense with even a “satellite office” near its London base where clients can come in for “training”. With typical intelligence and modesty, IDEO is initiating change rather than being ruled by it, and that is something we all can learn from. Opportunities vary from sector to sector, but a positive attitude to change should be an industry constant.

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