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Industrial Design

Small solutions but bigger problems

October 08, 2018
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I’m one of those designers who is always searching for the latest technology or process to help trigger new ideas or new ways of doing things.

I absolutely love finding new products, facelifts, next generations, and improved iterations. This goes back as far as I remember being interested in design. It hasn’t always been so easy to find new things. Previously, it meant going to the bookstore and looking at the latest design magazine, or maybe going to the mall/store that had the new shipment that just came in. It was a lot of effort to find something new that I had not seen before.

Today, you can see any new idea the minute someone creates it. We have social media in the palm of our hands and within seconds we have updates letting us know exactly what’s going on at that given second across the globe. With websites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, we can get our fulfillment by seeing what others are creating. It comes so easy that day by day, new ideas are being uploaded for us to judge and critique whether they are good or not. There are shows like “Shark Tank,” where new ideas are broadcast on TV, so we can all take part in a proposal process.

We have all become experts at seeing an idea, understanding its nuance or the specialty of what’s being proposed, and then making a bystander determination of whether it’s a good idea or bad. This can go deeper into writing reviews on products online as well. It’s making everyone an expert: “These headphones didn’t fit my ears, don’t buy them.”

I’m starting to become numb to new products. There is something to look at that’s “new” every day. And thanks to easily accessible apps on your phone, you can get kind of arrogant about these ideas. These innovators, entrepreneurs, startups are putting a lot of effort, time and money into their product/idea, and we can flick our thumb up or down in a split second to say if it’s worth our valuable time.

I can’t help but think there is some repercussions.

I’m afraid that if this style of innovation and competitiveness of content increases, we will start to skip the value of design intent. We might gloss over meaningful ideas that could change the way we live. If we are too saturated with idea after idea, how is one thing going to stick? Perhaps being discontent with technology is exactly what we need to innovate? Maybe this is how we grow? Or will we miss the “big idea” if it comes?

Are we too fast at solving every small inconvenience, which diverts our attention from the bigger issues?

Another repercussion of this type of competitive marketplace of innovation is the marketing that gives us the discontentment with what we already have. The fast fashion industry illustrates this the best. You need to stay “on-trend,” which means “buy new.” Even when fashion companies are promoting environmentally responsible fabrics or sustainably grown materials to help sell their clothes, this still promotes buying new clothing, which is the problem. Do we really need more clothes in circulation? The environmental impact the clothing industry has on the globe is mind boggling, but I’ll leave that to another blog post.

The point and maybe the dilemma we have as designers is that we created this monster of an industry and we need to be responsible in how we proceed. A competitive marketplace is necessary to weed out the bad and bring the good to the surface. This should be a positive thing, because we are refining down what is truly necessary to make our lives easier or better. Seemingly, there is a product for everything. The result in doing so also creates billions of products that feed a bigger problem.

The minute there is a new iPhone, there are instantly companies designing cases or apps to accessorize and piggyback. This is all instant gratification. They’re small incremental improvements to our society. It’s not necessary.

If we are truly trying to solve everything, then how are we still faced with problems like global warming, pollution, poverty, energy, obesity, depression, and racism? What are the big problems that need solving? Are we too fast at solving every small inconvenience, which diverts our attention from the bigger issues? Is that what consumerism is, just a distraction from the bigger issues in life? Do we buy more to make us feel complete rather than getting fulfillment in what we really need?

I think we really need to make sure that an idea has been thoroughly explored in its entirety before we hit “print.” We need to know the impact of the entire lifespan of the product. What is the true problem and is it worth solving? Can our efforts be directed toward larger, more long-lasting change? The wood plane that is shown above has proven itself over years of use. The heavily used blades can easily be removed to be sharpened so that you can keep it cutting to the same level as when it was new. The wooden handle will keep getting better the more you use it. It’s made from materials that can take abuse and keep strong, all while being recyclable or biodegradable.

If we can all collectively think about these things rather than making a quick buck now, I believe we will be on the road to making more meaningful products. Products that can change the bigger things we don’t have time for. I think our challenge as designers as well as a design firm is understanding the importance of the product at hand as well as the lifelong impact it will have.

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