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Innovation by Design

Industrial designers from Finland, Sweden and the USA met for a two-day workshop organized by the Finnish and Swedish Consulate General offices in New York. Is industrial design a natural marketing tool, functionally relevant, a seductive add-on, or all of the above?

Couple art with engineering and in a sense you get industrial design – a form of applied arts, which is more than just cosmetic. This particular creative act, originally that of the design of items to go into industrial production, is nowadays used for processes and services, even entire systems. Industrial design can improve the working environment by making office chairs ergonomically correct, by making peeling potatoes easier—even enjoyable—by creating a heftier handle on a potato peeler, or by turning a hospital into a friendlier environment by cleverly integrating patients’ special needs into the design. The industrial designer concerns herself with the strategy and production process as well as the final product - if there is one at all. Aesthetics is but one aspect to consider—usability, ergonomics, and thus, the location of details with respect to one another and their functions, are as important—if not more so—in the process. Ergo, two more points for early trends of Scandinavian functionality and simplicity.

A two-day workshop at Scandinavia House (www.scandinaviahouse.org) in New York, arranged by the Consulates General of Sweden and Finland and the Finnish-Swedish Industrial Design Academy, was topped off with a symposium at The Museum of Modern Art (www.moma.org). The workshop seminar, Innovation by Design, brought together participants from leading Swedish, Finnish, and American industrial design firms, who got to know each other while comparing notes. Participants were, among others: Tapani Hyvönen from ed-design, Arto Ruokonen from Desigence, Manuel Saez from Human Scale Design, Scott Spratford from MAKE Product Development, Inc., Carl Hampf from Hampf Industrial Design, and Jakob Boije from Ergonomidesign. The motive behind Innovation by Design was to spur conversations, which can help build bridges and solve problems.
The increasing interdependence between nations—the globalization—has led to a number of changes in the industry, leaving the shape of things to come somewhat unclear. Designers find themselves struggling with being creative and simultaneously forced into having to put one foot in business. Senior Industrialist Krister Ahlström, who was instrumental in bringing the workshop to Scandinavia House, observed:
“I am struck by the fact that there’s so little research and understanding of how design firms and clients ought to work together. Obviously this relationship needs more attention.”
And indeed, the sigh, “We don’t speak the business language!” was heard again and again.
Morten Bergström from Zenit Design Group argued that, “as designers we love design so much, we tend to forget it’s a business!” But, Fredrik Magnusson, CEO of Propeller, insisted on dropping the word design altogether and use, in lieu thereof, the word creativity.
“The word design is so hyped now—because everything is “designed”—it doesn’t have the same positive effect of building credibility anymore.”
Business Week’s Assistant Managing Editor, Bruce Nussbaum, who moderated the workshop, said design has gone from being more of an afterthought to something quite powerful.
“It used to be what we slapped on at the end; we’d pick a color or smooth out the edges. But design is much more, it’s about being able to see around corners, see into the future.” Electrolux CEO, Hans Stråberg, agreed fully, adding a metaphor: “[Design] used to be an afterthought, much like throwing the yeast in the oven after the bread. Today, you have it, or you are just not considered an alternative among consumers.”
The better part of the workshop was dedicated to trying to solve the communication problems between the designer and the client. Assistant Professor Lisbeth Svengren Holm, from Stockholm University School of Business, presented academic research on topics like Where do Industrial Designers want to be in the future? What innovative market research do designers have access to? Should one hire designers with backgrounds in advertising and business or businessmen with a passion for design? Should a design company stay broad or have a focus? The participants were divided into rotating groups in which the issues were discussed. And what was the consensus? Anna Valtonen, Senior Design Manager for Design Research, Nokia, summed up the day’s exercises at the seminar held at The Museum of Modern Art, saying design is no longer about products only but also involves branding and the overall corporate vision.
“There’s a need for designers to explain what their company can do rather than to just design,” she said. “As the usage of industrial design firms increases, so does competition from new players on the field, like ad agencies.”
Interestingly, everyone seemed to be in agreement with each other. As an incentive, Hans Stråberg, CEO of Electrolux, invited all participants for a follow-up session, scheduled to take place in Stockholm next September.

For more info on Stockholm, Sweden's capital: www.stockholmtown.com and on kitchen- and homecare aplliances manufacturer Electrolux: www.electrolux.com

Photography: Henrik Olund


Michael Treschow—Chairman Ericsson: “Design is creativity and flexibility. It’s a tool or a process that enables you to have a competitive edge. I’d rather use the word creativity, because design implies you mean style, when it’s about something else.”
“[Creativity] used to be front-end, an add-on, a luxury… no longer. These days it’s in the back-end of the development of new products. It was earlier more the aesthetics—form and color—it’s nowadays part of making cost-effective, functional solutions.”

Hans Stråberg—CEO, Electrolux: “Design used to be an afterthought, like throwing the yeast in the oven after the bread. Today, you have it or you are just not considered. Scandinavian design in particular is user-centered. Today design is cross-functional and crossing borders, it’s integrated in the process. Yes, design means it’s nice-looking and useful but there’s also a meaning to it.

Bruce Nussbaum – Ass:t Managing Editor, BusinessWeek: “Successful companies today create the tools that enable people to produce themselves. Design used to be what we did at the end; we’d pick a color and smooth things out. It’s so much more. Design is being able to see around corners.”

Fredrik Magnusson – CEO, Propeller: “Designers today are researchers and filters at the same time. Design is a tool, which makes you incomparable. The word design is so hyped now—everything is “designed”—that we [at Propeller] dropped the word and call it creativity instead. But you can call it whatever you want!”
“You can’t stop at listening to what the consumers want. If Ford had listened only to the consumer, it would have meant that, rather than developing the car, he would have had to offer a better horse. For creative design to be truly successful, you need to understand or figure out how the consumers work.”

Anna Valtonen—Coordinator, University of Art & Design, Helsinki: “Design is no longer about products – it’s about brand and corporate vision.”

Cecilia Hertz – President, Umbilical Design: “As designers, we need to talk to clients in a more direct way. We have to discuss the problem as we see it, but we might also have to change it. But we must do it humbly, if we want to keep the client!”
Johnson: “It’s obvious we need a common professional language in order to communicate with each other.”

Can design save the world?

Robin Edman – Chief Executive, SVID: “Well, it depends on what you mean with world. Do you mean Earth, mankind, this continent? But the answer, I believe, is yes.”

Krister Torssell – President, Ergonomidesign: “We can use our creativity to come up with solutions that can save the world, but designers are but a small part and we need to work with scientists and politicians to move society.”

Krister Ahlström—Senior Industrialist, Finland: “Design solutions were so far created among the one billion in the so-called developed world. Future solutions will be created for and by the 6 billion that were so far overlooked.”

What design or project are you most proud of?

Jakob Boije – Designer/Ergonomidesign: “The long answer is that my days are usually filled with strategic design work, meaning it's often not down to a single product level. But to keep it short and sweet-- it was great fun to lead the recent repositioning of the Swedish outdoor brand Optimus, both through a new distinct corporate identity as well as developing a new innovative product line. All for a very demanding and niched market.”

Cecilia Hertz – Managing Director/Umbilical Design: “What I am most proud of is our concept for the interior design of the Crew Return Vehicle – planned as the “lifeboat” for the International Space Station—in cooperation with both NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).”

Manuel Saez – Design Director/Human Scale Design: “The product I am most proud of is the Cinto (Spanish for belt) Stacking Chair. For a designer to design a chair is like graduation—a chair has a special feeling. Cinto is even more special because it raises the bar for comparable chairs. Cinto's recycling system, which includes an easy way to return the product to the recycling center and an easy way to disassemble the product for re-use/recycle, makes it a pioneer in its class. Also, Cinto has several ergonomic features never seen on a stacking chair before.”

What does Industrial Design mean to you?

Magdalena Herrgård – Media Relations Coordinator/Finnish Consulate General: “I've always been an avid promoter of good design in every aspect of life. It makes me happy to come about a Finnish design product that is self explanatory, functional, and still beautiful to the eye. That is a clear sign that an industrial designer has been involved in every aspect of the product development process.”

Lisbeth Svengren Holm – Associate Professor/Stockholm School of Business: “Industrial Design is the design that takes place within an industrial context, i.e. with the aims and needs, but also within the restrictions that characterize the industrial context. Aims and needs are related to innovation and solving the problems of creating a success in the market place; restrictions are related to the limited resources and capabilities of the industry and the environment.”

Lars Östling – Consul Economic and Commercial Affairs/Consulate General of Sweden: “Industrial design is a tool to integrate the creative process in the development of new products and services. It is a vital and driving force for innovation and, as such, key to keeping abreast of the global competition.”


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