All of this is about wider meaning of design in the company and its strategic impact. Using industrial design, we can visually explain what a purpose of product is and its function, with great simplicity. Design is really not about physical shape – it is whole thought process, hiding behind all kinds of meanings.
This quote belongs to one of the modern Finland’s designer. It really well reflects what is now happening in Finland’s industrial design scene. Ask any person what he thinks about industrial design. Answers probably will involve such quotes as beautiful, stylish, ergonomic, comfy and modern products and all of it probably with furniture in mind. Art (that is beauty and style) is what Finland’s design started from, and that was a long time ago. Ergonomics are over discussed and familiar stage. So to any of Finland’s companies this kind of answer would sound naïve and outdated. At this time, concept of industrial design in this country is a lot wider than that quote might imply. Everything widely spins around business – and design is like driving force, creating economic indicators. And it’s not necessary about the product, at least not material one. It’s all about deeper shape of direction in which strategy and product moves as a whole. But let’s start from beginning.
Jussi Ahola divides industrial design into two practical fields of design’s effect: consumer design and investment product. He also points out, that as an addition to practical work of design, industrial design also can be management, education or design exploration.
So, everything began during 1950-s, when the point of design was to support and celebrate nation. Designers created and participated in shows with art that was local and not resembling anything else. Main objective was to produce something that catches eye, something that was beautiful, unique and exclusive. Typical quote from those times was „We got a prize in Milan”. Design’s significance was in shape, style and aesthetic. Does that remind you of anything? Designer was as creator, “golden arms”, which could create shapes of yet unseen, for masses.
During 1960-s Finland was flooded by strong wave of industry. Wood production and processing demanded powerful mechanisms and nice things were deemed secondary. Designers also were searching for new opportunities. And they found them. Every piece of bigger equipment demanded some form of action, even more then smaller devices, so designers immersed themselves in this mechanical production. Some even point this as the beginning of industrial design. Design became part of process of product development. The process wasn’t easy, so designers never worked alone. The team was made out of engineers, mechanics and marketing specialists. The main difference is the fact that industrial designer never work alone, but rather in a team with other specialists.
During 1970-s society worn by wars, turned back to domestic life and comfort. Main subject then were ergonomics and convenience. Consumer, be it child or aged person, became main subject of design research. Designers ceased taking interest in a product, and started to discuss what it is instead. Product’s definition was the main point of interest. So analysis and perception of customer’s needs became things of focus.
<…> discussion about responsibility gained political tone <…> Soviet and moral responsibility of designer got so wide and included third world and other countries, which called for help. Restricting resources of the world as much as it was possible became purpose of design. It was also desired for a customer to make his own designs. <…> Money, status and consumerism were enemies. Everyone could be a designer.
Later, about 1980-s, from deep discussion about very essence of product emerged new design field – design management. It was strongly affected by big company competitions and rapid growth. It was not enough to produce product now, you had to regulate its manufacturing and flow. The new kind of designer had to make a contribution to general strategic accomplishments; manage design’s resources; supervise design process; control mesh of information and ideas.
According to Blaich, design manager operates on two levels: encouraging and identifying strategic part of design in a corporation, at the same time coordinating day-to-day operational interactions between related colleagues.
Typical period statement was “Our production portfolio is consistent”. Most important design process – paths of design development and deployment. Designer became sort of coordinator, regulating not only product during its early stage of manufacturing, but also its production and sale indicators. Very important objective for design manager, from the beginning of production of product – supervise the product to meet the company’s concept, general product portfolio; that it would be in the same note as other products in the catalog, that it would be in standard.
Question is – should nation’s tasks be carried out by someone who has formal business marketing education – is discussed in other professions as well <…>However, assumption now is that design marketing should be done by one who was educated as designer.
During 1990-s, emerged another, common building need. Usual management for products wasn’t enough anymore. Marketing was rising, where emphasizing values of the company were more important than product consistency and brand recognition. Designers had to rise even higher and control not only product as a whole, but whole design experience – from early conceptions to manufacturing and selling. New term was invented – design strategy. Foresight of Consumer needs, strategic planning for future, company’s purposeful movement toward design – all of this and much more took in account most of different customer experiences and customer expectations.
Time passed and industrial design’s meaning in Finland changed. Designer always tried to change his position from operation level tasks to strategic job.
2000-s and present times – sphere of design innovation and competitiveness. Rapidly rising threat from China forced companies to seek new ways to compete. It started to think more about product’s journey to the consumer. Demand for new spheres of services emerged. Product now became not only a tool for manufacturing, but more like amount of a whole lot of experiences involved. Consumer is not the mass anymore, but individual. Key words for companies – innovations, engine, novelty, innovative drive and so on.
So I just drew you a picture of how Scandinavians and other West Europe sees design. Designer’s job is not to draw pretty pictures, but rather it’s strategy shaping, setting up management and competition with strong visual expression method. True, it doesn’t mean that all the earlier stages of design is obsolete and not used anymore. It’s just that design now, adjusting to world’s tendencies, has extended its activity possibilities. It’s called improvement. Schools are adjusting to new things, too, and offer suitable education.
If you want to know more about it, I recommend you to read Anna’s Valtonen PhD paper “Redefining Industrial Design. Changes in the Design Practice in Finland”.