A New Year's Wish

I’d like Design Confidential to head into the New Year without a resolution but with a wish. My hope for 2010 comes from an event in 2009. It occurred in April during the Green Living Show in Toronto and it left me disillusioned. I had begun to think that Canada’s manufacturing sector was starting to learn but I was wrong.

I had thought that the new “green” industries would be run by a new generation of progressive, forward thinking individuals that would recognize that implementing a design program will help their business prosper and clean the earth at the same time. Was I ever off the mark! While I certainly do not want to paint everyone with the same brush, I must say that most of the people I spoke with on that occasion did not have any interest whatsoever in improving their products through design.

The low point came when talking to a very young Toronto area company that produced green home cleaning products. They manufactured their own liquids and did their own packaging. I saw this as a good fit as I have done some very innovative package design for major international companies. However, their response to me was so negative and ignorant that it bordered on rudeness. They described design as an “unnecessary expense”. Even when I tried to explain that their competitors like Clorox invested large sums of money on design to give their products the most effective and functional packaging, they almost had me hustled off.

These are the same enterprises that complain that they can’t compete in the globalized economy, the same manufacturers that lobby governments to tax imports, the same companies you read about in the news that close because they can’t sell their wares anymore. These same individuals that have not learned from the economic downturn that well-designed, desirable products (especially lower commitment products like cleaning supplies) are more recession-proof than bad products.

So my wish for this New Year is that Canadian companies will see design for what it truly is, not an unnecessary expense but a necessary investment.


Design of the Decade

The 00s are coming to a close and as most media compile lists of the decade, Design Confidential should weigh in on the product that defined the era. My choice is a fairly obvious one but perhaps my rationale behind it has its own unique take.

I have selected the Apple iPod Touch/iPhone as my Design of the Decade. One could argue that the original iPod should be the winner. However, I believe the iPod was more an incarnation of the Sony Walkman, a device to take your music/videos with you. What was unique about the “touch-based” devices was not the portability but the interface.

We morphed from button pushers to screen touchers and device movers. This organic contact brought a more humanistic approach to how we connect ourselves to these machines. It opened up vast possibilities of fun and function. This piece of glass could transform itself from a tool to a musical instrument in seconds. Scrolling through your vacation photographs was now more like leafing through a paper album than mousing and clicking through computer files. You could even drive a racecar by steering your iPhone.

As for physical design, the iTouch/iPhone used very traditional materials, stainless steel and glass, but with new green twists. The glass is arsenic free and the metal is recyclable. It presented a strong iconic image, one that was copied by other manufacturers.

The product is the torch bearer of the new music media. It is the ultimate port of call of the MP3 cruise. The touch-based interface made the already easy to use iTunes music/video management system even more user-friendly.

However, for me, these products were Design of the Decade because they proved once again that people love good design. Check out anyone listening to music or gaming in public and you’ll notice the distinctive white ear bugs. Look at their hands and that steel enclosure will glint in the light. In a decade when mainstream design continued to go backward in many ways, the Apple iPod Touch and iPhone were shining beacons of modernity, a true reflection of the age we live in.


Designer Pages Revolutionizing Product Info Sharing

One of the highlights of the IIDEX Trade Fair in Toronto this past September was connecting with the people from Designer Pages. They had set up a base of plasma screens so they could broadcast from the show floor in real time through Twitter, capturing the action as it happened. This innovative approach to tradeshow reporting and their extensive web-based library of designer products from all over the world really impressed me.

So it was very cool when they asked me to curate a page of product selections for their site. Since we’re closing in on holiday time, I decided to write a piece entitled “Design for Down Time.” It features different objects that all fulfill one simple task — chilling out. So check out my collection and while you’re there, be sure to explore Designer Pages’ vast library of interesting furniture and architectural products. View my collection for Designer Pages.

Designer Pages is an online community and user-generated catalog that promotes an efficient way for designers to search, save and share information. The site is designed to help professionals streamline their workflow with enhanced browsing and saving capabilities. Their unique “Workspaces” function helps designers create virtual libraries for fast reference.

What is really compelling about this tool is it eliminates the need to stock manufacturers’ catalogues. Just think of how many fewer catalogues would need to be printed and shipped if we all just referenced objects from our online “Workspaces.” Cool indeed.

The sharing of information is becoming ever more crucial to all professions but particularly for designers who always want the latest product innovations at their fingertips. Online networking through blogs, social media and virtual archives help us keep abreast of what’s happening right now. It also promotes more dialogue between different design disciplines and gets us talking and debating more. Finally, in the era of Internet info sharing, people outside of the industry can get involved and get to know about design more easily.

If you are on Twitter, make sure to follow Designer Pages (@designerpages) or subscribe to their design blog 3rings. You can also visit Designer Pages’ site to learn more about them.

View my collection for Designer Pages.


Touched by a Star

Let’s conduct a simple test. Raise your hand if live in a house designed by a famous architect like Rem Koolhaas or Frank Gehry? How many of you wear a piece of clothing designed by Miuccia Prada or John Galliano? Hands up, please. I would suspect that there are a few raised hands out there but not an overwhelming majority.

Anyone listen to an iPod or drive a Mazda? I would venture that there are a lot more of you now reaching for the ceiling. If you did, congratulations, you are the proud owner of an MP3 player designed by perhaps one of the most talented industrial design studios on the planet or the driver of an automobile conceived by one of the leading automotive design teams in the industry.

While more people recognize architecture or fashion design as professions, few people own things created by the superstars of these vocations. I guess that makes industrial design one of the most democratic design disciplines. What other industry gives the general public so much access to products by its top practitioners? Visionary companies utilize industrial designers for their product development. Industrial designers have designed almost everything you use in your daily lives including even the most inexpensive items.

Take a company like Method Home. Their packaging is exquisite not to mention the great scents and cleaning products they manufacture. In 1983, the great Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, even designed a pasta for Voiello called Marille. So for around a dollar one could purchase a designer object by a hall of famer. How democratic is that?

In today’s celebrity obsessed world, I believe that a lot more people would really get into design if they knew that some of the everyday products out there were designed by the stars of this industry.


Gaga for Design

Today’s posting is a critique, a design review if you will. So for the first critique on Design Confidential I’ve chosen not a car, a furniture collection, a building, an envoronment or even an electronic gadget or work of graphic design. I’m going for the Gaga. Lady Gaga that is. I believe that her video for “Bad Romance” is a good piece of design.

By now you’re probably thinking I’ve sniffed too many Pantone markers. So let’s get critiquing.

The video begins with the title “Bath Haus of Gaga”. This could have easily read Bauhaus of Gaga for its strict adherence to the “less is more” philosophy. This modern, minimalist approach is used throughout the piece creating a strong visual consistency. Everything from the interior spaces, the furniture, d├ęcor accessories and the props all work together aesthetically and are of the same theme. Call it futuristic or sci-fi but it all hangs together. The great architects such as Alvar Aalto or Frank Lloyd Wright believed in retaining an aesthetic consistency in their projects. They insisted on designing not only the building but the furniture also. So in this regard, the video holds true to having a very exacting attention to detail.

The interiors themselves while they might seem from outer space do exist in high design spaces. Pick up a copy of Artravel or Frame and you will find domestic environments similar to the Gaga video. The bleak white spaces with endless gridded ceilings and floors remind me of the experimental landscapes of Archizoom and Superstudio, a collaborative of avant garde Italian design thinkers of the 1960s.

Design stars also make cameos. Philippe Stark’s Zikmu iPod station gets actuated by Lady Gaga’s steel-mesh covered fingernail. Stark appears again with his Kartell La Marie chairs while she struts in front of a group of playboys. Alexander McQueen’s claw stilettos even make an appearance.

Lastly any song that has a lyric that stating “I want your design” merits a post in this blog.

Check out "Bad Romance".


I am officially uncategorized

In my first post I stated that design is invisible. Here’s an example. When I was filling in the information for this blog there was a box where one would select their “category”. I had to pick “consulting.” Why? Because in terms of design all they offered me was architecture or fashion. I applaud them for even listing these two sectors but it left me “uncatergorized”.

Whenever I’m at a social event and someone asks me, “So what do you do?” the answer to this simple question becomes more involved. The response “I’m a designer.” typically leads to bewilderment or more questions, such as ” So what do you design, clothes?”. Or I’m asked if I’m an architect or graphic artist. Which in hindsight, I guess Blogger.com’s categories of designers isn’t that bad.

But anyway, my point is we are an invisible industry even though almost everything you use to drive, to make mobile telephone calls, to clean dishes and clothes, to watch entertainment at home, to compute and to staple paper together to name only a few “categories” of product, saw the involvement of an industrial designer.

What is even more bizarre is that the people who should know about industrial design don’t. Any manufacturing company can benefit by incorporating a design program into their product development. The companies that succeed owe their good fortune in large part to design. However, I’ve come across many in North America’s manufacturing sector who have never heard of industrial design. I would never think negatively about someone outside industry not knowing about the profession because there is very little exposure to design in the mass media. However, I am always shocked even after two decades in the business that some industrialists still ask me to clarify exactly what it is that I do. I once had a company president upon hearing me use the term industrial designer inquire if I designed factories. Well, an industrial engineer would probably be a better candidate for that task and guess what, engineering did merit a category on Blogger.com.


Rocky's Courage

At this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach Art Fair, a new artist showed his paintings. His name? Sylvester Stallone. Yes, that Sylvester Stallone, the dude who immortalized two of machodom’s greatest icons, Rocky and Rambo, on screen. There are many celebs these days who try their hand at a “second” creative pursuit. P Diddy did a collection of car wheels , Cindy Crawford “inspires” furniture design and does bedding not to mention the numerous stars who have clothing collections.

I cannot judge whether Mr. Stallone’s paintings are good or bad as I’m not an expert in fine art.But what I can say with certainty is that Rocky showed a lot of courage by putting his art in the ring. Painting unlike design is totally expressive and the final product is wrought at the hands of its creator. The design of products is a multi-process endeavour. At some point, the designer will cease creating pencil strokes and the computer, moulding machine or upholstery people will take over. Stallone’s brushstrokes are there in plain view, ripe for praise or ridicule.

We have no idea at which point the so-called celeb-designers headed back to the Hollywood hills while legions of technicians and craftspeople completed their “projects”. I am in no way accusing these individuals of not having anything to do with their designs. But this profession is not as open an undertaking as art. The artist will create the piece in their imagination and execute it with their own hands. In design, it’s much easier to hide behind the processes. In that great title bout of the celeb-artistes, the others wouldn’t last a round with Rocky.

I salute Sylvester Stallone in this regard and one other. Through his association with the art world, maybe more males will develop an interest in painting. Maybe, the stigma that art is not a very macho thing to pursue will somehow diminish. An interest in art is fundamental in better understanding and appreciating design.

View Sylvester Stallone's work.


Design Confidential

Welcome to Design Confidential. You’ve heard the word design before but its meaning or meanings still remains ambiguous to most people. My objective in setting up this portal to is to give non-designers a peak behind the curtain. I truly believe that design is invisible to most people yet it affects everyone’s life in one way or another. Incidentally, if you are a design professional, you’re welcome also.

Added to today's posting is a short trailer about this blog.

So what is design? A few years ago I participated in a program to teach design to Grade 2 students. For that course I defined design as the bridge between the imagination and reality. Every product, building, interior space, etc., starts with a concept, thought, market need or opportunity, inspiration or idea, in other words something abstract. Design is the process by which that notion takes shape and is developed into something that is real and three dimensional. My design specialty is industrial design. I spend my time working on products, mainly transportation and furniture but I’ve also designed bathtubs, clocks, dishware, office equipment, garbage bins, signage and handbags.

My blog will feature posts based on my areas of specialty but also insights, anecdotes and travel stories on places and things that I’ve found compelling. Why am I doing this? Well, I believe that many people in North America have not had the opportunity to get a true look at this industry. The mainstream media never covers design and when they do feature a work of design, it rarely states its author. My goal is to bring the human side of design to people. To show that while the buildings and objects we use everyday might have been planned using a computer or built by a robot, its process of creation and development was nothing short of human.