Predicting the Future of Product Design

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 26, 1991 | Go to article overview

Predicting the Future of Product Design


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


DO you have a telephone shaped like a banana, running shoe, or hamburger?

Does your tea kettle look like it was made by Picasso (yet is nearly impossible to clean)?

Do you suffer from VCR programming distress or user-manual fatigue (frustration over controls)?

Product designers are beginning to hear your cries. Or rather, recession-buffeted corporations are hiring designers to lure customers into buying the same old stuff in glitzy, new shapes.

It's already old news that the design revolution is upon us. Because of super-miniaturized microchips, form no longer has to follow function (an object doesn't have to look like what it does). Shorter product cycles and smaller production runs in manufacturing have meant an explosion of new and unusual products aimed at ever-smaller niches - say, rollerskating frog-lovers under five, or left-handed fisherman over 60. Business gurus say that what marketing and finance was to corporations in the '70s and '80s, product design will be to the '90s.

"Product design is in a quantum climb," says Chuck Pelly, president of the Industrial Design Society of America. "It's like the Paris Impressionist days ... society, business, and consumers are looking to design for the answers."

What may be good news is that designers are moving beyond styles as mere marketing weapons. "What good is a tea kettle that looks great on the stove, but you can't get water in and out?" asks Richard Holbrook, an L. A. designer. "Designers are finally concentrating on that relationship between user and the product."

Global in scope, the new aesthetic is an amalgamation of two schools of thought: the L. …

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