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issue: October 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
The Creative Economy

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by Bruce Claxton, FIDSA, president of the Industrial Design Society of America

We hear that we are in a period of business transformation. It's turbulent and perhaps out of our control. If we look out on the horizon and ask ourselves about alternative scenarios for the future, we can identify key movements that will affect us and for which we can initiate strategies.

Bruce Claxton, president of the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA)

Industry as a whole is looking for partners to help better understand today's uncertainties and what strategies businesses should implement to plan for the future.

Business is usually linear and is now in need of counter-intuitive thinking and actions. Our new era will include discovery, wonderment, and creativity. The combination of art and science will be influential.

Design has become an intellectual methodology. It is experiencing a convergence of concrete and abstract thinking. There is a trend toward the merging of arts and social sciences with technology. Design teams are engaging with psychologists and anthropologists to unlock consumer behaviors. Products need to touch the soul and stimulate the senses of our customers. As products become more experiential and sensorial, they must meet the intangible needs of end users. New approaches to discovery are required.

These new approaches to design research are the result of the combined teaming of design and the social sciences. Don Norman speaks about "Emotion Design"; Akira Harada of Tsukuba University in Japan continues to develop "Kansei Engineering." These are convergent concepts from different parts of the globe that indicate a focus on inspiration - the senses. Aesthetics are being redefined to include the senses. Quality is being redefined as well. New fields such as psycho-acoustics are being used to evaluate and prescribe new approaches to the sound of the product that couples with the look and feel.

As we better understand the link between the sciences and behaviors we will find stimulus for innovative ideas and breakthroughs. Today's hyperfast lifestyle is driving our aspiration for products and artifacts that we use daily. We're experiencing a desire to re-connect with each other and with nature. We are searching for products that are simple and a joy to use. As technologies converge, differentiation will be found in the area of design and how it accommodates needs and aspirations. Taking a linear path to the next new product will assure a path toward commodity and self destruction. In their book, The Experience Economy, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II have written about elevating the customer interaction from a commodity level to an experience. Consumers are looking for the "wow" factor in many of their purchasing experiences, combining style with appropriate technology.

What are some of the elements that will hit the sweet spot of the new consumer? The new breed of products that satisfy these criteria will be more cerebral. User interfaces will become simpler and more intuitive. Product interface must fit the mental models of our experiences with products that we already use, or create such a simple breakthrough that it doesn't matter. The ideal is a world with no user manuals.

Post Modernism is being redefined. As products become more complex in features, we are seeing simplification of the form that embraces the interface.

In what other ways can we resonate with consumers? The movement toward personalization and customization will continue. With the use of the Internet, we can order our own version of a mass-produced product. A higher level of involvement and interactivity in defining the product increases customer satisfaction. Why? We are targeting the sweet spot of customer desire when we involve the consumer in defining the future. The design staff of the future will consider their end user/customer as a participant on the design staff. We can apply our imaginations to new ways of bringing solutions to the individual level. Products that are minimally different from competition will not have a long shelf life. Uniqueness with a purpose can drive excitement in the market.

Finally, a new century of materials and color is emerging. Silver is the new translucence. We are not seeing material imitations, but the real thing. Flexible translucent gels will appeal to our sensuous tactile needs. Blue continues to be the color of the new millennium - one of purity, credibility, and technology. Earth tones are coming on strong, reinforcing that interest to reconnect with nature. Orange is strong as a dynamic accent. Light is now considered a color, reflecting the richness of the cerebral in color.

This age of transformation provides a significant opportunity for those prepared to apply creativity. It's a great time to be a designer. Industry is looking for another voice that can help change the game. New value will be realized by design and its new contributions.

Bruce Claxton is the president of the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA). He is also the senior director of Design Integration at Motorola, Inc. With more than 30 years experience in industrial design, Mr. Claxton holds more than 40 U.S. patents and numerous foreign patents. He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, OH, U.S.


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