There is a common belief that to be a successful industrial designer one has to be a ‘maker of things’ at heart. Making objects, whatever that might be, is a very satisfying way to spend time working because at the end of the day there is a definite physical result, something very tangible, something others can relate to. Making things and designing things are both essentially creative: one has to have an agenda or a brief/objective to fulfil a requirement. The difference between the two is that to make things is physical while to design things is largely imaginative. Obviously some people are naturally better at designing things: their background might have enabled them to train their 3D thinking and therefore allow them to visualise the imagined result.

For my first article about the correlation between industrial design and manufacturing in New Zealand I was searching my memory and the large number of projects my designers and I have undertaken for the most appropriate small piece of design to portray. Twenty years of independent design experience have given me the knowledge and examples of how design can complement the manufacturing industry in staying competitive. My consultancy has worked with a wide range of manufacturing industries such as plastic moulding, sheet metal, extrusion, casting, vacuum forming and more, but we are equally at home developing new ideas for high tech manufacturers as we are familiar with the methodology of fresh conceptual thinking and development for start-up ventures.

In the never ending effort of finding new clients we often approach manufacturers and pitch our design skills as an improvement over their current product development efforts. This is not an easy task and can be very frustrating because of the seemingly impossible task of breaking the cycle of manufacturers accepting their own developments of ‘me- too-products’ as fully resolved products. Designers are by no means perfect; they can, however, offer a holistic approach to product development with their ability to grasp the requirements of the client while considering overruling constraints.

It is sometimes difficult to make a case for good design or, rather, a good case for design without an image to explain. Humans gain well over 90% of their perception through their eyes and yet one needs to be trained in a particular way to step outside ones constraints and see what others might never discover. This phenomenon has many names, such as ‘thinking outside the square’ or when objectively observed from a different angle our inability to ‘see the forest because of the trees’.

New Zealand has a history of inventiveness born out of the necessity of having to make do with what is at hand. It is the basis of our No.8 wire kudos and it has produced famous products like the Hamilton jet and more recently the Dishdrawer made by Fisher & Paykel. Both of these products are remarkable for their refined level of thinking by isolating and resolving problems by design to develop products with unique character and functional advantages which sets them apart and allows them to be successful.

Industrial Design creates Intellectual Property

I vividly remember a long term client of Designbrand standing in our office with a product in his hands and asking: Can you get me around this patent? Without wanting to be specific about particular products I would like to demonstrate with this article how good industrial design thinking coupled with process-inherent problem analysis can create a path to unique intellectual property for manufacturers who might initially be tempted to largely ‘copy’ an existing product to break into a particular market/product niche.