“But… ¿What is design (of product)?”

In GRUP IDEA we design furniture, lighting or any product of industrial line. We perform the project management of the production phase and we integrate the customer in the process adding value and final innovation.

But … What is design (of a product)? It is a question with an answer that is not simple. So below you can read a thoughtful post by Miquel Angel Juliá, partner and Design Director of GRUP IDEA, appeared in the magazine I-Candela.

As a teacher, there are always questions, or rather answers that we have to confront that command  respect. If you are dealing with a Post Graduate in Product Design in which the vast majority of students are architects like us… so more so. If architects are still asking themselves what  architecture is, just imagine when we ask ourselves… ¿What is design (of product)?

 In the same way that Regis Mckenna said that “Marketing is everything, and everything is marketing”, it could be said that design is everything, and everything is design. Almost everything “artificial “” that surrounds us and facilitates our quality of life has been designed. We only have to know how to observe. Objects, spaces, buildings, systems, services, experiences are designed. Design is the car that we drive, the clothes pin we use, the I-PAD, the clip to attach papers, the chair we seat on… The truth is that never before had we accumulated so many objects in our daily life. We are totally under the influence of a consumer society.

The literal translation of “PRODUCT DESIGN” is DESIGN OF PRODUCTS, but it is a definition that falls short. The definition would have to include, among other things, the generation of ideas, development of concepts, prototyped and manufacture of products, implementation of products/spaces/services… A “Product Designer” touches different activities like marketing,  direction or management, design, engineering… It also combines art, craftsmanship, science, technology, trade…It has to know how to act in an interdisciplinary mode…ergonomics,graphics, illumination, fashion, sustainability

We apply the term DESIGN incorrectly and excessively. We speak of “design lofts”, “design drugs”… even of “design smiles”. The media uses DESIGN in a frivolous and superficial way, like an adjective, distorting and therefore underrating its original meaning. Thus, design is linked to modern, expensive and useless objects. As an anecdote, I will say that the known manufacturer of kitchens BULTHAUP, forbids the use of the word DESIGN in his advertising.

 We have to talk about the verb DESIGN, understood as the abstract activity of a project previous to its  production, or as a subject, DESIGN understood as result.

In our case DESIGN and PROJECT could be understood as synonymous. It is here where the activity of architects and designers meet. Deep down the difference between both disciplines, in a very simplified way, could be considered a mere factor of scale. Design is to find solutions.

DESIGN, as we conceptualize it presently, seems to be linked only to the industrial world, but it is not so. We also have to be careful not to confuse concepts like DESIGN and “DESIGN MANAGEMENT”. It is one thing to DESIGN and another one to MANAGE the DESIGN.Design is “a plan to arrange elements in a way as to achieve the performance intended in the best possible way”. Charles Eames

 “Design means to find  new ways to negotiate the different components of the things that we usually  use so they become more manageable, more comfortable and more comprehensible”. André Ricard

“Design (…), planning of the artificial world, that is to say, of all the products done by human beings: material objects, verbal and visual communication, services and organized activities, complex systems and surroundings to live, work, play and learn in”. Isabel Campí 

Although if we asked Jorge Wagensberg, scientific director of the Foundation “the Caixa” and creator of the current CosmoCaixa, he would speak to us also about “natural design”.

“In  human design, first there is the problem and then the solution. On the other hand, in  natural design  first there is the solution and after, a lot of time after, the problem.” Jorge Wagensberg

But… ¿What is product? The term PRODUCT, as well as the term DESIGN, is used in an excessively broad sense and in a not very clear way. A savings account, a life insurance,…are defined as products. Just remember when the controversial publicist Risto Mejilde  addressed  a contestant  of Operation Triumph:

“I do not care how you have sung, what interests me is if there is a product behind that I can sell . I see a voice and a person but, the truth is, I do not see a product.”Risto Mejilde

But… ¿How is a good design? It is helpful to remembered what Oscar Guayabero said during the “Any del Disseny” (2003), coinciding with the centenary of the creation of the FAD:

“It has to fulfill four requirements. 

First: it  has to be accessible to all users.

 Second: it has to serve the industry. The industrialists have to be convinced that the design is not an added value and the designer has to be present from the very conception of the product.

 In third place, good design has to be sustainable: objects have a curriculum behind, a full history of things that have happened to make it what it is. The smaller it is, the better; fewer resources have been used in its production, less energy, etcetera.  

And finally, it has to have an emotional component, because the objects that surround us have to brighten our view and help us be happier.”Oscar Guayabero.

The logo chosen for the “Any del Disseny” was a simple clip, a small object that Juli Capella defines like “a master piece of design: fifteen centimeters of wire intelligently bent”.

The Clip, itself, is a simple idea, effective and cheap that allows joining several pages, pinning them in a reversible way without damaging them. Its origin traces back to the 19th century, in USA, with a patent of Samuel B. Fay (1867). Its design allowed attaching labels to garments without damaging them. Later the Norwegian Johan Vaaler would patent his model with rectangular form (1899), although the British company Glem Manufacturing Company (1870) was already producing another model, the one that made it to our days in the shape of a tight loop. The model known today is a simple wire bent in relation to 3 different diameters. No only were the different models patented but so was the machinery that allowed the bending and cutting of the wire without breaking it. Presently, the Swedish word GLEM, means CLIP…

As you see, the question is still there… ¿What is design (of  a product)?

Miquel Àgel Julià, arquitecto. Director de diseño de GRUP IDEA.