The industrial design industry, like any industry, has seen trends and phases come and go over the years, and the practice continues to evolve organically as a result. Both locally and globally, the industry is slowly moving away from traditional materials, processes and thinking, to dynamic, techno-centric, customer need focused strategy.
Blender Design, an Auckland based industrial design firm, has taken advantage of the changes seen in industry and has tapped new streams of revenue as a result. Alongside their regular clients who come to Blender to help with any stage of the product design process, there is a new wave of clients who are actively partnering with Blender on projects, using both businesses’ strengths to take a product to market. As a result, Blender has grown strong skill sets outside of the design industry, in areas such as marketing, consumer analysis and export.
As seen in many industries, technology is being created, used, and advanced in a variety of ways, as we have seen recently. Specifically in industrial design, new materials are being explored with enthusiasm, including using carbon-fibre in new and interesting ways. The America’s Cup remains as an excellent example of how pre-fabricated pieces makes it much quicker to build things, seemingly overnight.
Prototyping and iterating an idea is a fundamental component of industrial designer work, so advances in this area are particularly useful and sought-after. Rapid prototyping is advancing at a steady pace, being cheaper and easier to make now than ever, using 3D printers and new materials. Pairing up with prototyping partners is another way industrial designers are gaining an edge and producing high quality work for clients.
Interestingly, while advances in some areas of industry evolve and change quickly, the same 3D CAD software that has been in play for awhile now is still being used, albeit with modern updates. Oliver McDermott, managing director of Blender Design, is seeing a shift in practical skills learnt by students today. In the past, there was strong emphasis on woodwork, metalwork and learning how to build things with the hands, whereas now there is a distinct disconnect from the craft, and new designers are heavily reliant on using their computers and 3D printers, something they had ready access to at university.
A good opportunity to build a business, crowdfunding has come into play over the past year in a way not seen before. It’s an easy way to validate a market, involve a group of early adopters, who then become your product ambassadors, ultimately helping with the creation of the product. Their support is essentially a pre-order, which makes the whole task of finding funding a whole lot easier.
Start-ups and small businesses are also able to get support in ways not seen five years ago, through business incubators such as the Icehouse, which are prevalent all over New Zealand. It’s now easier to bootstrap a business through these means and avenues, until revenue starts to come in from export or sales.
A trend becoming more obvious is how consumers are becoming more conscious of their purchasing decisions than ever, especially considering where the product comes from, the environmental impact and their carbon footprint. Additionally, there is an expectation that companies have a closer relationship with the end user, solving their problem and not just creating a product to make money. Users are influencing the decisions along the product design cycle, which feeds into the evidence that proves how important end-user consultation is.
Customisation is also becoming hugely popular. Creating products that are customised for the user, made possible by the user, are becoming hugely popular to mass markets. This follows social change that is allowing people to express themselves as individuals, proudly showing the world who they are and what they represent.
Globally, we’re seeing many opportunities to create solutions and new products for developing countries such as China, Brazil, India and Russia, so if an industrial designer understands what their needs are, there is a huge amount of opportunity to design for them.
Back home, New Zealanders are great at innovating – we’re famous for our no.8 wire mentality. As a nation we tend to undersell ourselves, when really we have a lot of strengths that help us do well. Problem solving while distanced from the rest of the world leads us to approach problems from new and creative angles, resulting in cleverly designed ideas and products. The Christchurch rebuild is an example of how we are rolling up our sleeves and punching above our weight when it comes to innovation and technology. However, even if we are small, the industry still needs to work together more efficiently to share resources and intellectual property. Too often kiwi inventors hold on to their ideas too closely, never allowing them to see the light of day. In our minds, this is a huge waste, as an idea is only 1% of the business.