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Product design is an ever-changing field, with new trends and advancements emerging every year. As we move into 2023, there are several key factors that are shaping the industry and influencing the way products are designed. In this article, we will explore the top four things that are shaping product design in 2023: AI, Industry 4.0, funding for research and development, and sustainability. These four factors are driving the future of product design and are expected to have a significant impact on how designers approach their work. From the use of AI to enhance the design process, to the integration of smart technologies in manufacturing, to the increasing focus on sustainability and ethical design, we will examine how each of these factors is changing the landscape of product design and what designers and businesses need to do to keep up with the times.

Don’t believe what you’ve just read? What if we told you that the introduction, prior to this sentence, was written by an AI program called ChatGPT.

01.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The conversations of AI can equally be very broad and very specific. Besides writing introductions to product design articles, can AI really take away our jobs?

Our belief is that AI will not replace today’s Designers, but Designers who know how to utilise AI will.

For example, as I have been writing this article, AI has been working away ensuring my spelling is correct, sentences formatted correctly, and  from time to time it tries to auto-fill the rest of my sentence. There’s no avoiding it, AI is here to stay and just like our spell corrector friend, it is going to become more and more integrated in our daily tasks.

Designers have been quick to harness new AI tools coming to hand to assist with their design process. Programs like Vizcom and Midjourney are proving especially powerful during early stage ideation phases where rapid, loose concepts are required rather than manually sketching each iteration. It’s worth mentioning that these concepts are vastly misinformed, missing crucial details to meet critical requirements. At this point, designers are forced to focus their value on balancing the critical requirements set out by the brief with a variety of instantaneous inspiration.

We had a go putting a simple sketch of headphones into Vizcom. Check out the AI generated concepts it gave us within seconds below:

02.

Industry 4.0

By now, the term ‘Industry 4.0’ has started to become more widely used and acknowledged. The concept of Industry 4.0 relates to embedding real-time, data-driven analytics into already existing automated manufacturing processes that have been commonplace over the last 20 years.

Technological drivers of Industry 4.0 are largely described through the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. By adapting a standard operating space or assembly line through sensing technology, data capture is enabled. Once data capture is enabled, analysis and visualisation are key to providing insight, this is where AI really proves its worth to help sort the erroneous from the effective. This uptake of smarter production facilities influences how designers and engineers relate to workflow, non-product team members and customers. In New Zealand, to understand further how Industry 4.0 has evolved, how it continues to be normalised and how your business can benefit from adopting parts of i4.0, Callaghan Innovation offer the Aronui Workshop – Industry 4.0 Navigator.

03.

Funding for Research & Development

R&D is known to be cash-heavy. For New Zealand to increase its productivity (revenue generated per employee), funding for innovating on products and services needs to be available. Since 2019, the Research & Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) scheme has been acting to incentivise spending on R&D. It is however not a direct method of funding, which can be less beneficial to some types of earlier stage product businesses.

The 2023 R&D funding landscape will be shaped by a number of sources, some being:

  1. New to R&D Grant – Administered through Callaghan Innovation, this co-fund serves as the onboarding to the RDTI, which focuses not only on capital, but also on capability to increase the chances of a successful product business over the long-term.
  2. Arohia Innovation Trailblazer Grant – Administered through Callaghan Innovation, this fund seeks to specifically target products, platforms, or services that generate significant benefit to New Zealand. 
  3. Plastics Innovation Fund – Administered through the Ministry For The Environment, this fund supports projects that will minimise plastic waste.
  4. CircularConnect – Administered through Plastics NZ, this is a co-funded initiative focussing on minimising and/or eliminating plastic waste from products and packaging.
  5. Te Punaha Hihiko: Vision Matauranga Capability Fund – Administered through MBIE, this fund seeks to unlock innovation through Maori knowledge for the benefit of New Zealand.

04.

Sustainability

The honeymoon phase is over. Over the past year businesses large and small have been signing pledges, attending events and vocalising their engagement towards a better future. Shifting into 2023, we are all realising that now is the time for action and thankfully businesses are becoming more empowered to do so, not only with their product offerings but through their daily operations as well.

  • Climate Action Toolbox is an online tool which businesses can use at the beginning or during their sustainability journeys to assess their current emissions, and identify areas of opportunity.  
  • Docket is a supply chain assessment tool for businesses, hosted by the Sustainable Business Network. Using Docket, SBN identified that around 70% of a business’s environmental impact comes from its supply chain. Docket is a tool to guide businesses towards better alternatives. But finding alternatives can be hard, this is where SBN doubles down and offers their SBN Directory which helps businesses find sustainable options from raw materials through to products and companies that offer stewardship schemes.
  • B Corp Climate Collective is yet another business-based resource and community hub that encourages reducing emissions through assessment of product, governance, supply & value chain.
  • Climate Connect Aotearoa brings together business, government, Māori, academia, funders and investors, and climate innovators to create the solutions required for Aotearoa New Zealand to thrive in the face of climate change. They have a pretty cool network diagram that helps make sense of the often overwhelming level of information that surrounds sustainability.

Thanks for the inspo ChatGPT, we’ll take it from here.