People construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experiences, in the process maybe changing what we believe, or discarding the new information as irrelevant. In any case, we are active creators of our own knowledge, perception and consciousness. To do this, we must ask questions, explore, and assess what we know or shall I say what we don’t know. The best way to learn is to simply start doing and tinkering the world surrounding us.
Since the industrial revolution the aim of industry has been to produce high quality good at a lower price and it has changed the very way we live our lives. Industrial Design has played a major role in making the dreams of millions and millions of people a reality. So, what is Industrial Design?
“Industrial design is a process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production. Its key characteristic is that design is separated from manufacture: the creative act of determining and defining a product’s form and features takes place in advance of the physical act of making a product, which consists purely of repeated, often automated, replication. This distinguishes industrial design from craft-based design, where the form of the product is determined by the product’s creator at the time of its creation. All manufactured products are the result of a design process, but the nature of this process can take many forms: it can be conducted by an individual or a large team; it can emphasize intuitive creativity or calculated scientific decision-making, and often emphasizes both at the same time; and it can be influenced by factors as varied as materials, production processes, business strategy and prevailing social, commercial or aesthetic attitudes. The role of an industrial designer is to create and execute design solutions for problems of form, function, usability, physical ergonomics, marketing, brand development, sustainability, and sales.” -Wikipedia
- Is it really about the art or the process of designing manufactured products?
- Is Industrial Design concerned about making things beautiful, low cost, mass manufactured, consumerism, and planned obsolescence?
- Or is it something more than that, something which is more fundamental in nature?
- Is following a predefined process (called design process a lot of time) and coming up with the product the only approach to Industrial Design?
- In the present scenario of customized user dictated market is there actually a need to differentiate Industrial Design from Crafts?
- Is Industrial Design about making sense of the world we live in?
- Is Industrial Design in the present day only about making renders and intangible artefacts, which will remain just as bits of information in the system or is it about making artefacts which people can interact with or have associations with?
- What role does technology plays in the evolution of Industrial Design?
- What can Industrial Design take from school of thought of D.I.Y, Maker Movement, Open Source, Sustainability, Redistributed Manufacturing and Digital Fabrication?
- Is the role of an Industrial Designer just constricted to creating and executing design solutions? Can they be a part of a bigger system responsible for knowledge creation and sharing?
- How important is a systemic way of data, information and knowledge creation?
Why is there a need to get back to the roots of Industrial Design?
After the introduction of computation to Industrial Design a lot of things changed. The process started becoming digital, so did the deliverables. Instead of having real life scale models, hi fidelity prototypes, tangible experiences came the era of renders, animations, mock-ups etc. It became easy to make a change in the computer system rather than creating the artefact itself. The physical disconnect a product and the designer became wide during the designing phase. There is something intimate about an actual prototype and a digital render or a CAD model just cannot replicate that.
A shift has come recently in the way digital Industrial Design was practiced. Digital fabrication started getting attention of a lot of industrial designer because of reduction in cost. Digital design tools and techniques started to facilitate efficiency gains, shorten development times, and aid collaboration between members of product development teams. As the range of digital tools available to the industrial designer increases, the viability of a totally digital industrial design strategy and opportunities to employ the methods in design education also increases. But overall there is a general lack of use of digital design tools and media by industrial design students and practitioners.
“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”
If digital fabrication and design tools are employed with the conventional making process a new sort of Industrial design emerges which is futuristic but is still rooted in the experience and knowledge which has been accumulated over centuries by the human race.
What can Local Manufacturing do?
When you are designing something it has to be done keeping in mind the context in which it would be used. What are the local practices, materials, processes etc become important. Because of Internet access is not an issue. Everything you need is available at the click of a button; it has become convenient to buy something from another country than to buy it from the local market. But what often is ignored is the effect which is brought in when things are sourced from outside. Shipping, availability of spares, local manufacturing process and materials make a huge difference. There is a need to priorities what should be sourced locally and what from outside.
Because of the maker movement and DIY culture, small scale production by consumer’s often using peer to peer resources has taken off and is being referred to as distributed manufacturing or local manufacturing. Initial life cycle analysis indicates that distributed production can have a smaller impact on the environment than conventional manufacturing and shipping because of reductions in transportation embodied energy.
Digital Fabrication has lead to digitization of fabrication, where you don’t just digitize design, but the materials and the process. The computer program doesn’t just describe the thing but becomes the thing. So, this thing can take the local form using the tools. Example a stool in Ahmedabad can be CNC milled in teak wood which is commonly available in local market. The same stool can be CNC milled in London using Birch Ply which is common there. So, the digitized design is the common variable, rest can change according to the local needs and even the digitized design can be tinkered with the available tools.
Why should Industrial Designers practice Making and Open Source?
Maker Culture Maker culture accentuates informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and fulfillment. Maker culture encourages novel applications of technologies, and the exploration of intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working including electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the traditional arts and crafts. The rise of this making subculture is rooted in the phenomenon of hackerspaces emerging themselves from the counterculture movement.
Community interaction and knowledge sharing are often mediated through networked technologies, with websites and social media tools forming the basis of knowledge repositories and a central channel for information sharing and exchange of ideas, and focused through social meetings in shared hackerspaces Some say that the maker culture is a reaction to the de-valuing of physical exploration and the growing sense of disconnection with the physical world in modern cities. And Indian cities have such beautifully ingrained affordance for collaboration, making, information and knowledge sharing.
Many products produced by the maker communities have a focus on health (food), sustainable development, environmentalism, local culture and can from that point of view also be seen as a negative response to disposables, globalised mass production, the power of chain stores, multinationals and consumerism.
The maker culture is a social movement with an artisan spirit in which the methods of digital fabrication – previously the exclusive domain of institutions – have become accessible at a personal scale, following a logical and economic progression similar to the transition from minicomputers to personal computers in the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s.
In the end maker culture isn’t about robots or 3D printing or electronics or even building things. It’s a new Renaissance, post-industrial, that is led by each person and every person being fluent with the idea of meaning making, ethics, politics of technology, and conscientization. The maker culture is not about the STUFF we can make, it’s about the MEANING we can make.
Open Source Open Source refers to the model of providing goods and services which includes the possibility of the enduser’s participation in the production of these goods and services. Open participation and collaboration – which implies the vulnerability to share work in progress, without ego, power struggle, and insecurity. The core values are efficiency, and the ethics and wisdom to understand what we should be efficient about. In practice, we should strive to find effective ways to document our work – to create an open collaboration platform – where collaborators can come on boards rapidly. While it is difficult to document – the real-time, online collaborative tools (like Instructables) of the information age make it easier – and we should aim to tap these new tools to document and develop together.
Open source movement has lead to opening access to the information and technology which enables a different economic system to be realized, one based on the integration of natural ecology, social ecology, and industrial ecology. This economic system is based on open access- based on widely accessible information and associated access to productive capital- distributed into the hands of an increased number of people. Companies like Local Motors, Esty are practicing this.
A highly distributed, increasingly participatory model of production is the core of a democratic society, where stability is established naturally by the balance of human activity with sustainable extraction of natural resources. This is the opposite of the current mainstream of centralized economies, which have a structurally built-in tendency towards of overproduction.
The integration of the natural, societal, and industrial ecologies – Open Source Ecology- aims at sustainable and regenerative economics. We are convinced that a possibility of a quality life exists, where human needs are guaranteed to the world’s entire population- as long as we ask ourselves basic questions on what societal structures and productive activities are truly appropriate to meeting human needs for all.
At the end of the day, the goal of design is to liberate our time to engage in exactly that which each of us wants to be doing – instead of what we need to do to survive. All have the potential to thrive.
One really important part of Open Source is the creation of repositories which share a common language and can be replicated, iterated, manipulated by the users according to their needs and context. Hence, it becomes really important to document the process, so that it can be shared seamlessly across various platforms.