Is Industrial Design Dead?

So csven and I were doing our usual “ping-pong” discussion on Twitter. This time we were talking about The Death of Industrial Design. Csven laments that there is a confusion on what an Industrial Designer does, as the world sees it as styling and making beautiful things. Basically it looks like we just do shallow stuff. (Check out the post for more background information.)
Perhaps in my view, has the definition of Industrial Design changed? Perhaps we should not be called Industrial Designers? If so what should we be called?
Here is our Twitter conversation:

designsojourn: LOL The Death of Industrial Design. (I’m not mocking here.)
csven: I still like “Product Designer”, “Product Engineer”, and “Product Stylist” (in comments of post)
designsojourn: I call myself a Design Producer. Don’t you think that is more apt? We can produce anything. Tangible and intangible!
csven: Confusing I think; “design” as a noun. To me it’s an activity.
csven: When I hand off a “design”, I’m really handing over a solution (drawing, 3D file, model). Product also tangible/intangible.
designsojourn: I’m looking at it as a means to an end. Solution is the end. Means? The process and as a producer we are masters of the process.
csven: so you “produce” a process (e.g. “walk producer”). Fine. But does that not further confuse the definition of “design”?
designsojourn: Perhaps. But it implies a means to an end. Design is less emphasized. Though I do use design strategy, thinking, n problem solving.

What do you guys think? Are we Producers of solutions, ideas and beautiful things? Should we call ourselves Design Producers, and are our roles just like the Producers in film and media?
Check out some of my other thoughts on this issue as well:
1) The future of the Industrial Design Discipline
2) Starck says Design is Dead, yet Again?

  • DT

    May 8, 2008 at 5:09 pm Reply

    Hi All,
    Thanks for all your thoughts and sharing them. I appreciate it.

  • csven

    May 3, 2008 at 6:30 pm Reply

    Maybe the other people here are talking about the worth of the profession, Larry. I’m not. I’m discussing the evolution of the profession and the removal of an outdated tag which, in my opinion, is confusing and no longer even applies. Nothing more.
    If I wanted to talk about whether the profession was “important” to society, I’d discuss that issue in no uncertain terms.
    As to the confusion over your “(what I do)”, I’d venture plenty of people get confused reading your comments, so I’d ask that you not hold me accountable for your failings. Designers should always endeavor to communicate effectively by whatever means available, and I genuinely thought you might be trying to re-enter the industrial design arena.
    In the meantime, you didn’t answer the questions. Saying “only one of the many things I do” could mean you candy stripe at the local hospital. Your response has nothing to do with the off-topic issue you’re raising, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s disingenuous and evasive.
    By the way, when you can take a break from over-reacting, I’d still like to see some samples of all that Industrial Design work you did way back when. As you claimed to have been “trained and awarded by the best of them”, I’m sure we’d all like to see what that means.

  • larryr

    May 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm Reply

    I only pointed out the heart of the question asked in the blogs title. And that the heart of the question is as old as the “profession” itself.
    The “I” is not me. although only YOU seem to think in terms of “I” only. it’s “I” as in the “asker of the question.”
    We all “know” that “you” at “your blog” offer all the “new” ideas to a dying design industry eager to crown you a saviour and leader.
    Its StarbaseC3, and it’s entertainment, and only one of the many things I do.
    And I never left design or the professional disciplines I was taught or practiced for 20 years. Disciplines and a Professionalism that you so clearly lack, as repeatably shown by your “attack” posts at the many blogs your not welcome at anymore.
    So clearly “Industrial Design” has relevence-importance today. It’s you, like all self ego driven -late to the obvious – “prophets of meta” who dosent.
    You look again for your importance in a conversation you dont understand.
    “Only you can prevent stupid blog posts”

  • csven

    May 3, 2008 at 4:57 am Reply

    I see Larry has stopped in to “clear up the issues”. Except I find the “what I do” part confusing, considering he claims to have left the industrial design profession back in ’92 (ref:
    Which then leads me to ask: Larry, is what *you’re* doing “important”? Is StarBase3 solving world hunger, curing diseases, and generally benefiting society? And is that why you left ID? Or do you not even ask that question?

  • larry Rosenthal

    May 3, 2008 at 4:23 am Reply

    you ask the the wrong question….
    Is “industrial design” (what i do) “important” to others in my society/culture? is what you really want to ask…..
    so ask it….
    but realize if your’e asking, you already know the answer.
    “only you can prevent forest fires.”- smokey a bear.
    also remember the next century isnt the western one… and “industrial” in India/China is all but a repeat of the western 20th century trying to happen.

  • csven

    May 2, 2008 at 1:58 am Reply

    I’m not entirely sure my “walk producer” comment was understood. Imagine this conversation:
    Average Person: “What do you do for a living?”
    Walk Producer: “I produce walking.”
    Average Person: “huh?”
    Walk Producer: “I make walk.”
    Average Person: “Come again?”
    Walk Producer: “I walk walk.”
    Average Person: blank stare
    To me, claiming to be a “design producer” is pretty much the same thing. The only way it works is if design *is* the end and not the means, because “produce” is by default the (undefined) means. Design thus becomes the output and not the effort and thought which arrived at the output.
    Walk Producer: “And what do you do?”
    Average Person: “I’m a design designer.”
    Walk Producer: “Ah. You design aesthetics. A stylist.”
    Average Person: “I’m no stylist, dammit. I do more than that.”
    Walk Producer: “Ummmm, so you mean you’re a designer of processes?”
    Average Person: “No. That would be a process designer. I design design.”
    Walk Producer: blank stare
    All that said, the point is moot. My issue isn’t with “design” but with the “industrial” tag preceding it. Read the blog entry to which this one points. The “death” is in the limited context of the activity: industrial. It’s no longer applicable.
    The new context is the world wide marketplace represented by emerging businesses such as Threadless, Etsy, Ponoko, Fabjectory, etc. It’s the result of people having the ability to leverage tools once limited to big business, and to use those tools to take their work directly to consumers; often outside the framework of “industrial”. For a good example, try this guys toys:
    In that broader context and in recognition of the confusion which both “industrial” and “design” engender, I believe the three classifications I listed work much better. But hey, if it works for you, go for it.

  • saikat

    May 2, 2008 at 12:08 am Reply

    I totally agree with the other comments.
    But I also feel sometimes many of us(industrial designers) are also clueless what’s our rolls and responsibilities are !!

  • m.t

    May 1, 2008 at 6:48 pm Reply

    yeah.i think so.but there’s something unacceptable!if we are design proccess thinkers(problem solvers)so what is an industrial design by name?!i mean,if we believe in there’s an industrial/product design we accepted that there’s something there (exists).playing with words can’t wipe it away!there’s an industrial design that will be rejected once a day!i agree with Stark.once a day men will hate design.but we’r not sure it been “industrial design”.maybe it’s “problem sulving”!isn’t it?

  • Goos

    May 1, 2008 at 6:05 pm Reply

    I agree with Long above here. People just don’t have a clue what an industrial designers does. You always have to explain what you are actually doing. Styling a product sounds quite different then ‘integrating ergonomics, costs, technology, materials, production process, logistics, marketing and costumers.

  • Long

    May 1, 2008 at 11:06 am Reply

    Design is misperceived by society as a vague notion that has to do with aesthetics. Of course, designers know very well that isn’t true. It’s much more than that. When we talk to people about design, we just have to enhance the shallowness and add quality, efficiency, well-being, etc.
    I say designers can call themselves whatever they want as long as the word design is somewhere in the title and they stand by what they believe. I say I’m a web designer, and some people think I know computers, networks and programming in and out, but I actually just know enough to be able to call myself a web designer.
    So, Industrial Design hasn’t changed and never will. Neither has misperception. Part of the job is to enlighten people.

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