Technology design is the future. It’s time to leave the terms ‘industrial design’ and ‘industrial designer’ behind. Especially where they relate to the design and development of technological products. In the last twenty years, there has been rapid progress in technologies, requiring a new balance of skills from designers to make them accessible and useful in products, services, and experiences. It all comes down to the new practice of ‘technology design’ by ‘technology designers’. Both terms coined by Gadi Amit, president of New Deal Design.
Once industrial design was fairly straightforward. The engineering team provided a package of components and the job of the industrial designer was to put good-looking housing around it. As the designer’s role has increased in responsibility, close collaboration with a lot of different specialists is crucial – from radio, antenna, electrical, power, optics, audio, and mechanical engineers to software, production, and quality. To leverage this teamwork, it’s important for the designer to speak the language of technology. Only then, it’s possible to challenge the engineers in pushing for more elegant design solutions.
As a technology designer, it’s essential to stay current with the possibilities, limitations, and constraints of new technology and its components. Rapid understanding of the ‘tech guts’ (the technology hardware) and prototyping are vital design skills, both critical for discovering the possibilities of form and function early on. Technology designers need to be as confident in the art of trial and error with basic electronics as they are with sketch-foam and band-saws. In other words, engineering is too important to be left to engineers alone.
Less smart, more intelligent
Technology design is a fine balance of form, function, and experience. Whilst there is a lot of hype around ‘smart’ technologies, often glorifying functionality over experience in context, there is a clear difference between designing ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’ products. To illustrate this, imagine two driverless cars – one that is smart enough to follow the road and avoid other cars, the other that is intelligent enough to predict possible scenarios, such as children running out into the street at the end of a school day. The experience of an intelligent product mainly relies on how well it understands the context in which it lives. That’s why technology needs to be designed with ‘good manners’ to be successful with people, something that is often overlooked in an age of push notifications, likes, and alerts.
As a technology designer, you should own the creative chaos of your craft and seek out the right clients who understand and appreciate the unpredictability of a creative process. Commonly, business and academia expect designers to methodize and measure the practice of design. Instead, they should embrace the complexity and be confident in the technology designers’ ability to reach a solution, in teamwork, no matter what creative path is taken to get there.