Design empowerment took center stage at the 2011 Industrial Designers of America Southern District Conference, held April 15-17 in Austin.
The message throughout the conference was about equipping designers and manufacturers with information and resources to move forward in an increasingly demanding world.
And, of course, the focus now is always on sustainable design solutions.
For designers, the challenge is to figure out where design is going. With substantial population growth and increasing middle classes, countries like China and India will have purchasing power. The populations also will have greater access to education. In 2000, China had three design schools. In 2011, it has 1,000.
That's not meant to make you nervous, one designer said during a panel discussion. They're unbelievably good at catching up.
The message is the same for designers and manufacturers: Economic forces in China and South America are fiercely at work. At the end of the day, the role of design will change and great design has to solve problems and provide solutions, said another official.
For example, what is the next generation of calculators? When 2 billion people trade in cell phones during the next four years, what can be done with all that waste?
During the conference, executives showed the power of water when there is too much and again when there is too little, and spoke of how the discipline of design can provide solutions when married with manufacturing prowess.
Eastman Chemical Co. of Kingsport, Tenn., used the example of Geocell Systems Inc. of San Francisco and its rapid-deployment flood wall. Its deployment in floods is 100 times faster than sandbags. Geocell Systems President Al Arellanes used technology, materials and his own design to create a solution that uses clear reusable plastic. It has been showcased on the The Science Channel's Eco-Tech show.
Separately, the other product getting a lot of attention was the Replenish Bottling System, which allows cleaning-product concentrate to be shipped without the need for weighing down the shipping process with water. Inventor Jason Foster was on hand to answer questions about the process of development and design.
Great design unlocks all these advantages that weren't there before, said Foster, founder and CEO of Replenish Bottling Co. Inc. of West Hollywood, Calif. That is what is so exciting about it.
The system was designed to provide solutions for mega-retailers through the supply chain. In Wal-Mart's pilot program, for example, the retailer can fit 42 32-ounce bottles on an 18-inch shelf.
You can increase the revenue density [up to] eight times because you can stack those pods four high. For every minute that Wal-Mart saves on stocking a store shelf, that's $4 million in labor, Foster said. They are always looking at ways to drive that efficiency. What is the biggest burden of the supply chain? Bulk and weight. So how can we attack the bulk and weight with the design? You can't with the current bottle.
Separately, Foster said that there are two parts to design functionality and where the product goes after the consumer is done with it.
Replenish is something that just stays in our kitchen, not to be replaced, he said.
Another important component in the design process is making sure that designers connect and understand all the processes available, especially in plastics processing, officials said.
Warren Ginn, owner of Ginn Design LLC in Raleigh, N.C., said it's necessary for designers to reach out and connect with manufacturers and know how to leverage design in the context of manufacturing.
Rich Freeman, owner of thermoformer Freetech Plastics Inc. of Fremont, Calif., has been advocating the benefits of thermoforming in product design. During his presentation, Thermoforming With Style, he showcased products that were made functionally and aesthetically better through thermoforming.
Though thermoforming is used widely in the aircraft industry today, the food world also is reaping the benefits.
Form, fill and seal containers are all done on roll-fed machines, he said. It's used a lot in the semiconductor test industry and medical-equipment world.
The benefits of course include molded-in texture and color and additional features like pre-assigned film graphic. Through pressure forming, detail down to 20-thousandths of an inch can be achieved.