ORLANDO, FLA. — The role of the industrial designer in manufacturing is a familiar one to many, but the relationship between designer and engineer is often fraught with misunderstandings that can throw a project off course.
An Industrial Designers Society of America conference session at NPE 2015 in Orlando ran a slide rule over how to bridge the communication gap that can affect and sometimes even limit the capability to bring a product to market.
David Kusuma, vice president of worldwide product development at Tupperware Brands, said the division of responsibilities could vary from company to company.
“When I was a designer, I was told I couldn't get into material specification, and then when I switched and became an engineer I was told I couldn't work on the creative side,” he said.
“We've developed category teams at Tupperware in order to oversee every aspect of a product's path, from marketing to design development and so on. You put people in a position where they have to talk to each other. It's made communications a lot better,” Kusuma said.
Understanding a company's business objectives is vital, said Chris Bray, director of design at IQ Design Labs at PolyOne Corp.
“What does design bring to a company? How does it add value to what a company is trying to do?” Bray said.
“We've an in-house design team, and we spend a lot of time selling each other messages internally to arrive at where we want to be,” he said. “Companies, especially publicly-listed ones, have a lot of obligations and the key thing is to not ask for too much nor ask for it to be delivered too quickly.”
Marco Perry, founder and principal of New York-based Pensa LLC, said it was important for a designer to understand and appreciate the goals of a company.
“Once you've got that on board everything else comes together,” Perry said.
While contrary positions between engineers and designers were often assumed, not all friction is bad, however. Kevin Shinn, vice president of design at Altair ThinkLabs, believed it can be a positive force between the two parties. “You pick a multi-disciplined team,” one that can work together and bounce things off each other.
Augusto Picozza, director of industrial design at Jarden Consumer Solutions, said a good designer can wear multiple hats, understanding engineering, manufacturing and the end market.
“The designers should be the closest thing to a given product's end user,” he said. “You need to bring empathy for that person and their needs. It's good to be versed in the technical stuff as well as design. You need to be rounded and aware of a number of disciplines.”
Design is about changing the world in a positive way, argued Mark Dziersk.
“Pursue excellence and people will seek you out. Tap into the creativity that is available. Designers are the best advocates for making the world a better place; the environment, self-esteem, altruism and so on. These are all things that are fundamental right now and if you've not got these on your side then you've got nothing. And designers bring that outlook, that approach,” said Dziersk, managing director of Lunar.
“Pull people towards you, don't push stuff onto them. Yes, that takes investment, but it's worth it,” he said.
Designers also take their work very personally and invest a lot of passion into what they do, Dziersk said. “You never see statues in Central Park dedicated to committees.”
Robert Grace, president of RC Grace LLC (and former associate publisher of Plastics News), chaired the first IDSA session. A second session, chaired by writer and consultant Gaylon White, looked at sustainability and how materials can change the world.
Diane Turnwall, vice president in material innovation at Herman Miller, said her firm sought to implement long term sustainability strategies, reducing waste, energy consumption and increasing the use of recycled and bio-based materials.
Kiersten Muenchinger, associate professor and director of product design at the University of Oregon, said she was “fascinated at how polymer is responsible for so much of what we use day to day, but how at the same time the material is so despised.”
Research programs at the university were attempting to uncover the rationale behind these and other attitudes, she said.
David Saltman, chairman and CEO of Malama Composites Inc., highlighted that new materials had historically acted as a ‘slingshot' for the advancement of society — cement, steel, silica, etc. — and today certain plastics materials have the same potential, such as foam can be developed to create cheap, adaptable, resilient housing for communities around the world.