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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who Owns Design?

Despite what I would like to think, designers are not the stewards of good design. Rather, I would have to admit that my friends and colleagues no just as much about good design as I do. Sometimes they don't know why they know, but they do nonetheless. The only thing that might differentiate us is the fact that they may not be able to draw as well or explain clearly why a particular product is out of whack. Nevertheless, I no longer feel like I have to justify to friends my existence as a designer and why they should really listen to me. Here is why:

Everyone is a consumer, user, or commentator of the products and services they buy. By the success of online reviewers and periodicals, people are very quick to identify the shortcomings in a given design. There is always room for improvement. Well, what if the masses were involved in the decision making of the design process? I would then be more of a spokesperson of the collected consumer consensus, as apposed to a hippie high end designer.

A lot of corporations try to include us when they are developing a new product, but intellectual property management forbids them to disclose any more information then they would like to. This withholding of information is ultimately detrimental to the design process. I believe that the more information you can collect and organize, the better decisions you can make.

I do not assume that I can anticipate what people will like and what they won't like. To do so is either dishonest or self-centered. I have to concede that sometimes, superior ideas require outsiders' assistance to reach their full potential. I cannot say that I am always greater than my own ideas. It is pretty much consistently the other way around.

So what about patents, intellectual property, and corporate interests? Well, they have their place, and they have traditionally worked so far. But there has never been an alternative, at least not for a long time.

We can look to nature as a good example of how collaboration of many different systems has come to produce an essentially perfect design. This kind of goes along the lines of William McDonough's Cradle to Cradle concept. Nature, in a not so business-like fashion, collected and interpreted data for thousands of years and applied its findings to minor feature upgrades in its products. It connected the complaints and failures of the previous designs and proposed new solutions to them.

We, too, as a human race have generally done the same thing. We decided that it was better to farm than to chase wild game across the tundra. We decided that this iron material was fairly handy. The industrial revolution and the information superhighway are other noteworthy improvements. All of our biggest innovations have used the help from all of us.

I am not saying that an "open source" strategy will necessarily replace tried and true business models, but I am saying there is some potential worth looking at.

Here are some potential benefits from a collaborative design effort:

  • Giving students at the university level experience with the organization and management aspects of product development.
  • Cross-pollination of experience between Marketers, Engineers, Managers, Manufacturers, Psychologists, Anthropologists, Designers, and many more.
  • Pooling of resources.
  • Snow-balling public relationships by including a greater demographic of consumers with the development process.

That's just off the top of my head for now. I do believe that greater things can be achieved by shedding the idea that we are more of an authority than our colleagues. The may not have as much experience as we do, but their ideas might help your idea become something greater than you had ever anticipated.