Revolutionary Measures

Marrying innovation and design

In the past design has often been the poor relation when companies are creating innovative new products. At best it has been something that is done at the last minute and treated as packaging, and at worst seen as unimportant. After all the product is so amazing it doesn’t matter what it looks like or if the build quality is poor – people will buy it anyway.

I’ve seen this attitude a lot in Cambridge, which makes this month’s Design Icons exhibition an extremely welcome demonstration of the power of good product design in the city. Held at the Ruskin Gallery, Anglia Ruskin University until February 23rd it showcases 20 key products that have been designed in the area. Ranging from obvious high tech examples such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer to much more consumer focused products from international companies, including the Evian action water bottle and Sureflap catflap they show how intelligent product design can help differentiate innovative products in the market.

I’ll leave it to others to work out if they all deserve to be called icons, but what struck me is how these designs had stood the test of time.

Sinclair Sovereign Calculator

Take the gold Sinclair calculator or Lecson amplifier. Despite being designed nearly 40 years ago, with minimal reworking they would still cause a stir now. Paint the Lecson white and replace the dials with a screen and you’ve got an Apple amplifier.

Obviously the exhibition and surrounding events have got a serious purpose – to show what Cambridge design can do for products of all types and to encourage companies in Cambridge and beyond to embrace good product design. The aim should be to continue this education, so it would be good to see ways of keeping momentum going beyond the timescale of the exhibition. At the very least creating guides to how product design can deliver benefits, how to work with designers and when to involve them would provide a starting point for companies, particularly those that haven’t used product designers before.

To find out more on the exhibition go to and pop along to Anglia Ruskin to see the products for yourself.

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February 13, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making it real

James Dyson

Image by ciscommunity via Flickr

In an increasingly virtual world it is easy for inventors and start-ups to forget about the importance of good physical product design, and treat it as an afterthought or the packaging for the clever stuff.

And yet I think people have never been more discerning about the whole design of a product, demanding not just that it looks good but that it is intuitive to use and simple to understand. My 3 year old son quickly grasped how to navigate round my iPhone, leading to some unplanned phone calls, but providing a good example for designers to aim at. And the tools are now here that marry product design with innovation, through CAD/CAM systems and photo realistic rendering that creates stunning visual representations of a great idea.

So it is good to see James Dyson, a man who has shown the power of innovative product design to disrupt traditional markets (whether vacuum cleaners or hand dryers) putting his money where his mouth is with his own student design award. Built on a simple premise – design something that solves a problem – it runs in 18 countries and the UK winners have just been announced. What impresses me is a combination of the breadth of the ideas – from a portable room divider for hospitals to a bike seat designed to be more comfortable for women, and their real simplicity. These are products that can be easily understood and used without reading a 100 page manual or undergoing special training. And it looks like a competition worth winning – the global victor (announced on 8th November) is in line to win £10k and gain a real foot up on the ladder towards getting their idea into production.

While it is all well and good for the likes of David Cameron to push for the UK to create the next Facebook, it is vital that we don’t neglect the creation of physical products that are well-designed and fit a market need. After all, one of the key reasons that Apple has become the most valuable company on the planet is through good design across its entire product range. So I think the next generation of start-ups need to heed Dyson’s advice and design something that solves a problem rather than expecting customers to grapple with advanced, but user-unfriendly technology. Make it simple and they will buy.

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September 9, 2011 Posted by | Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment