What does a software engineering company have to do in an industrial design conference? The Design Whizzes at SAP would argue that the cross-pollination of disciplines is important to advance our craft to truly build well-designed business software. The whizzes met with the Industrial Design Society of America (shortly called IDSA) this August, in the motor city of United States, Detroit, at their annual conference themed: Making Things Happen.

IDSA was formed in 1965, with Henry Dreyfuss as its first President (the American Designer that popularized the desk phone with his Model ‘300’ for Bell Laboratories). The conference is a meeting ground for several designers that craft products we use everyday, from the cornflakes we eat in the morning to the car that we drive back home in. The Whizzes shared SAP’s signature Design Eye-Opener program that teaches design to all our 80,000 non-designers in the company. There were other software firms such as Autodesk that help SAP’s customers design their physical products. Same customers of SAP such as Kellogg’s and Ford that use SAP’s business software also use Autodesk for designing their products and packages. There were universities such as Carnegie Mellon and Rhode Island School of Design and we together discussed how we are expanding the scope of design in education and business.

Particularly of interest is our interview with Scott Shim, Chair of the Education Conference at IDSA this year. Scott is an acclaimed designer and an international educator. He has won several awards for design from core77 and IDEA and his innovations have been mentioned by TIME magazine and Popular Science as the Top 10 to be watched out for. He managed design of several consumer products at the Daewoo Electronics Design Center. He has been teaching for 13+ years, shaping design education at Purdue and Ohio State University and currently also in University of Notre Dame. Scott has some very positive views on the rising importance of design in business and technology today.

Scott, what are the changes you notice in industrial design practice today, considering it is the oldest known field of design?
Industrial design is expanding into areas not seen before the digital era, such as experience design and service design. Products are becoming more sophisticated now. It is not only about the style of the product anymore. It is truly the interaction with the product itself by the people using it. Design is becoming a cross-disciplinary function between manufacturing and business. And a lot of design research is happening now that is also changing the way we make and sell products.

How are you adapting your education programs in design schools to prepare the future designers taking on this challenge?

I tell my students finding the right problem is the first step. Why would you want to redesign a soap-dish if 95% of the market is going after liquid soap? It just doesn’t make sense. So we in education put in quite a bit of effort in understanding what people want, before we design something.

Secondly, the user journey is important. Just as a quick example, back in those days, we taught students how to sketch physical products. Now in addition to that we teach students to sketch stories. When I was teaching at Ohio State, we had a class on script writing and story boarding. It’s a great way to teach how you can communicate the experience of a product. Even if it is only stick figures, it helps during group discussions to understand what you are truly going after.

And third, we make our students work with different disciplines. It is harder to teach collaboration than teach a skill like sketching. An industrial design student has to work with anthropology students and business students in a collaborative studio class. Now a majority of our ID programs in US already have some sort of collaboration with other departments and schools.

What are your challenges in making the IDSA educational conference work for this sort of collaborative learning?

It is important for educators to know how we should prepare our design students towards becoming more professional fit for the industry. And for you (SAP) professionals it is important to know how to integrate the design skills into your own craft of making things. This sort of collaboration between industry folks like you (SAP) and us (design educators) is critical to take the design field forward. And also, you, representing, a software company (and not a product company) being here in this conference is a significant sign that shows how experience design is more and more integrating into industrial design.

At this conference, the Design Whizzes shared SAP’s Design Eye-Opener program for its large engineering crew of 80,000 people, who are not all designers. What’s your reaction to that?

It showed the scale at which you are spreading design to every role in your company. Firstly, it was extremely beneficial when you came in as a professional and presented SAP’s current efforts in getting design more importance and prominence in your company, all through your engineering functions. It showed that our design educators are not completely isolated from the demands of the industry. Secondly, it reconfirmed what we in academia have been talking about and you were telling us that it is currently being practiced – that sort of collaboration and cross-pollination between experience design and industrial design is even more important now than before. It gives us the confidence to pursue what we are beginning to do and implement the experience component into our core industrial design curriculum.

What will you do differently next year for the conference?

Industrial design has always been pursued as product design. Now we understand that the product is just one part of the entire solution or the system. Next year, I want more people from experience design, like you from SAP to participate. I will bring in more industry presence with academicians, add more experience design into the mix and see what happens.

What is the dream you are running after for the future of the design field?

It’s a very doable dream. I want all of us to break away from what has happened in the past. Designers were considered to be a cosmetic resource. “Make it pretty”, that used to be the line. But now design is playing a more significant role in creating solutions. Design is also about whether it makes sense as a business.

Thank you Scott for your positive outlook for the field of design and your time for this interview.

Scott and Priya

For those of you interested in knowing more about SAP’s signature Design Education Program or collaborating with us, write to us: whizz@sap.com

Have a peek into IDSA and their next year conference in Atlanta, Florida at: http://www.idsa.org

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  • Ashok R   5 years ago

    Design is also about whether it makes sense as a business. Bang On 🙂