Transferring design research to the marketplace

Gillian Crampton Smith, Academic Director, Interaction Institute Ivrea, Italy

Developing technology
When it comes to the business of design — especially the design of interactive products, systems and services — most companies have absolutely no expectations of design research. Generally, they seem to believe that design is only relevant to their business if related to engineering or advertising campaigns.
Our job, then, is not to only develop design research and apply it to business, but to explain what design is and what it can contribute. To do this we must consider changes in technology.
David Liddell was the leader of the team that designed the pioneering Star interface for Xerox that eventually led to the Macintosh and Windows graphical user interfaces. Liddell defined three different stages in the development of technology:

  1. The enthusiast stage: when people don’t care how daunting the technology is and are either thrilled by it for its own sake or find it so useful that they happily accept difficulties.
  2. The professional stage: when the technology is developed and used by professional people. This stage benefits those who have learned a new programme and so have a unique skill to offer. When computer-aided design was introduced, for instance, the fact that it was difficult to learn gave those who had mastered it a very marketable skill. During the professional stage the people who use the technology are rarely the people who buy it: their company gives them the software, which they must use whether they like it or not.
  3. The consumer stage: when the user is the buyer. In this final stage the user/buyers are diverse and are usually not interested in the technology itself but what can actually be done with it.
Design makes the difference
Information technology increasingly shapes the way we live. Equally clearly, it is rapidly shifting from the professional to the consumer stage. Technology companies previously made technical things for technically-minded people, now they also make things, to use Apple’s slogan, ‘For the Rest of Us’.
One consequence of this is that the underlying technologies we now use are becoming increasingly similar — it is often hard, for example, to differentiate one PC from the next. So, as technology becomes more homogenous it is design that makes the difference and, in particular, the design of products or systems that enable ordinary people to interact with them intuitively, pleasurably and powerfully.
So what should design research offer businesses? The research programmes of my institute, Interaction Design Institute Ivrea offer us, I think, some insight into how design research might transfer to the marketplace.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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