Product design gurus suggest ways to improve the processes

By Control Engineering Staff February 7, 2006

Las Vegas, NV —Many offer gobbledygook on how to be more creative, say two who spend some time themselves offering advice on creative design. Richard Seymour and Dick Powell, cofounders of Seymourpowell , a 20-year-old London-based product design consultancy, and co-stars of a television show on product design, recently discussed ways to improve the design process.

Some people are more creative than others, they say, but there are various tools can help people cultivate creativity inherent in everyone. To improve design processes, Seymour and Powell suggest that that you:

Creativity should be fueled by a rich passion for design and innovation. Think of design as a process, not a noun. The idea (inspiration) is more important than the work (perspiration) that follows, although that’s certainly significant as well. Ideas come with rich knowledge, immersion in everything that’s going on: society, people, technology, science, business and economic trends. Blips appear; creative thoughts don’t often happen with linear thinking. Staying ahead of the curve means considering everything in the current target environment as an archeological dig.

Look rather than see. Do user research and don’t only listen to what people say, because they might be deceiving themselves about what they think they want. Sometimes leading designs derive from watching behaviors. Consider differences in cultures and gender. Men often are linear in emotions and with how they think and work. Women, for the most part, are emotionally and intellectually more complex.

Watch for big ideas among the unexpected. Three things that emerged en-route to another “destination” include telephones, penicillin, and microwave ovens. Clients’ visions of what should be often are mired in tradition and limited by what they think cannot be done.

Design slides along a spectrum between engineering/industry and art/culture. A wide bandwidth of thought is essential to creating interesting designs, incorporating richness beyond the scope of current mindsets. Rain, for instance, is one-dimensional in English, but many Native American languages contain dozens of words for rain. Similarly, if a solution complies with present thinking and current boundaries, then the most basic emotional and physical satisfactions may not be met. Sometimes, answers are not in the fingertips, but in the gaps in-between. Limiting design because of engineering or other constraints often results in mediocrity. Changing innovative design to accommodate present limits also can destroy a beautiful design.

A successful design can take something that’s boring and make a user look forward to it every time. Design can be a creative event, assembling people with knowledge, research, ideas, beliefs to roast traditional customer-based thinking, work together, and emerge with a concept in a relatively short time, perhaps 48 hours.

In the ultimate pursuit of “fast, good, and cheap” designs, getting two out of three is much easier than hitting all three, which often requires doing something totally different. Those companies that always seem to get to the next big design craze first do so because they started earlier to look farther into the future. There’s no point in looking at next year. Think seven or eight years ahead, look back to the present, then create stepping-stones to get to where you need to be. Such a shift in perspective is massively important.

Seymour and Powell, whose clients include Ford, HP, Minolta, Nokia, Samsung, and Unilever, spoke recently at SolidWorks World 2006, Las Vegas; more than 3,700 attended the conference and show, SolidWorks said.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief,