Great Design Needs Great Cooperation

There is so much talk these days about improving America's competitiveness that a key trend seems to be getting lost in all the verbiage. From power tools to computers to baseball gloves, U.S. corporations are using sophisticated industrial-design techniques to radically improve the quality and the usability of their products. In fact, if the 1992 Industrial Design Excellence Awards reveal the shape of things to come, we could be on the brink of an American product renaissance that would rival those of the Japanese and the Europeans in the '70s and '80s.

For many years, U.S. corporations forgot what industrial design can bring to product development. The engineering and marketing departments decided what should be made, then tossed the finished product over the wall to the design folks to put a pretty box around it.

Today, companies such as Ingersoll-Rand, Goodyear, Apple, Spalding, and General Motors are bringing designers in from the start to join core product-development teams that include people from purchasing, manufacturing, engineering, and marketing. The designers emphasize the way people actually use products, thereby shifting away from engineers' fascination with power and performance.

Instead of using industrial design to add decorative gewgaws, many corporations are finally building products that function well by the operator's standards and solve specific problems for people at work--or play. And by teaming up early with the production side, designers are changing the choice of materials along with the way products are made, often dramatically improving the manufacturing process. This is industrial design at its best, and by using it correctly, more corporations are making products that people really want.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.