In Praise Of Design

This week we feature the annual Industrial Design Excellence Awards, presented by the Industrial Designers Society of America and sponsored by BusinessWeek. It is our 14th year of association with the IDSA. While the society is based in the U.S., the competition is global, with an international jury of leaders in the field and honors for the best-designed products in the world for business, industrial, consumer, research, medical, and scientific markets. In 2004 there were 37 gold, 45 silver, and 48 bronze winners. Of the total 130 winners, 33 were from 14 countries outside the U.S. -- Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Taiwan.

BusinessWeek is the only major business magazine to sponsor a global design competition. The driving force, from our first design-awards issue in 1991, has been our own Bruce Nussbaum. While his day job is editorial page editor, he has also been a keen observer of design trends for nearly two decades. His breakthrough report, "'I can't work this ?#!!@/thing!"' (1991), took on technology run amok, spotlighting consumer products that were impossible to use -- think flashing VCR clocks. Most recently, he profiled design innovators IDEO ("The power of design," Cover Story, May 17).

The hope of our original collaboration with the IDSA was to serve as an inspiration to American industrial designers, who were overshadowed by their European and Japanese counterparts in the 1970s and '80s. During his early days on the beat, Nussbaum says design was an afterthought in corporate boardrooms -- if it was given any consideration at all. "Companies used design like paint, to slap on a color or a fancy shape after the engineers and marketing people came up with a product," he recalls.

Now designers are creating not just products and services but also shaping how customers experience them. "Design has become an integral part of a company's core competence," Nussbaum says. And designers have learned to speak the language of business. These days, traditional marketing methods -- focus groups and market research -- are giving way to the tools of design analysis, which focus on behavior.

Through the years, our issue has highlighted the leading edge of design. BusinessWeek's focus has been on functionality and ease of use, as well as on style. Often, less is more.

Our report on the best in industrial design begins on page 60, and you'll find a complete list of winners plus an expanded photo gallery on BusinessWeek Online. There's plenty to drool over.

By Stephen B. Shepard, Editor-in-Chief

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