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Product Design - In Defence of the Physical

Former Product Design Jury Foreman, Ilse Crawford is founder of Studioilse and the department of Man and Wellbeing at the Design Academy Eindhoven. She is a designer, academic and creative director with a simple mission to put human needs and desires at the centre of all that she does.

Ilse Crawford D&AD Awards Product Design

Stuff matters.

We define ourselves through what we make, the physical, technological, and experiential world that we create around us. It in turn affects us, it embodies our priorities, touches us emotionally and physically, and connects us to each other. Then of course what we make has the potential to make a positive (or otherwise) impact on people, planet, and the future.

Today 'product' (and it is an unfortunate word), that is, what we design and make, is reinventing itself in the wake of the digital. It's not a question of trend or style; of the latest or the newest. Of empty concepts. It's a question of putting people first. Of empathy and understanding the human experience. Stuff must speak to us, be relevant, be true, be kind. Product must justify its existence.

At its core it's about our need to find ourselves through our relation with the physical. In his books, philosopher Matthew Crawford talks about reclaiming the real, and how this is vitally important to maintaining our humanity in an era where powerful commercial forces are constantly playing with our heads.

Craving the physical

So here is the opportunity. For in the Digital Age, the physical can have tremendous power. In the face of technology, we are rediscovering tactility, materiality, craft, humanity. In fact the more virtual we are the more we crave the physical. We are sentient beings. As much as we are addicted to the touch screen, we also like to be touched. We have physical needs. We have feelings. Our senses are the fastest route to our emotions. Indeed it's no wonder that the producers of our technological tools take their hardware very seriously indeed.

There are so many domains to rethink, to reevaluate, to humanise. Here are a few just for starters:

How we make stuff

Conscious mass production has the power to make big differences environmentally when they make the right strategic choices. Then in the opposite corner there is the rise of the artisan, in the US the second biggest employment sector after agriculture.

The impact of social and technological change

Design has to respond to the impact of technology on how we live and work on so many levels: from the way we use our homes to the impending disappearance of many jobs.

Who we make it for

Healthcare. While the wellbeing industry is on fire as we take our health back into our own hands, it seems as if everything connected with the health care system has been designed to make us feel ill rather than well. Then there are the many groups that need specific understanding. The elderly. The lonely. Refugees. The homeless. The list is long.

So who says we don't need stuff anymore? We do, but we need enlightened stuff. For more than 50 years the D&AD Awards have celebrated the designers who have not made the easy choices. The ones who have seen a truth, and gone for it, and what's more done it well. No matter how small. These are the ideas that are contagious, that can change the way others think and do. These are the entries I hope to see.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Professional Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.
 

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