China was plagued with melamine-infused, water-diluted milk in an attempt to inflate the volute of milk that killed and sickened many. Design company frog uses this example to warn that even a complex design process needs to be founded on good intentions.
In 2008, China went through one of the most severe food scandals of recent time. Milk producers had mixed the industrial chemical Melamine, normally used in adhesive, plastic, and fertilizer, into milk. In an attempt to inflate the volume of milk produced it was diluted with water. The Melamine was added to trick the quality tests to perceive the milk water mix as 100% milk since the chemical reads as a protein in certain tests. Instead of providing the expected nutrition children who drank the milk got kidney damage. 300,000 children were sickened and several died.
The Melamine scandal was a blatant example of greed and corruption. But right and wrong aren’t always so obvious. The design process also is complex and filled with tradeoffs.
As designers at frog we are fanatical about improving the world. And we do. We create experiences, enable new technologies, and create positive products. Our work is affecting the life of such diverse worlds as HIV stricken South Africa with Project Masiluleke, and high-tech Oregon with ECOtality’scharging stations for electrical cars. Our clients work to innovate and improve the products of tomorrow. So do we as designers. We are experts at solving problems and creating elegant solutions. Hundreds of hours go in to making the experiences we deliver feel absolutely effortless. Yet there are still times when our intentions aren’t reflected in the end result. Children’s toys are routinely made out of PVC leaching phthalate, food containers have been found to leak BPA and nylon kitchen tools contaminating food with PAA’s when left too long in a pan. Every one of these products might be beautifully designed both aesthetically and functionally but they will not deliver what they promise to the user if the design doesn’t account for their health and well-being. Something as simple as blister packs, which most designers have had a product shipped in. puts 6,000 Americans in the emergency room every year. A successfully designed product should provide for all needs while consciously staying clear of environmental or health hazards.
Dieter Ram’s explained this in an elegant way with his 10 design principles for good design. The ones that might be the hardest to achieve or the easiest to neglect are the principles of honest, thorough and environmentally friendly design.
Good design is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
Good design is environmentally friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
The process of bringing a product to market is a long and winding road. There are many roadblocks and potential culprits along the way. Stakeholders change and priorities change with them. Everyone involved in the design process has a bias towards getting his or her part of the job done. As designers, we hold a key position in the creation of new products. Besides the client, we are the one constant force throughout the line of, often disconnected, elements including marketing, branding, R&D, manufacturing, retail, and end users. In our role as trusted advisors to our clients, we pride ourselves with ensuring the vision all the way until the product sits on the shelf. We guard the integrity of the design through challenging manufacturing constraints, cost reductions, scrutinizing focus groups, and internal differences within the client. And we deliver. We are passionate about getting every tolerance, every surface, and every nuance of color just right. But to truly be the craftsmen of our work we need to deliver far beyond the pristine product on the shelf. We need to design the product for use and misuse. Our involvement needs to start early, go deep, and last till the product is back at the factory ready to be recycled into a new and better incarnation of itself. To achieve this we need to have the expert knowledge to carefully design and control the details of materials and the manufacturing process, the expected life, the potential for reuse, and the infrastructure for refurbishing and recycling. With control of the entire life of the product we will expand our expertise and the value our profession delivers.
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design mind is a publication of global innovation firm frog that is updated daily to keep the design and innovation community updated with fresh perspectives on industry trends, emerging technologies, and global consumer culture. Learn more about design mind and frog.