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Product Design
Published: 18 Dec 2013

Product Design Year in Review 2013

Looking back at the year in Product Design, assistant editor Rachel Blunstone pulls together key themes from Stylus’ 2013 reporting.

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Thread Wrapping Machine by Anton Alvarez

An ever-more collaborative process is shaping the design landscape. Our 2015 Industry TrendDesign Democracy spotlights the ways the design industry is opening up to all-comers. 

Designers, manufacturers and consumers all have contributions to make to a transformative process that embraces new versatility and flexibility within design. End products are becoming more personalised, offering infinite variety to consumers and creating a sense of freedom for everyone involved. 

Outsider's Hand

In Outsider, we looked beyond the conventional to an influential wave of consumers enjoying newfound control over the design process. Facilitated by online communities, manufacturing is decentralised with open-source, downloadable designs that can be adapted and personalised by the consumer.

We highlighted further innovative shifts in design and production routes that are transforming the world of manufacturing in our coverage of The Future is Here exhibition in London. We spoke to curator Alex Newson about the possible repercussions if brands refused to engage with new shifts in the production chain.

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Transparent Tools by Jesse Howard
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Patch Elements by Beza Projekt
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Hacking has become a familiar concept in product design. We’ve seen the sensibility spread across forward-thinking events such as Milan Design Week and London Design Festival, with products encompassing simple constructions of ad-hoc assemblages and rudimentary fixings. 

Our profile of Victor Papanek points to the relevance of the design pioneer’s teachings and writings as a true advocate of socially responsible design in the age of mass production. His philosophy proves influential today for a new generation of designers choosing to combine commercial success with design for social good.

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The Future is Here at Design Museum
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InCycle biodegrable shoe by Puma, The Future is Here at Desi
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Nomadic Furniture 3.0 at Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Con
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Victor Papanek
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Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek

The Slow Approach

Dominated by past-paced mass manufacture, we’ve seen a counter trend for mindfulness arise from the consumer who is aware of their buying decisions and appreciates the value of long-lasting products. Powered by sustainable values, our Industry Trend Slow underpins this outlook. 

Craft techniques that lend themselves to labour-intensive production are embraced, while we note designers looking to alternative power sources for more considered approaches to production. Discover the process of Merel Karhoff, who harnesses wind energy to power the manufacturing of her furniture range.

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Windworks by Merel Karhof
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Working in tandem with mindfulness is the importance of telling the story behind the product. The New Craftsmen & The New Craft Customer indicates how the story of making is integral to educating and marketing craft to a new customer.

Alongside authenticity, consumers are showing a growing demand for environmentally sound products. No longer seen as optional or ‘nice to have’, sustainability will become vital for profitability. A key figure paving the way is Nike. We spoke to Hannah Jones, vice-president of sustainability at the launch of its Making App, which challenges all designers to make more responsible material choices.

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Re-use a Shoe campaign by Nike
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Re-use a Shoe campaign by Nike
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Nike Making app

In the quest for more sustainable solutions, designers are opting for natural, recycled and hi-tech composites as material options – as outlined in our Biomaterials report. Recent innovations demonstrating the far-reaching potential of bioplastics in particular, means we can expect to see more alternatives to plastics appear, which are eco-friendly and don’t compromise on performance. 

Finally, our Closing the Loop: Future-Proofing Design report offers inspiration for future manufacturing, exploring how brands can readdress conventional approaches to design by using closed-loop systems to eliminate waste.

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Bio Composite by Mugi Yamamoto
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Bio-plastic by Jeongwon Ji
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Naturally Clicquot by Verve Clicquot
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Iceland Whale Bone Project
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GPRL, Tapegear
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Well Proven Chair by Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw
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Be.e Electric Scooter from Van.Eko

Play Days

Play still proved a vital tool to engage consumers on a daily basis. Our Industry Trend Design Democracy: Obscure notes a growing handful of designers and brands seeking fun ways to shape consumers’ experience of banal, everyday products – readdressing our interaction with them by injecting humour and play.

The desire for tactility in a digitally immersed world saw the emergence of playful, three-dimensional textiles. Giant, exaggerated textiles in ambiguous, enlarged shapes for tactile and sensory exploration – seen at Stockholm Design Week – saw 2D flat textiles taking an architectural leap. Cocooned, immersive environments were extended into the working space for escape and respite.

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Kvadrat, Stockholm Furniture Fair 2013
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Schemata Architects / Jo Nagasaka: ColoRing Furniture Series

Embracing inter-disciplinary processes, designers are employing various mediums and reconstructing references to create a unique visual identity. Fresh approaches to pattern and colour saw a return to expressionism and reverting to back basics, exploring colour, line and texture.

Taking Obscure as a starting point, Play makes an imaginative and vibrant design statement for the S/S 15 Interiors season.

Bold and distinctively graphic applications of colour and pattern bring fresh discourses to real-life environments and attract the young fashion-led consumer in the retail, service and art spaces of ourComic Look: From Page to Pop-Up report. 

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Opening Ceremony, Omotesando, Tokyo
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YMS hair salon. Interior design by Kitsch Nitsch
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Stones, risograph
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Real Life Agency at Work, Wieden + Kennedy window collaborat
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Eric Trine & Will Bryant: Alley-Oop

Transformative Ideas

How do you design for social shifts? With growing opportunities for globalism, easy-to-assemble products make location a non-issue. Our Industry Trend Shift points to product design with flexibility at its core – an essential trend we see carrying forward across all product sectors. 

Lightweight designs that are durable and high-tech cater for restless consumers. Soft textiles and membranes replace hard, rigid surfaces in our Flex, Facet & Fold report – echoing moves previously seen in architecture.

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Cradle by Benjamin Hubert for Moroso
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Kamp by Kam Kam
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London collection by Meike Harde
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As the size of the average US and European home decreases (as highlighted in Redefine: Modern Family), coupled with people opting to live alone, product design will be redefined for the growing micro-market. Think flat-pack style for Generation Y, as seen in our Flat-Pack Futures report.

We anticipate a rise in multifunctional furniture – dual purpose, modular or hideaway products – that offer more for homes suited to micro-spaces, and provide more adaptable solutions for future multi-generational living. 

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Calvert, E15
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Fika house and store by ON Partners
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Z-step by Michael Schoner
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Ready Made Curtain by Ronana and Erwan Bouroullec for Kvadra
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Z-step by Michael Schoner, Aalto University
FUTURE INSIGHTS
Flexible Forms Transformative design with flexibility at its core will prove essential design for the restless Generation Y consumer and growing micro-market living. For 2014, think more sophisticated flat-pack designs that solve logistic as well as space-saving solutions.
Tactile Escapes Consumers’ desire for respite away from digital worlds will see more cocooned, immersive spaces suited to relaxing. Expect more exaggerated and 2D textiles taking architectural leaps where tactility is key. 
Encourage Personalisation Engage in new shifts of decentralised production by offering open-source, downloadable designs or options for customisation, engendering a sense of freedom for the consumer.
Build in Sustainability A sustainable mindset must start at the beginning of the design process. “Get it into the design brief, and get a designer in your boardroom,” urges Clare Brass, head of London’s Royal College of Art design initiative SustainRCA.
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