I know who designed that!

March 28, 2011

I spent some time this weekend screwing the glove box back into my car. Odd. I know. The story of how a perfectly good glove box came to be outside of the car is interesting and left me contemplating the general degree of isolation and detachment we often have from the people who influence myriad aspects of our modern life.

Of course that’s not universally the case. We can see the actors who star in our favorite movies. We know the authors who write our favorite books and the athletes that compete for our favorite teams. I guess with the advent of the Internet and a more seamless flow of information I can often figure out who wrote my latest iPhone App.

But with a few notable exceptions, we generally have little or no personal connection to — or awareness of — the people responsible for the products that shape, interact and influence our daily lives. I have absolutely no idea who designed the building I work in, the bicycle I ride, the computer I’m typing on. I put my eyeglasses on every morning and suspect John Varvatos (I had to look him up. He's a famous designer ironically from Detroit — see below... shows what I know) lent little more than his name. Mostly I never give much thought to who designed my possessions and, heck, I’m in the profession. I suspect many of you give it even less. Our forefathers might find this strange — but they lived in a world where a larger portion of their lives was contained within the sphere of their daily influence. Such is no longer the case where today our detachment is so profound we often don’t know the person who grew our food or cooked our meal. So maybe it’s not so odd that we don’t have a clue who designed our products.

We generally have little or no personal connection to — or awareness of — the people responsible for the products that shape, interact and influence our lives.

I guess one reason for this is that product design is much more a team sport than say, for example... team sports. Really. By the time any reasonably complex product or service winds its way to market it’s actually sort of rare that any one individual or small group of individuals can legitimately claim singularly meaningful credit. Likewise, if product design is the ultimate team sport, then who exactly lays claim to being the quarterback? Unless you’re remarkably self-centered or egotistical, this probably isn’t the right profession if you’re into adulation and fame.

I look at the brilliant product designers who work here at Design Concepts, and although it’s really cool to see a product you worked on in a store, in general they know they’re toiling away in some degree of anonymity. I know they realize they’re a small but important part of the complicated tapestry of sweat and effort it takes to move a product from the spark of an idea to a place in our lives and — if they’re really good — our hearts.