Reshaping mass produced products to reflect lifestyle influences is the primary task of industrial designers

Across different product categories, there are different dominant trends that are slowly coming to the fore. These are slightly long-term phenomena as opposed to fashion or seasonal influences. To understand these and also understand how different categories affect each other is a task that brings industrial designers closer to their real purpose in the modern day economy – create products that people will aspire to own. In fact, this remains arguably the fundamental difference between a designer and an artist – for the former, it is a quest to ex- press himself as a representative of a sizeable number of people and for the latter it is about representing himself.

Most marketers and businessmen still remain oblivious to the fact that the act of empathizing with the consumer is to understand their behaviour in the socio-cultural context. Consumer research for design is not about asking the consumer what he wants but understanding what is going on in his surroundings. This, by far remains the most challenging and at the same time, most exciting task for the designer. Following is a short list of some interesting movements within different product categories.

Samsung Ultra HD LED TV

Consumer products are losing all that flab: Consumer products must now start cutting down on their visual flab and come up with rather sleek stuff inspired by gadgets. We are seeing some action in water purifiers and humidifiers. This will definitely extend into other home appliances. ‘Plus Minus Zero’, a Japanese company with celebrity designer Naoto Fukasawa at the helm, has been demonstrating this direction for a while now. They have been trying to remove all barriers between product categories and treat all thing as life tools. Fukasawa has cast a brand that is ‘just right’ in terms of size, shape and price.

The union of sporty and hi- tech is the new favourite: From watches to SUVs, a blend of gaming style aliens and hi-tech sophistication is emerging as a hot favourite. Ford Ecosport has done this blend in style and India seems to be loving it. This trend might turn out to be a big winner across categories where X factor is the primary driver of sales.

Apple-style minimalism is getting quite boring: As consumer products are getting inspired by the apple style minimalism, you don’t want your iPhone to have a similar look and feel as your office water cooler. Gadgets will have to lead the way out of minimalism. Nostalgia, colours and textures will guide this category and so will personalization through accessories.

Real hi-tech has to be an experience: When manufacturers have breakthrough technologies and top-of-the-line products, they need to bring in futurism through familiar aspects of luxury. The story of design and development is the biggest story that brand would tell and the narrative will go beyond the visual to include manufacturing process, materials and finish.

Small accessories and smart electronics are essentially toys: And that’s how they should look and behave. Speakers, humidifiers, Add-ons for connectivity between appliances, docks are now trying to have a personality of their own and being themselves is the best way forward. Some of the celebrated ideas in this space are going the playful way.

This article was published in the Economic Times on 22 Mar 2013 as part of a fortnightly series called Functional Design authored by Makarand Kulkarni – Co-Founder, Ether Design.

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