Opportunities for ‘New’ Designers Bring Challenges for ‘Old’ Designers

Daniel Saakes

At the beginning of the 20th century, when standardization successfully separated design from manufacturing, a new profession emerged: the industrial designer. Industrial designers cater to mass production by making trade-offs between engineering, human factors, design constraints and marketing. Today, new ways of manufacturing and distribution are emerging that can effectively scale mass manufacturing down to small series of products marketed over the internet, or even unique products manufactured at home.

With these modern methods of fabrication and distribution, end users will participate as designers, and producers will be able to make their own trade-offs. It would not be overstating the matter to say that the traditional skills of the industrial designer will change fundamentally.

As an experiment, I designed a lamp, in the form of an ‘IKEA hack’.  HACKING DESIGN IKEA hackers are people that repurpose IKEA products to create personalized objects. In contrast to ‘everyday creativity’, 1 they share their results online. Due to the standardization STANDARDS and global availability of IKEA products, hacks can be reproduced by other people anywhere in the world. I shared  SHARE my lamp design online on the Instructables website, a popular place to share everyday knowledge and skills.

For me, sharing the design turned out to be more challenging than making the design. I was designing not only for users, but also for makers. I wanted to take into account the availability of materials and the level of expertise that my makers would have, with the aim of designing for optimal reproducibility. What, for instance, are globally available, safe ways of connecting electrical wires?  WYS ≠ WYG Reading the online discussions and comments posted by people making the lamp made me realize my responsibility.

I was amazed by the amount of people willing to void warranty, who felt confident that they would successfully be able to reproduce a lamp design that they found on the internet. After all, DIY disasters cannot be returned to the store. Also, I was surprised to find that makers made my lamp exactly as I had designed. I had secretly hoped to see new solutions and adaptations to the posted design.  REMIX Then again, it is possible that makers had no incentive to adapt the design, or no incentive to share designs online. 2

Similar to the way that IKEA hacks adapt existing products, desktop manufacturing will give end users the tools to make professionally produced products tailored to their preferences, without the need for compromises aimed at satisfying a large market.  DOWNLOADABLE Currently, the design software to cater these technologies remains in the realm of professionals. The challenge is in adapting the software to the end user’s needs, ensuring design freedom and including validation of engineering and human factors; SketchChair.cc is an example of how these parameters can be incorporated. Desktop manufacturing facilitate user confidence, allowing designers to benefit from many iterations and affordable prototyping.

The challenge for the industrial designer will thus be in metadesign: designing for the ‘new’ designer: the empowered end user. Traditional designers will design the tools and techniques to support end users, as the designers and makers of the products they need, want and desire.




  1.  Wakkery, M, ‘The Resourcefulness of Everyday Design’. Available online at www.sfu.ca/~rwakkary/papers/p163-wakkary.pdf
  2. Rosner, B, ‘Learning from IKEA Hacking: ‘I’m Not One to Decoupage a Tabletop and Call It a Day’’. Available online at people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~daniela/research/note1500-rosner.pdf
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