Manufacturing design_20

This article is a transcription of the #20 episode of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

In the twentieth episode, our company’s COO, Voytek Holysz, came together with Anita Rogoża, a designer and researcher, and Mikołaj Wiewióra, a senior industrial designer, to discuss the historical evolution of the relationship between design and manufacturing, from individual craftsmanship to the era of mass production and the democratization of design with Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.

Voytek Holysz: Okay, should we start?

Mikołaj Wiewióra: Why not?

Voytek: Mikołaj, how did it come to be that there was this tug of war between designers and manufacturers or was it always like that?

Mikołaj: I believe it was always like that. I haven’t lived 100 years ago so it’s just my assumption that it was the same, like the technology, and so-called design was always in a fight. Like, how to make things from our imagination, and how to imagine things that are novel, that are a little bit beyond the technology already existing? I think that this battle started some time ago. I don’t know how many years ago, how many centuries ago, but it didn’t finish and I think it won’t finish soon.

Voytek: Yeah, but I guess we can assume that before mass manufacturing, the designer and the manufacturer was one, it was the craftsman sort of, right.

Mikołaj: Certainly, of course. That was a little bit different through the time, it wasn’t always looking like today: we are designers, they are manufacturers, they are supply chain specialists. This market has evolved, and that the evolution is maybe throughout this century. Because, as you already mentioned, before it was rather a craftsmanship, a single product per single person that was simply made with known technologies (to them) without any other possibilities.

Voytek: And limited to their personal skill.

Mikołaj: Sure, limited to their personnel skill, material knowledge, tools.

Anita Rogoża: Or access to the materials that were different in different regions.

Voytek: Yeah, different parts of the world.

Anita: Supply chains were quite shorter than they are now, for example.

Mikołaj: Definitely. There were some regions that were specializing in a few technologies or a few products that they were doing. We always hear that Chinese pottery is something known all over the world, maybe for a reason, because they had the technology, they had skills to make porcelain. Maybe that’s the fact.

Voytek: Yeah, okay. And in this history of the constant pushback between designers and manufacturers, do you know of any, maybe pivotal, maybe not pivotal, but like a moment in time where things maybe got separated, the designer and the manufacturer, were no longer one person.

Mikołaj: I think that was a time when mass manufacturing was—

Anita: Emerging, basically.

Mikołaj: Yeah, emerging, it was a more and more established branch of the market, simply.

Voytek: Well, it came to be as a new industry.

Mikołaj: Certainly, a new industry.

Anita: Well, during the Industrial Revolution, industry became a thing because before that there wasn’t such a possibility to mass produce or to scale up making objects.

Mikołaj: Yes. So, the Industrial Revolution, with the steam machines probably was the far beginning of what we have today. I think that we could come up with an example of course, automotive because it is one of the most sophisticated markets in the world. Requirements are really tough to manufacture such assemblies as cars. Henry Ford maybe was the pioneer of splitting our profession, for manufacturing and design. Because someone had to imagine the thing, how to make it and the other group of people (because it was no longer one person) should think how to make it cheap enough so that people can buy it, and use it for an extended period of time.

Voytek: Ford, sort of, I don’t know, if they introduced or perfected the assembly line, production line.

Mikołaj: I believe he invented this to be finally economically satisfying for him and for his company. Maybe some trials were made before, and different companies were trying to manufacture their products massively or in series. But I think that history says that Henry Ford was the main inventor of the assembly line, and the main inventor of mass manufacturing methods.

Voytek: Yeah, but before manufacturing or design, got to that point with cars, I assume they started somewhere else, it’s not like the first thing they thought of was assembly line, production line - “let’s design for that sort of convenience of production”. The first cars weren’t manufactured that way.

Mikołaj: Of course, the Ford T, which we are talking about, was the first mass manufactured car. It wasn’t the first car ever, of course. There were a lot of different companies making cars but it was more towards this period that we already mentioned, like craftsmanship, where simply there weren’t many skilled people with the skills required for mass production. So it always is located in time, it’s not being a craftsman and doing something till 25th of May and on 26th of May, you are simply doing something differently. No, it’s not like that. It always has a transition period and during this transition period, craftsmen were really skilled people to bring them from transitioning from horses to cars. So cars were looking like horse caps at the beginning, because they had to have wheels, some box-shaped shelter for people. Tthis led people from an early automotive industry to hire people that were already skilled in making horse caps. And that transition was the beginning of automotive and manufacturing. But still - materials are the same: it was wood. Metal was introduced a few decades later.

Anita: And the function was basically the same as to cover people moving somewhere in their vehicle.

Mikołaj: Definitely. And the speeds were the same basically. The early cars were not moving as fast as today. They were rather a little bit faster, or sometimes even slower than running a horse. So that wasn’t the case to take care of any other aspects of design. This design was functional, used the materials and technologies already known by people, but the transition was in different placement of needs of people. Looking at that, that technology was a little bit behind the needs. So when needs came through then something had to change. We had to adjust the technology a little bit, maybe search for some materials like metals, like soft materials, to cover the roofs, so that the whole assembly is not that heavy so that the cars could lift it or move it with their low power engines, really low power, it was  a single horsepower.

Voytek: Single digits.

Mikołaj: Single digits. And probably that’s why horsepower also came to real life, so that you were replacing one physical horse with an engine that could produce the force made by horses, and it stays with us.

Voytek: So, that was from what I understand the first sort of push from designers to manufacturers. Basically, the clients - the users forced some sort of change. In order to supply, to meet the demand, they had to change the manufacturing technology to be able to produce enough units to be sold.

Mikołaj: I don’t think that the users were the main group because now we are thinking of users. But then I think it was— There were other problems, like huge pollution in cities when there were a lot of horses. So there was a lot of—

Voytek: Feces.

Mikołaj: Yes. So this, maybe, brought some solutions on how to transport people differently and how to make it affordable. Maybe this was the reason to push manufacturers forward. So finally people could benefit from these innovations. But for that time, I am not pretty sure that users were most important in that riddle.

Voytek: Okay. That was the sort of beginning of the assembly line, the production line, and it spread all around the world, basically, to every single industry that we can think of today. But there’s still a huge gap between what you just described and what we know today so what was the next sort of pivotal push between manufacturers and designers that pushed everything forward, sort of?

Anita: I think that one of those things was definitely computer aided softwares, because this was a partially very technical thing, and partially very creative, because you were making the design in that software. And at first, I think the whole story started somewhere in the 50s with the first scholar experiments with computer aided design, but later on in the 80s the whole thing was progressing. And in the heavy industries, in the automotive industry, like Mikołaj said, the computer aided software was a very important tool for making the optimized decision. And at first, they were very exclusive because they were very closely combined with what, I don’t know, machinery - for example, some car company has in their workshops, so that was the tool for the design team, for example, to talk with the workshop team, so that they can move faster and make solutions for assembly lines. And that was, as I said, very exclusive: partially because all of the computers and all of the machines that have computing power were very expensive. So it wasn’t something that was accessible for many engineers around the world. But with the PC revolution, with the computer expansion and development, these things became more accessible and cheaper.

Voytek: So, you mean like the 80s or 90s of last century?

Anita: Yeah, I think that somewhere in the 90s when they were quite powerful PC computers that became accessible for people, many engineers, or even many customers were able to buy themselves some very simple CAD software that were pushing their imagination and maybe pushing different smaller and lighter types of industry forward.

Voytek: Okay, so this sort of, I wouldn’t say niche, but very narrow group of experts that were able to use the software that were also probably very in sync and in communication with manufacturers or their own manufacturing facilities. Suddenly they sort of, I wouldn’t say that lost anything, but their group suddenly expanded by hundreds of thousands, probably, of people, not necessarily skilled or experienced people.  Like you said, anyone who had a personal computer in their home, and could afford both the PC and the software, could start being a designer. So I assume that was a huge—

Anita: Democratization.

Voytek: Democratization of imagination. But the landscape of designers suddenly changed, right?

Mikołaj: Right. And I have got one thing to add, because this perspective of skilled people, when you said that is shifting today rapidly. Now, we have  lots of designers. We have lots of manufacturers, they have CNC machines, they have a lot of sophisticated technologies in house. However, we are approaching times when we are going to lack specialists and people skilled enough to do some manual work, which is still one of the most important skills in a manufacturing facility. The so-called human touch is nearly impossible to avoid when doing something really precisely.

Voytek: You mean not everything can be automated?

Mikołaj: Yes, not everything can be automated. If you are, for example, manufacturing a tool for mass manufacturing, you have to calibrate or you have to polish the surfaces nearly perfectly. And for now, we don’t know any technology that is better than human with those finishing touches, of course, you can chemically polish all the surfaces. But if you have to simply match the mold parts together, still, the human is the most skilled person in this factory. Human is a person, yeah, something obvious.

Anita: Person as a human.

Mikołaj: Yes, a person as a human. So it’s really important to have specialists nowadays, even if we have this much technology.

Anita: That’s quite interesting because I thought of a different challenge that we are slowly approaching that it’s quite visible in the design of our smartphones. That challenge is that technology now is so elaborated, and allows a lot of shapes, allows a lot of extravagant designs, for example. But we are hitting the wall sometimes of imagination, maybe, regarding the functionalities and stuff like that. So now, we all probably have very good smartphones with ourselves, but they are still looking the same.

Voytek: Yeah, they are almost identically-shaped, identical thickness, etc.

Anita: Yeah, and sometimes I wonder, what is the world we are heading to? Is it the world of imagination? Or is it the world of technology? Or is it both?

Voytek: But how did that come to be? I mean, the situation that you described with the boom of CAD software availability, it seems like it should have produced an infinite amount of crazy ideas and creativity. Instead, we ended up with the same sort of monolith shapes. How did that CAD software revolution go about? What actually changed when people got access to those tools? Did they suddenly decide, “Oh, okay, let’s do black squares?”

Anita: That was quite far away from that popularization of CAD towards the black squares. I think that CAD software is built in a way that, let’s say, the engineers are thought to think so you have to model in a certain way or model in a certain manner. And I think that when you are learning that logic of modeling in the CAD software, it somewhere leads you toward cubes with inserts or stuff like that.

Mikołaj: Yeah, it might be like that. We, as people, love things that are somehow similar to what we already know. So it’s really difficult to push forward, especially if we are simply attacked from all over the world with mainly the same shapes. We are getting used to them: that smartphone should look like a squarish brick, but thin enough so that we believe that this phone is really high tech. If this phone gets thicker, we believe or we tend to believe it’s cheap.

Voytek: Or not sophisticated.

Mikołaj: Yes, because there were not many people to think of the thickness of the device, so we will probably classify this device as a little bit cheaper, less premium. However, people from the design department could have a different idea, they wanted you to have your phone in your pocket for a week, with a battery lasting for a week. So that’s why it was thicker.

Voytek: Or a better grip or whatever.

Mikołaj: Or better grip. But I think that phones are a really interesting topic.

Voytek: Yes, in the 90s or 2000s, phones were crazy: different colors, different shapes, flips.

Mikołaj: How did the Nokia brand look? That was crazy to me. There were even design themes for phones, there was a theme for fashion, there was a theme for music, for gaming.

Anita: For businessmen.

Mikołaj: For business. Yeah.

Voytek: There was a brief time sort of creatively. None of those designs lasted, basically. But still, these were times where manufacturers were experimenting a lot. And today—

Mikołaj: Yes. But I think that we still can remember some phones from that period.

Anita: We were experimenting in, basically, the group of the same ingredients, I would say, not that big of a screen, keyboard, the big battery part, like these were the, let’s say, three very important design factors that were used in much different ways.

Voytek: Those phones were still compared to today’s phones, very simple devices, right?

Mikołaj: Yeah. But that was something really new in an entire industry as a mobile phone, a cell phone. We didn’t even have a proper name for that. The name for the phone was taken from how the network was built. But now phones, I think this market has simply matured and that’s why the design is not revolutionary from year to year. It’s rather an evolution, it’s rather something that characterizes more matrix markets. I was in Coventry a year ago and I visited a museum there. Coventry is a place in Great Britain where a lot of automotive brands were established, it’s best known for Land Rover, Jaguar and all of the different premium brands. But this industrial city was also gathering some objects in their Museum and they started from bicycles. You won’t believe how many different ideas for a bicycle people had. Now when we think of a bicycle, we see two wheels that are in line.

Voytek: Very similar shape.

Anita: Equal size.

Mikołaj: Yes, almost equal in size. But for now they are also manufactured in different sizes for different people, for different heights. The bike fitting was an invention of recent years.

Anita: But the general form factor or the idea of that form is the same.

Mikołaj: Yes, but a century ago, I don’t know how many ideas I saw that were crazy enough not to withstand that time. If we think of a bicycle for two people, we have in our heads that two people are sitting, one behind the other. But there were ideas that the bicycle was two wheeled, but had seats next to each other.

Anita: That supports conversation.

Voytek: That’s some real acrobatics there.

Mikołaj: But that was an idea. It was manufactured, it was introduced to the market, but it simply didn’t fit the people. So maybe that’s why there was a period of time for cell phones, where there were a lot of different propositions for people, which one will last for years. And for some reason, we chose a very simplistic way to operate the phone.

Anita: We can say that the phones are, or were progressively getting more simple or more minimalistic, I would say. That’s because all those ingredients, for example, keyboard and the screen are becoming one thing, and this is so convenient and useful that we are not looking for any other solutions.

Mikołaj: Yes, from the manufacturing perspective, phones are also simpler because you don’t need to have this many components like keyboards, as you said before, like, all the—

Anita: Hinges.

Mikołaj: Yes.

Voytek: And mechanically, they're simpler but electronically, they are way more complex.

Mikołaj: Yes, but let’s look at today’s flip phones and today’s foldable phones and bent screens. History likes to repeat itself…

Anita: But in a weird way.

Mikołaj: There are a lot of new patterns on hinges covering the elastic screens. That’s why we need something new or some new ideas in a particular market so that we can evolve even further.

Voytek: Phones went through their crazy teenage years in the 90s. Cars went through their crazy teenage years also a bit earlier, maybe but right now, cars are also a lot more unified, sort of, when it comes to design. So, I guess every branch of products or every industry needs to go through a phase of experimentation, testing under users, what’s practical, what’s not, what aesthetic, what’s not.

Anita: What people considered practical, right?

Voytek: Yeah. What sells well, basically.

Mikołaj: Yeah. There’s another important factor because in some areas, regulations are important, like standards, like safety. All these factors impact design, even more than any other imagination of designers, because, for example, a car has to be safe for people. So that’s why these distinguishing emblems or distinguishing figures on the front of your hood are no longer visible, because they were simply unsafe.

Voytek: Yeah, they would fly away through the window.

Mikołaj: Through the window, but they could also—

Anita: They could be stabbed by a detached material...

Mikołaj: Yeah. Do you remember the Jaguar logo on the Jaguar on the hood?

Voytek: Yeah.

Mikołaj: Let’s imagine how that hits a person. Cars have to be safe and regulations impact design even more than technologies. Today, I think we have much better technologies than we had previously, of course, but we sometimes cannot do things that we could before. So, this also shows how the technology, regulations and design are all intertwined with each other.

Voytek: But it’s crazy, like everyone knows that we buy extremely expensive phones, then we put them in crazy cases that in some way make them thicker, make them bigger, make them have fancy colors.

Mikołaj: Because we don’t want them to break.

Anita: And we don’t want the same stuff that everybody has.

Voytek: But a phone case being pink with ears has very little to do with that breaking. It’s personalization, beyond… It’s sort of, sometimes, it’s like you are making the phone look cheaper, while the designer or the manufacturing company did everything they could for it to look as premium as possible.

Mikołaj: Just for the sake of selling on the internet with nice pictures, with nice bright materials, with no fingers on the photograph, touch your phone with your palm and you will immediately have fingerprints everywhere. So, I remember in phones, there was a time, especially with Nokia—

Anita: Little, like chain things like beaded butterflies and stuff.

Mikołaj: Yeah, but you could also change some, not the case for the phone.

Voytek: Yeah, you could change the front casing, change colors with different prints, etc.

Anita: Users want to express themselves, it's an important part of choosing what to buy.

Mikołaj: Again, history likes to repeat itself.

Voytek: But then you don’t make the decision of what product you buy based on the character of the product itself because on the outside you give it character anyway, so personalization, it’s still alive, but is it in the future also—?

Mikołaj: Speaking of personalization—

Anita: It is. That customization thing and the personalization thing is, I think growing bigger with for example, a phenomenon like mass customization is like a new branch of 3D printing when you are mass producing highly customized objects. So for example, I mean—

Voytek: Doesn’t mass production and high customization exclude each other?

Anita: Not in this case, because we are using technologies that do not use any tooling, so they do not require any special tools and molds for example to produce certain types of shapes, you are using 3D printing that is very free in that matter. You can design highly customized for your ergonomic needs, for example, shoe insoles, or ear stuff that will perfectly fit your head and ears and stuff like that.

Voytek: So like, the core of the product is mass manufactured, but something that’s specific to your own personal ergonomics is sort of custom made for you or for a group of people.

Anita: The whole product is custom made, because what truly is mass customized is a design - the 3D model of shoe insole, for example. So for example, you are going to order your special insoles to your shoes. Your fit is measured and those measurements are used to create a parametric 3D model of your insole. And so, this happened for many hundreds of other people, and when you collect all of those orders, you are 3D printing a whole bunch of them. They are basically the same type of a product, the same company, but they are highly specific regarding the ergonomically needs.

Voytek: Okay. So that’s something completely different from what was happening, or what you guys were talking about before, like the manufacturing first dictated sort of what designers can do, then designers were pushing the envelope to the other side. And now it’s sort of like, there’s no more push back in this direction, at least.

Anita: Yeah, but this direction is very common, maybe not very common, but common for the objects that are not very complex regarding the construction, or you won’t be able to easily manufacture, for example, electronic housing with that, but with some simpler forms, like glasses or shoe parts, it’s totally okay.

Voytek: Yet.

Anita: Yet.

Mikołaj: Yeah, of course. I think that we should treat that as simply another technology, another manufacturing technology that enables us to produce things that we weren’t able to do before. This mass customization area, because it is called Mass Customization, is not something that will replace all the technologies or all the current mass manufactured components or products, because we simply need some mass manufactured products. But if we are turning from having a lot of different pairs of shoes, for example, we tend to believe that paying more money for more customized and personalized shoes for us is better. Not only for us, but also for the planet. And that’s why people are shifting their beliefs that they do not have to have the same product that their neighbor has. But they can have something different by means of different technology or manufacturing technology. Not by means of buying just another mass manufactured component, but by personalizing this one component, this one product for their personal use. And I believe it is not going to be a technology that will erase all other technologies from our market, because I don’t think it has ever happened. Each time new technology becomes popular, the newspapers or magazines or writing: this technology will disrupt all the industry. No. This will enable us to do something more, simply.

Anita: New tool in a toolbox, basically.

Mikołaj: Yes, a new tool in the toolbox. But tool-less technologies that enable you to manufacture things may be a little bit more expensive than it was before. However, it still leaves you with no trash behind and that’s a good way of thinking for now.

Voytek: Okay, so just to sum up. If we started by describing the evolution of this relationship between design and manufacturing. We started by saying that manufacturing was the part that was dictating to the designers, what is possible, what’s the range they can move in. Then there was a push from the designers, when there was the democratization of design software - suddenly, a lot of more things were possible and manufacturing had to catch up in a way. And now, we are at the point where as I understood, again, manufacturing, especially in consumer electronics, sort of dictates what makes sense, what’s possible to design, how you should think of designing a smartphone, for example. So, is the next natural wave would be for the designers to push back again? Or will it sort of go both ways, or sideways or whatever, with the new technologies that you just described?

Mikołaj: I don’t know what the future will look like in that manner.

Voytek: I thought that’s why you came here because you did know.

Anita: I know but I can’t tell you. <laughter>

Mikołaj: But I think I can only imagine. From my perspective, I think that the future will simply more often require us to meet design with technology. So that once the technology will be a little bit further, once the design will be a little bit further. And for now, there is one common thing in that area. It’s called computing power. Because—

Anita: Because those, for example, mass customization requires a lot of computing power.

Mikołaj: Yes. So we still use excessively or a big amount of energy to mass customize things. It’s not for free. Getting to that level of sophistication requires time or requires money or computing power. So, I believe that the progress will be in a fight between technology and design and it will be mainly dictated by the computing power because now we have…

Voytek: We are all slaves to the machine.

Mikołaj: Yes, we have got digital design tools and digital manufacturing tools. If we are going digital, this means that the possibilities are becoming endless. Of course, in the physical world, saying that there are endless possibilities of solving a problem, is simply not possible because you have got to take into account the business side of design.

Anita: While thinking about styling, for example, or shapes or any other aspects of design, there basically are endless possibilities, right.

Mikołaj: Basically, yes.

Anita: Not reasonable sometimes but possible.

Mikołaj: Sure. It is said that everything is possible. It’s always a matter of time, money and people, but—

Anita: Time, money, people and computing.

Mikołaj: And computing power, which could add another level of sophistication to that equation.

 

anita.webp

Anita Rogoża is an experienced researcher & designer at Mindsailors. Her priority is on making functional designs that are both user and environment friendly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mikolaj.webp

Mikołaj Wiewióra is a senior industrial designer at Mindsailors. He has extensive experience in leading teams of designers and engineers on all stages of the design process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wojciech-Holysz.webp

Voytek Holysz is the COO of Mindsailors with 16 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.

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