An Industrial Designer Invented Our Industry

Since making the move from Industrial Designer to Digital Marketer, I have been astounded by how little marketing seems to have learned from the world of industrial design. Why this is remains a mystery to me. The two fields have always been interwoven: the great Bill Moggridge invented interaction design when he created the first laptop. Having delivered the physical product, he ushered in a natural question: How were people supposed to interact with the product behind the screen?

Our role as digital marketers & innovators is to create experiences that act as advertising, but don’t feel like advertising. We are not the broadcasters of the 30-second spot. We are the creators of opportunities for people to take action and experience personal, self-driven interactions with brands. If our creations feel like an extension of above-the-line advertising, then we have done ourselves, and our industrial design legacy, a disservice.

I think a brief comparison of industrial design practices with our own work as marketers offers a few important lessons:

OBSERVATION

What they do:
Industrial designers understand consumers as users of products and services, not consumers of brands. Instead of asking, they simply observe. This anthropological approach allows them to understand what people need (and will want) before they know they want it and are able to articulate it.

What we need to do:
We need to blend design research with our own future-focused consumer research in the anthropological spirit. Balancing these approaches, we will create solutions that resonate today, while staying relevant tomorrow.

DIVERGE & CONVERGE

What they do:
Industrial designers mobilize divergent, chaotic, and free creativity at specific moments, often creating 100 different ideas quickly so that they can rapidly converge on the best opportunity.

What we need to do:
We must reject the siloed “Art Director + Copywriter sitting in a room coming up with THE solution” model traditional agencies still believe in. Instead, we need creative people from different walks of life generating as many different ideas as their brains can produce. Then we identify the very best needle in the haystack.

UNLIKELY PARTNERS

What they do:
Industrial designers work with anyone and everyone. Where they lack perspective, they pull it in from people far outside their bullseye consumer target. Think restricted users, customizers, haters, adjacent users. In short, the people marketers rarely speak to.

What we need to do:
To create products that have never existed before, we need to assemble combinations of perspectives that have never been assembled before.

PROTOTYPING, PROTOTYPING, PROTOTYPING

What they do:
Industrial designers make more progress, more quickly, because they make multiple ideas real from the offset, in the form of quick-turn, lo-fi prototypes.

What we need to do:
We need to not only make our gene pool of ideas broader, we need to give each direction a fighting chance before being killed. Until an idea exists in the world beyond a verbal articulation, it cannot be fairly assessed.

I believe that if we can compliment our digital marketing expertise with the flexible perspective of industrial designers, we will free ourselves creatively and create truly groundbreaking solutions. 

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