Designers of the near future

Wout Kregting and Marije Willemsen

During this two-week module (The strategic Value of Design) we searched for our personal unique profile as designers. Beside that we searched for a way to communicate this to companies.

As bachelor students, we both studied Industrial Product Design. Wout studied at Hogeschool Arnhem Nijmegen and Marije studied at De Haagse Hogeschool. After a premaster program we enrolled for the Master Industrial Design.

The first week of the module we started our research with a question: What are the different job possibilities for us in the near future? To gain this answer we compared two different companies, a consultancy company (Fabrique) and a large company with their own design department (Philips). Beside that we analysed a success product (Philips Hue) to see what the role of an industrial designer has been during the development.

After this first part we realised that we were doing research in a really general profile of an industrial designer. To get the results more related to ourselves we started to do a more personal analyses. Within this article this analyses is presented together with our profile and vision as a designer.

Traditional design

At first we analysed our previous study. We focussed on the learning system, the process, the skills and the student profile when graduating. Also the Technical University Delft is educating more for the traditional design process.

Tradional.designer copy

As you can see in the visual, a traditional design process starts with a defined case. To get some more information general research is done. After the general research the ideation, conceptualization and materialization will follow. The most important steps of a product design process are made during the materialization. There is created a product that is ready to produce. The material, the production method, the technical drawing set and the logistic flow are all totally clear. The up-to-market time for products that are designed within this process is 0-5 years.

The educational system is based on different assignments. The students have to reach a clear described level to pass. The students will be checked on their level by an exam. In general all students have the same skills when they graduate. There is nothing that makes them different from others. The coach has a guiding role within a project.

Students within the traditional design process have a lot of skills. For example, sketching, 3D modelling, design technical calculations, cost price calculation, production methods, material knowledge, client/consumer focused, ergonomics, functional prototypes.
Students that learn the traditional design method will be business oriented, have a lot of basic design skills and will eventually design standard products with incremental innovations: bike, coffee-machine, parts of a product, maxicosi etc.

Future focus design

To continue, we analysed the program of Industrial design of the TU/e on the same topics.

Within the future-focus-design the process starts with an open case. Research is done into different aspects. In which fields research is done, depends on the personal interest of the designer. A direction is formed, by the vision of the designer, in the end of the research and the analyzing phase. The end result is a concept with a convincing background story. Some of these concepts present a probe. The up-to-market time for products that are designed within this process is 5-10 years.

The educational system of Industrial design focuses a lot on personal development. The students have to formulate their personal goals. This results in the fact that all students are different from each other. Students develop their personal vision and identity. This educational system requires a lot of self-discipline. The coach has a supporting role in the project of the students.

Students within the future focus design process gain different skills. Skills they develop are knowledge of electronics, knowledge of programming, creating convincing concepts, personal vision and identity and supporting prototypes. Future focus design students will be personal unique designers that focus on the Why question. This will be explained later in the text.


Since we are familiar with both ways of the design process, we have tried to find our way to combine both skills, ways of learning and processes. The knowledge we gathered within both studies influences our view on the design process and the way we use it.

To position our selves comparing to the others we created a third line. This shows how our process will look like.

The process starts with a global case. We are able to do research in depth and select the key elements. If it is about a probe we are able to translate this into more realistic and reliable facts. We will go through the ideation and conceptualization phase as well. We will deliver a product proposal that is ready for the last detailing. The up-to-market time for products that are designed within this process is 1-6 years.

Why – How – What
We have used the golden circle model of S. Sinek.[1]This model shows the Why, How and What component. This is explained with two examples:

Good example: Apple marketing

Why: Think different, we believe
How: Design nice, user friendly
What: We make great computers

Apple communicates why they do the things they do, how they do it and in the end with what they reach their goals. This is a clear way of communication.

Bad example: Dell marketing

What: We make great computers
How: Design nice, user friendly
Why: Want to buy one?

Dell communicates what they sell, that it is nice and user friendly and that you really need to buy one. This gives a total different feeling. The why factor is really important when selling, designing or developing products. This added value can make the difference.

If you would indicate the why-, how-, what- state to our process timeline, it would look as following:


The future focus design is the why; there is done research into the underlying questions of a topic. The traditional design is more focussed on the what; physical products will be created. The how is the connector between these two elements. This is exactly were we show up. We can communicate easily with the why-people, we can easily communicate with the what-people and we function as a translator.

So what is the link of all this to radical innovation?[2] To answer this question we tried to set it into our process timeline as well.


As you can see, the future focus design process, is described as radical, this is because of the future vision, the probes and the research into the why. The traditional design process can be described as incremental. They redesign products, work out details and make products ready to produce. Within both of these innovation will not happen. Probes are not realistic enough and small changes in a product will not be great innovations. Again this is where we show up. The how part helps to realize products of a more global case.

To make the differences between the designers clear there are given three examples of products that can be developed.


The traditional designer will keep redesigning a product to make it better, more ergonomic and more beautiful. The future focus designer will design something that is to unrealistic for the user yet. It is a remote control that recognizes the movement of your hands. We will design a product that communicates both languages. The future vision is translated into a product that connects to the consumers right now.


The traditional designer designs a car with some changes in technique, features or design. The future designer will design something that is too futuristic for production, a car that is built up of a frame with fabric around so you can adjust the shape day by day. This will be a too big change for the market. We will search for a solution in between. A solution that takes the innovation into account, but also the market we are aiming for.


The traditional designer will give a lamp an extra feature to make it more attractive, as can be seen in the example of the bear. The future focused designer will propose a service that is about light control. When you walk into your house there is a system that controls your light according to your personal mood, thoughts and behaviour. We could have designed the Philips Hue. This is the first generation of innovation in light control, to let the user get comfortable with another light controlling technique. The user is used to use a Smartphone, but not with controlling light. The user will adapt in controlling light through a comfortable app with lots of advantages compare to the old light switch.


In the future the work for design companies and design departments will move more to the beginning of the process. J. Thoolen of van Berlo said: Companies are coming more often with a more open design case and ask us to help them.[3] Beside that their suppliers are doing the last detailing of the product, so the hardcore engineering will be taken out of our hands. This trend also comes out of the more involved system design. Services and digital components of a product are getting more important.

A couple of years ago a product was designed and afterwards a service or digital component was created. Nowadays it is more the other way around. A system is designed and if it is needed a product will be developed as well. This movement of the process with in companies will result in a larger gap between the two different processes. Our role will get more important; we function as communicators and translators within this gap. We have the capability to think on the level of system/service design and translate it to a product. We have knowledge in both worlds and will combine the best parts of those worlds.


We are going to fulfil a gap between the traditional design and the future focused design. Within the future this gap will get bigger due to the focus on service/system design. We will operate in this gap and the necessary parts of the future focus design and traditional design. We are able to think on a more abstract level and translate probes to realistic products or services. Our design process will result in a product proposal that is ready for the last detailing part.

Our aim is not directly to focus on radical innovation. Still within the process, we are going through, it is possible to reach design driven innovation. However, this is not where we are aiming for. We create products with a stronger realistic connection. This will result in products that are orientated on the market and ready within a 1-6 years.

Our aim is not to start our own design company, or work in such an entrepreneurial company. We see ourselves work in a large company with growth potential. We will not always be designers, but we will fulfil a management function in now and 10 years within that large company.


[1] S. Sinek, Why How What model,
[2] R. Verganti, Design Driven Innovation, Harverd Business Press, 2009
[3] J.Thoolen, van Berlo, Interview, feb-2012

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