written by:
illustrated by:
August 12, 2009
Originally published in The City Life

We asked three product designers from three different fields what the future holds. Oddly, none of them mentioned crystal balls.

Bike illustration by Andrew Holder

Furniture

Stephen Burks is the principal of the New York studio Readymade Projects, whose works range from consumer products to lighting, furniture, home accessories, and more. He is considered one of the leading lights of American design, with clients ranging from B&B Italia to Calvin Klein.

“The future of furniture design is bridging industrial production with artisanal handmade craftsmanship. There is a growing interest in having character in a piece, a story. People with a $10,000 sofa or a $5,000 lounge chair now want to fill in the blank with some piece of authenticity that goes beyond just branding. This is where artisanally made furniture fits in. To do this, I see a move toward working more with the developing world. I have clients—– Cappellini, B&B Italia, Moroso—– that are looking to create a bridge from handcrafted production from places like India, Peru, and Senegal into first-world distribution. Even though a lot of these companies may not be espousing the mantra “Save the planet,” they are acting in that direction. When a company like Cappellini says they want to make a brand of handcrafted, eco-conscious furniture, that has huge implications. More companies will follow.”

Transportation

Grant Petersen is the owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works, the Walnut Creek, California, bike manufacturer that for the last decade has spearheaded a back-to-basics retro-future revolution in biking.

“Bike makers are searching for less costly, more consistent ways to make bikes, with the ultimate goal of being able to outsource the labor to any country in the world. The future is injection-molded thermoplastic frames, with integral batteries and rechargers. The bikes will be disposable and recyclable, and they’ll have a Wall-E look about them. But if the goal is to get more people on bikes, I don’t think ‘a better urban bike’ will do it. We need infrastructures—–cities and laws and support—–for the bicycle and against the car. Take away parking spaces for cars, give bikes the right of way at intersections, put car-parking garages a quarter mile from shopping centers, shorten commutes, and create light-rail systems with free bike parking, and people will ride bikes more. City planners, not bike designers, are the ones with influence.”

Consumer Electronics

Iain Roberts coleads the Chicago studio of Ideo, one of the most innovative design companies in the world. Ideo’s product designs range from the first computer mouse for Apple to the SmartGauge digital instrument cluster for Ford hybrid cars.

“We’re seeing a blurring of boundaries in consumer electronics: the physical and digital, the consumer and creator. In the case of products, increasingly everything has a chip inside of it, and that’s enabling us to create richer, more connected experi-ences. We’re seeing experiences that tie together multiple channels—–mobile, Internet, TV—–which allow us to do more with the same product. In some ways, products are becoming as much about service delivery and media consumption as anything else. From a design perspective, this provides us interesting challenges.The dominant element in a lot of the products we are designing is the screen: It’s changed the way we design and now we’re needing to build the product around it. We’re looking to tie the physical and graphical interaction together as closely as possible, paying new attention to materials, surface finishes, and details as well as focusing on sensory aspects such as touch and sound. We’re looking to products to engage all the senses.”

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