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Generation X : The global village
Generation X
The global village
Jean Christian Roy, June 22, 2006

We are all caught up in a global web, which, with the slightest movement, could tip the world over. But where is the monster hiding?

 

In today’s fascinating world, with everything at our fingertips, we are dominated by consumer goods. Noticeable as much for their originality as for their usefulness, they threaten to overwhelm us. Companies are constantly introducing new products, to satisfy the demand for novelty and low prices. Never before has the “look” of the product been so important. We are in a race against the clock as business invests millions to improve their product lines. At a time when globalization is the catch-word, the global village is shrinking, and borders have virtually disappeared for many products and communications, what role does industrial design play?

The virtual chess-game played between multinationals will give the ultimate winners even more strength. To remain competitive, the goal has to be continually lowered production costs. For example, the competitive position of Apple’s iBook is the result of its being assembled in Taiwan. Globalization is a fact of life. Obviously, the world has changed since Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. Today it would be inconceivable for an automobile to be created and built in only one country and, instead, a car is composed of thousands of parts of foreign origin. And the automobile is the unmistakeable icon of the global village.

 

To compete in business today, parts have to be sourced from around the world. Apple is far from the only manufacturer outsourcing abroad; other examples abound. But it’s a major concern that even research and development are no longer done at home. It seems that no sooner does a concept get sketched on the back of an envelope than production is starting in China or India, to save time and money. So the question for designers and inventors becomes, what does the future hold? Because, unfortunately, they don’t all have the reputation of a Philippe Starck.

Another downside to globalization is the imposition of uniformity of design for consumer goods by a small group of multinationals. This concentrates decision-making power in the hands of a few players. IKEA, General Motors, Panasonic, Hewlett-Packard and Nike, among others, have become the arbiters of design and standards. Will they bring us more attractive and more functional design? Will the bean-counters throw away their red pencils and ignore the bottom line for the sake of design? If you look at most household appliances and computers sold in North America in 2005, you have to wonder.

 

All is not lost, however. If industrial designers can pull together, there is still hope for a more colourful and vibrant world. We see this happening in Italy and Scandinavia, where collectives have formed to protect and promote a growing local industry. “Global Design” speaks to a “willingness for change” and questions the status quo. We all have something to offer, and our strength is in our diversity. Each year, hundreds of young designers, full of new ideas and designs that could improve our lives, are graduating. There is room for all of them, but only if we take the time to communicate and keep our dreams alive. Business, take heed!

 


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