Where Are The Industrial Designers?

As some of you might be aware there’s plenty of blog press concerning Steelcase’s chair design competition in Second Life, so the obvious question is: Where are the Industrial Design blogs reporting about this competition? I can’t find any.

Meanwhile there’s currently an “Extreme Sports Equipment for the Year 2020” competition (Link) on the Product Design Forums, and Core77 is busy promoting a “One Hour Design Challenge” (Link).

Neither site mentions this competition. Neither of those competitions offers anything nearly as interesting as the Steelcase competition; regardless of whatever specific rules and guidelines come attached. And with Steelcase’s reputation one would expect student designers to be all over this competition. Apparently they’re not.

I initially caught word of this over on The ARCH blog (Link) which – besides documenting the swelling interest in Second Life among real world architects – provided some details for the competition:

The winning design will be showcased in the SL Steelcase Store and will receive their choice of a high performance chair featured at store.steelcase.com (max value of $1599 USD). In addition the winning designers will have the opportunity to present their work to Steelcase’s seating and design teams in Second Life. Quality designs may even be considered for future product development opportunities.

After I saw further mention of it on New World Notes (Link) which mentioned an SL location, I logged into Second Life thinking there might be something to see and people to meet; there isn’t and there weren’t.

Primarily, I was hoping to find some real life designers inside SL who were entering the competition, because yesterday morning I traded emails with someone regarding an earlier post of mine having to do with art schools and Second Life (reLink). The conversation had migrated to guessing why real world designers – and perhaps artists – aren’t more interested in a virtual world where they can both create content as well as market their RL work. Here’s an excerpt from my last email:

For most designers – as with so many videogame fanboyz – Second Life simply doesn’t register. Product designers are usually obsessed with *real* product, and with learning the CAD applications they think will get them their dream job designing cell phones, shoes or cars. Very few design students seem to understand that designing things is as much a mental challenge as it is a visual communication thing [see earlier entry touching on this – reLink]. Nor do they have the experience to understand that they’re not likely to get very high up the corporate ladder because they lack many of the intellectual tools more traditional schools provide students (e.g. good math, science, and business classes).

So partly by choice and partly by education, many typical designers mostly just see and care about pretty shapes. They dream of being a design superstar in the same way kids dream of being the next LeBron James. So Second Life is irrelevant to them or to the schools they attend which foster that kind of attitude.

With all the mainstream press coverage, and even though I believe I understand why more designers aren’t interested, I’m still surprised at the extraordinary lack of interest. That, and perhaps a little disappointed that designers aren’t taking the opportunity to help lead the way in what is arguably an important and relevant technology. Instead, the profession appears to be content with being led on a leash by those who may not understand much beyond points on a spreadsheet, but who at least understand there’s more to a product than what either their limited numerical perception or an Industrial Designer’s similarly limited shape obsession allows either to perceive.