A few years ago, like every non-designer technology person out there, I caught the design/design thinking bug. I became that annoying non-designer who read Don Norman’s ‘Design of Everyday Things’, Jay Greene’s ‘Design Is How It Works’ and Tim Brown’s ‘Change By Design’ but stopped just short of calling myself a designer. The products that captured our attention and money were, all of a sudden, design-centric. It’s still the case.
Only recently have I come to realize how annoying that must have been to folk who actually got an education and have years of experience designing stuff. To those people, including L my Industrial Designer friend from undergrad, I apologize.
As the pace of convergence between the built environment, technology, energy generation/management has picked up, I’ve come to the heightened realization that experts across all these industries have to engage at a much deeper level than before when our industries were siloed. For this reason I’ve started to spend a lot more time with experts in these industries (architects, industrial designers and natural born tinkerers) that are becoming more relevant to me as a technology strategy expert in the utility industry. A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic lunch with 3 world renowned architects and must have annoyed them with all my questions which they graciously answered. The conversation centered the large scale economic systems and physical infrastructures of the energy world, as well as the more tangible scale of use and experience. I’m excited about continuing the conversation about how design is a point of contact between these scales.
Naturally, my next conversation had to be with an industrial designer. And that was a recent chat with Dan Phipps at his Axis Design and Prototyping studio in downtown Round Rock TX. Like a rookie, the first time I met Dan I pitched an IoT idea, and I should have shut my mouth to just listen. Second chat I decided to shut my mouth and learn how designers bring those two scales I mentioned above together through their work.
Dan Phipps is extremely understated. Knowing I would share this blog post made him uncomfortable. For someone who’s worked on iconic hardware products and brands like Kodak, Crockpot, Dell, HP, Bose, Polaroid, SnapOn, Yeti and a few others that can’t be named, Dan is too understated. In his position I’d have made t-shirts with all those logos and plastered ‘I Designed For Them’ and I’d only wear those t-shirts. All the time.
Along with thoughts on design, Dan shared some non-obvious lessons that I couldn’t resist sharing with designers old and new. The lessons are also applicable to those of us who work, and will do more work, with designers as all these industries converge.
These lessons apply in every industry and at one point or the other you/me/we are either the client or the designer. Managing engagements with an understanding of these things does not have anything to do with how innovative we think the client is. It truly is about how well we communicate. Come to think of it the four lessons can be boiled down to one; listen. It means no egos, a learning mindset and an open ear. It’s about how well we listen whether we are the client or the designer, especially in industries where the tradition has been to not listen to the customer at all (cough, cough, utility industry, cough, cough). That will no longer do in a world that is fast changing around us…
Dan P had one last piece of advice for all young designers (having been in this business for the last 20 years or so); work hard and hone your craft. ‘It’s about developing a habit for working hard so that when you do find the thing you are passionate about — a project, a client, a business — the habit will translate and it will set you apart from the competition.’ And don’t we all want to be set apart from the competition…
I’ll make a plug for Dan here (he wouldn’t do it himself), if you’re looking for great product design work from a great team check out axisdesign.com or email me seyi at asha-labs dot com.
Please share, like and do all the things you do to articles on Medium. Read more critical but relatable analyses of the most important industry (utilities) at Asha Labs or reach out for ghostwriting (that doesn’t suck) at HarperJacobs. Seyi Fabode is an Operating Partner at VestedWorld.
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