Marion Lecture

1. Industrial Design in the Global Context Today

As our means of traveling and communication developed rapidly over time, our economic and educational enterprises are becoming more and more global. In the early 20th century, products were mainly created by artisans or by local industry. By the middle of the 20th century, the means of production have been located to various places in the world while finished products are being distributed globally. With the ongoing spread of digitalization in the 21st century, the whole world can be connected instantaneously. Since intercultural communication processes nowadays involve much more than the understanding of a foreign language, it becomes increasingly important for designers to understand other cultures and forms of living.

Contemporary Industrial Design aims at improving global issues such as air pollution, global warming, food or water shortage. In order to solve these problems, designers not only need the competence of finding technical solutions, they also need the sensitivity to fully understand the consequences of their ideas as well as the ability of comprehending problems in their entire complexity.

2. Aims for the Industrial Design Education at IDI-Industrial Design Institute in Zhaoqing

The aim of the Industrial Design education at IDI is to equip students with the expertise they need to tackle the aforementioned challenges by teaching them the skills and methods to conduct profund research and develop ideas to solve complex problems. Most importantly, they will achieve proficiency in transforming their concepts into products that are beneficial to human beings and society.

The study program at IDI revolves around three major areas:
HUMAN – Man and his artifacts;
CULTURAL – Understanding of Western and Eastern societies and
ENVIRONMENT- Sensible and sustainable future developments.

According to the basic Bauhaus principles acclaimed by Walter Gropius in the 1920s, design has to work within the connection of art, technology and science.

3. Lost in Translation – Misunderstandings in the Communication about Design

To design means to give shape to objects or concepts and to transform them into artifacts for human beings. Therefore, it is important for a designer to learn how people perceive artifacts in different cultures. Asian product semantics, as well as the meaning of icons, symbols or colors vary significantly from those in Europe. What good design is differs strongly from place to place.

To design means to communicate: good design is – to a large extent – a matter of understanding life. The precondition of this understanding is to be open minded towards different situations and contexts.

Design foundations serve as an useful alphabet that helps students to understand aesthetic principles from different cultures in order to be able to design products and systems for various societies around the world.

4. Foundations as an Alphabet of Criteria for Aesthetics and the Language of Design

To be able to design and develop products that have a strong influence on our lives, students have to become aware of people’s needs. They have to make their own experiences in order to gain criteria for decisions. In that respect Foundation Courses at IDI follow the credo of the famous Bauhaus designer Josef Albers who developed “Foundation Studies” in his subsequent occupation as an educator at Yale University. Within these courses, students approached design through an experimental way of working and through the observation of things in their own context.

Similarly, students at Folkwang University and IDI learn to look at things closely during the Foundation Courses, to learn to be aware of the details as well as the overall message of shapes. This teaching method, inter alia, involves students constructing objects that are larger than life, building them and thus learning about their mechanics and stability in relation to material. IDI students experience this since their very first semester.

Foundation Studies provide a great platform for students to gain basic knowledge about design principles and phenomena such as Gestalt, color, proportions, materials or surfaces – not only by clarifying them in theory, but also by demonstrating how to recognize and apply them in practice. Consequently, the setup of a good design workshop is mandatory for the successful implementation of the Foundation Studies: wood-, metal- and plastics-workshops as well as plaster and ceramics workshops are the minimum. Furthermore, machines for digital output in 2D and 3D are indispensable. We are convinced that in spite of Industrial Design becoming less hardware- but more digital-oriented through virtual and augmented reality, students need to be able to switch back and forth between media within the design process. Moreover, they need to learn about 3D and 4D processes which is something we hope to establish here at IDI, too. It is important to understand that design is rarely a linear process which implies the realization of the first idea, but a long development procedure over the creation of several models involving the mind and all senses.

In addition students need confidence, passion for their work, stamina and curiosity – they must take responsibility for their actions and enjoy their creative work. All of that will make them become outstanding designers!

Marion Digel, July 9th.