Agents of change

27 June 2011
In an interview conducted by Curve magazine editor Belinda Stening, Tatjana Dzambazova shares her views on current trends toward more demanding, design-aware consumers and the more prominent role of designers in product development. She also observes the democratisation of design, the rising DIY (do-it-yourself) movement and wonders after the resultant future of the design profession.

By Belinda Stening, editor of Curve magazine

Tatjana Dzambazova shares her views on current trends toward more demanding, design-aware consumers and the more prominent role of designers in product development. She also observes the democratisation of design, the rising DIY (do-it-yourself) movement and wonders after the resultant future of the design profession.

Passionate about architecture and enthusiastic about technology, Macedonia-born Tatjana Dzambazova is the Senior Product Manager, Creative Consumers in a new group at Autodesk called Autodesk Consumer Group, the mission of which is to 'unlock creativity in everyone'. Dzambazova, who trained as an architect, 
has superb communication and organisation skills, and ran her own design office in architecture and interior design for 12 years, initially in Vienna and later in London, after which time she joined Autodesk, towards the end of 2000. She was the product manager for Revit and, having led the product development for several years and having written books on Revit, she became known in the architecture community as the RevitQueen. She is based in San Francisco.

Curve editor Belinda Stening recently spoke to Dzambazova in Melbourne about mega-trends - the changing role of design, the democratisation of technology - and what this means for the future of the design profession.

What is the changing role of design?

Design matters today much more than in the past. The abundance of choice of products in the market, global connectivity and competition that covers a wide range of players has created an environment in which consumers are getting increasingly savvy, selective and sensitive about good design.

When selecting a product, consumers no longer look for mere quality and function of a product, but for products that are inspiring and innovative, that make them feel good, that offer fun. Products with which they develop emotional attachments. Instead of selecting product features, the consumers of the future will select between different emotional worlds. It's an interesting blur of the boundaries between brand, design, function, performance and service that makes for a well designed product.

Apple is not the only company but it is probably the company that has proven that good design matters to everyone. Their core guiding principles have been design innovation, ease of use, simplicity and quality. With the symbioses of these values, they have managed to create amazing, emotionally-connecting products with a broad appeal. Apple showed the world that when designing products, the innovation and design is not so much about the what but about the how, and through thoughtful reduction they make simple-to-use, yet powerful and beautiful, products that open new worlds.

What do you mean by 'designers are agents of change' in business?

Companies cannot compete on quality or price any more. It now comes down primarily to design. Design is what separates products from one another. It is the designed experience that people talk about when spreading the word about products they like.

In the late 80s Sony built its brand around its design quality. Norio Ohga, former chairman and CEO of Sony, is often quoted for his statement: "At Sony we assume all products of our competition will have basically the same technology, price, performance and features. Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace."

Many global corporations have recognised that design drives success and innovation, and in the last decade have increased the number of designers on their teams as well as use of external innovation and design agencies to ensure the constant refreshment of ideas. The companies also recognise more local dependencies, tastes and styles and set up local studios around the world to gain the essential insights into different cultures, habits and behaviours of consumers.

Design and the role of designers is moving from the bottom of the creative food chain to becoming the essential connector across a range of creative networks. As design becomes an increasingly significant strategic component in business, designers are the innovators and interpreters of consumer needs into tangible desirable products and their opinion counts more then ever.

Can you explain your thoughts on the democratisation of design?

We are all witnessing the growing availability of technology and its impact on our behaviour. Tools that for years have been exclusively available to high-end professionals, or those who could afford them, are now getting democratised in price and ease of use, making them more affordable and accessible to much wider audiences. Complicated and expensive tools get smaller, simpler, digital and often mobile interpretations and are consumed by many new users. Consumers and small players now have a chance to play with high-end technology and take a part in a game they didn't have a chance to play before.

Can you explain your research into the 21st century child?

This research is about looking at the digital literacy of children and the tools they use and the way they use them. Twenty-first century kids are exposed to technology from Day 1. The world calls them the 'digital natives', 'the netgeners', 'the netizens', 'the homo zappiens', because they own and master from an early age every piece of digital technology: computers, cell phones, smart phones, MP3 players, PlayStations, drawing tablets.

Being the 'Google generation', they are information savvy and tech-tuned like no generation before them. They are not scared of technology. It opens up for them new ways of communicating, learning, expressing ideas and talents, and telling stories about the world around them. They are connected and wired, among themselves like no other generation in history, making it easy to spread the word or make big changes in short amounts of times. Technology allows the kids to become the first powerful and versatile 'story-telling generation'.

Pleasing these future customers will be an interesting challenge. They grow up to become informed, demanding and picky customers - and this influences family purchasing decisions as well. If a product is slow or clunky, was not thoughtfully designed, requires too much time to figure it out, doesn't give them a feeling of empowerment, doesn't make them feel good about themselves or, even worse, makes them feel stupid, they will ditch it. Products that are not well designed live a short life in the hands of the savvy 'next geners'. Finding the right language to talk to them, being where they are, doing things that matter to them, in a way that matters to them, is how we will be able to reach and become relevant to this generation.

Can you talk about the project announced by the Whitehouse and the specific tool for the 'maker generation'?

Education of 21st century kids is an important problem to solve. In the USA, the STEM approach - rational fast thinking based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the force of the left-brainers - has been taken in the last couple of years as a method of creating critical thinkers, designers, creators of the future world.

As John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design states, however, the STEM can only be successful and relevant in combination with IDEA (Intuition Design Emotion Art) - all things that makes us 'human'. In his mind, "There is no greater integrity, no greater goal achieved, than an idea articulately expressed through something made with your hands. We call this constant dialogue between eye, mind and hand 'critical thinking - critical making'." He also maintains that the combination of these two in design results in problem-solving with 'dirty hands' at rapid speeds, as well as critical thinking and critical making at slow enough speeds.

Therefore, we evaluate how to connect STEM + IDEA by incorporating science, engineering, design and art from early on, give the tools for expressing ideas digitally, teach them from early on about their design ideas, doability, sustainability, manufacturability. We need to impress upon kids with the importance of good thinking about how things are made, about the importance of digital design, while not losing the reality about what comes out of design ideas in the real world.

That is one aspect of the topic. Another is the ever-growing 'maker movement' and 'maker generation', something that I am passionate about, a movement that will introduce quite some disruption in how products are made, bought or sold in the future.

The first industrial revolution offered mass production of a selected number of items, made available to bigger audiences in a more cost-effective way. But it took away the bond between the designer and the object, it lost the aesthetic; things were done more simply in order to be mass-produced and produced faster. It lost the 'craft' of making. Technology took away the craft.

But, as Chris Anderson the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine observes, there is a new industrial revolution happening in which quite the opposite is occurring. Technology is reintroducing the connection between the maker and the products, and empowers designers and artists to make new products as expressions of their creativity; products that they cannot find anywhere else or products they invent to make the world a better place.

There are three factors that make this possible: democratised means of design (easy and affordable digital design tools), democratised means of manufacturing (3D printers and 3D scanners, laser cutters, CNC machines, shopbots, etc.) that allow small players and amateur crafters and makers to play along with serious manufacturers, and finally the enablers - the interest-based social networks such as Ponoko, Shapeways, Etsy, etc that offer global connectivity and exposure, the sharing, buying and selling of custom-made products.

The DIY movement today translates into design-it-yourself, make-it-yourself and sell-it-yourself. It will be very interesting to observe what this will mean for the future of the design profession, and how it will impact the world around us.

Re-published with permission from Curve magazine, issue 35

About Curve magazine

Curve is an exclusive design magazine for professional industrial designers and manufacturers involved in product development. Published quarterly, it is circulated in print and online formats. Each issue of the magazine showcases the latest innovations in design and manufacturing. It regularly highlights new design concepts and provides profiles of leading personalities from the design and product-development scene. Editorial segments are dedicated to package design; new materials and technology; design management and business; and eco-design. Awards programmes, events, exhibitions and competitions are regularly covered.