New Industrial Humanism

By Jude Bliss, 8/09/2011

Are conditions right for another industrial revolution? Image: The IPKat


Georgia and I went along to an interesting talk on the meaning and impact of design on Tuesday morning given by American auto-mobile designer and designer of the iconic BMW and Mini, Chris Bangle.

It was one of a series of events called ‘Creative Mornings’. The idea being that one inspirational speaker per month would give a 20 minute talk followed by 20 minutes of Q&A at breakfast time to a live audience. The talk is then shared on Vimeo shortly after. Like a bite-sized Ted.

Our initial fears of sitting in a room full of Top Gear enthusiasts and petrol heads soon subsided when we realised the audience was more of a mix of creatives, designers and marketeers. This feeling of relief was complete when I noticed the name badge on the guy sitting next to me answered the question ‘If you were a car what car would you be?’ with ‘that car from back to the future’. Ha! I thought, a Delorean, I know slightly more about cars than the man sitting next to me.

The talk got underway and Chris Bangle was immediately likable and interesting, and as far removed from Jermey Clarkson as I could have hoped for.

He talked about how designers are the elite who create the world and whilst others either execute or consume their ideas. He spoke of how designers are inherently obsessive and meticulous, and the industry is focused around absolute precision without room for compromise or input from those in production. What this means he says, is that those individuals, and on a larger scale the communities they inhibit, will often feel disempowered as a result of their lack of meaningful contribution.

There have been huge technological, political and cultural shifts over the last decade and despite these changes Bangle argues that designers and the design industry remain largely unchanged. Designers’ design, and everyone else involved is just there to execute that design with pinpoint accuracy.

Bangle argues for a radical change in this approach to one of co-creation between designers and those non-designers in production, and calls on designers to work in a  much more responsive and collaborative way. This change would provide empowerment to people and their communities, which would then form the basis of creating meaningful and sustainable living.

He called this change the ‘New Industrial Humanism’.

Bangle gave a wonderful analogy in saying that 2000 years ago only the very elite could read and write, everyone else had to follow the rules and laws of that elite.

2000 years later, whilst all sections of society can read and write it is still only the very elite of society who design. “What are we afraid of?” “Why can’t we let go a little?” He asked the room.

He also made a very interesting point on how what we value in terms of design has drastically changed since the industrial revolution. Society used to appreciate difference and individualism as part of the craftsmanship of the product. The slightly varied shape, size or colour. This made one product from a set unique and consumers valued these slight differences between products.

Since the introduction of machinery and factory lines however, individualism and difference amongst product is considered undesirable and it would be very rare to even see those products make it to the shelves. I find it interesting how that technological shift has heavily impacted the consumer mindset over time.

In relation to brands, and especially internet brands, co-creation has been a talking point for a while and we’ve seen many examples of it used very effectively in business.

We recently interviewed BBC Director of Digital Dan Heaf and heard how he aims for BBC Worldwide to leave around 30% of their programming platforms open to audience interpretation and contribution.

We’ve seen how mobile phone network giffgaff crowd-source their marketing through giving users marketing tools. They also incentivise and rely on their users to provide their customer service for the network.

Betabrand from the US encourage and have enabled their users to pose and upload pictures of themselves as models to sell their apparel.

Apparently Twitter didn’t feature the ‘@’ and ‘#’ to mark accounts and topics until programmers started using them in the open source API. Both are now built into the platform as key features for the social media site.

Plenty of examples exist in the world of the internet and brands of this collaborative approach to innovation. It seems a logical next step to see this kind of contribution and collaboration in the design process of physical product too.


6 Responses to “New Industrial Humanism”

  1. Jude Bliss says:

    Cheers Tim. Didn’t realise the introduction of RT caused such a storm. Huge overreaction and the likening of retweeting to strangers sharing a bed in that piece is ridiculous.

  2. alex gulland says:

    what does that mean ‘he aims for BBC Worldwide to leave around 30% of their programming platforms open to audience interpretation and contribution’ – the BBC, a service that we pay for, wants us to create our own content? Will we get a discount in our tv licence if we submit good quality content ? Might be a good idea!

  3. Jude says:

    Hi Alex, I think the idea is that they would create these platforms, as in a ‘Lonely Planet’ or a ‘Top Gear’ to solve big and specific problems i.e. need for online travel guides or to fill demand for programming and content about cars but then would leave themselves open and able to respond and adapt to how it is being viewed and accessed.

    I might be wrong but I think it’s less about users creating the actual programming content and more to do with users influencing stuff like accessibility and the adding of new features. No idea how this user gen stuff would be sourced though : /