It is easy to imagine a manufacturer assigning a project to a designer. The product takes shape, and eventually, more people see it. One senses from the award program in the 1990s that many entries have followed this pattern, but this year saw greater diversity in who assigned design and who received assignments. In fact, more entries than ever seem self-designed, self-produced, and self-promoted.
The small venture company behind the LED-embedded jump rope, for example, managed to develop the concept all the way through to launch. Initial capital for the Whill personal mobility solution was crowdfunded. And there is also something fresh and appealing About the bladed tools from Banshu because the craftsmen banded together and redesigned their entire business model. Someone is always behind the scenes, orchestrating an enterprise, but few designers to date have been in this position.
When the same people are involved from initial conception through project financing and then design, it certainly brings the narrative of development into clear and compelling focus that may make the enterprise successful. The very same business model supports a service that offers lodgers a traditional Japanese house for a better taste of village life, and a social platform that invites users to fill in the blank to describe a club that would appeal to them. What makes it easier for these enterprises to thrive is that their founders, who conceived and designed the business quite freely, represent a compelling model that resonates with people.
Why are we seeing more of this kind of comprehensive design, where a small team manages a project from conception to fruition?
The Internet does play a large role, but more significant is the fact that an infrastructure for creating all kinds of business is now in place. Even without much capital, launching a business is more feasible with an array of services that simplify the paperwork and provide crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. It seems an interesting coincidence that each of these ventures emerged at roughly the same time, around 2011.
Now that this infrastructure exists and is becoming more pervasive, small groups and even individuals can accomplish what once required the resources of a larger organization. At the same time, some disadvantages of large organizations can be avoided, such as launches where bright ideas lose their luster because too many decision makers are involved, or launches where creative ideas are abandoned to please all stakeholders. With this infrastructure, even individuals can bring ideas to fruition, and it no longer requires an organization with a team of diverse specialists. Ideas formed in the solitude of someone’s mind no longer need to be discussed with others, so innovative ideas can take shape faster, and without compromises. There is no need to invest the time and effort in elaborate presentations to persuade others. Smaller organizations are therefore in a better position to show the world their innovation.
But to welcome a new era of design, it also seems essential to enable this kind of innovation by larger organizations. We can imagine all decisions of a project being made by one talented individual, and we can imagine many small teams working in a flexible arrangement. But in either case, what will be indispensable to future progress is better communication – as fast as synapses, and capable of preserving subtle nuances. Like some technology from The Matrix. This way, it will be easier to preserve the full force of ideas, and because concepts difficult to verbalize can be shared among participants, time can be spent on higher-order work. As we await these technological advances, some efforts to streamline communication can be seen in Aoyama Gakuin’s workshop designer program and the Blabo! collaborative platform. With further advances and smoother communication, we will certainly see more innovative design.