Andreas Bell, President of TEAMS Design USA, tells #EnsemblExchange that the role of an industrial designer is to be an advocate of meaningful ideas and how functionality should be highlighted, not compromised, by product design.
Our conversation with Andreas Bell.
Why do you love your job?
Because it speaks to my main interests the best: art and technology. I can contribute to solutions for my client’s challenges. Every day is a new subject. I get paid to draw-up ideas. Awesome.
What inspired you to become an industrial designer?
My uncle was my first inspiration. He would show me how to quickly draw something with my crude childhood markers on a piece of scrap paper. It was magical the kind of universe he came up with out of the blue without any reference to draw from. I was five and knew I wanted to have his skill. Later as I started to read more about design, the original School of the Bauhaus, 50 kilometres from my Grandma’s house, was an inspiring place to be. I found myself awestruck by the simplicity and high quality of some of the student’s work. Ideas from the past that are still so timeless and applicable.
What, in your mind, is the role of an industrial designer in society?
In my mind it is the role of an advocate for meaningful ideas that help move the society forward. If designers manage to execute those ideas by keeping appropriate and sustainable usage of materials and processes in their minds, their role will be well played.
What project are you most proud of? Why?
It sounds cheesy, but a program that we are currently working on, will likely be the one that I will be most proud of. If all goes to plan it will help improve the lives of the underserved demographic of this world. Besides that, having been able to work on Bosch conference units that will be used by members of the UN, the Bundestag, the White House and so forth makes me feel proud, because the product helps facilitate dialog.
Is there a product out there that you would really like to (re)design? Why?
The Chicago L trains are on my design wish list. I have worked for the public transportation industry. The L and its iconic value would be of great interest to me. Uplifting the rider experience by good design is only fair to the people willing to take the train instead of parking their vehicles on the city’s congested highways.
How would you describe your design philosophy - is it more of a form follows functional aesthetic or guided more by postmodern whimsical or fancy?
I find myself on the problem-solving end of things. Aesthetics play a big part in my work but needs to be the right fit to promote the purpose of a product. Functionality is paramount and should not be compromised but highlighted by design.
Why do you think people today are obsessed with beauty in their lives - whether it is how they look or dress, the products they buy, the way they style their homes? It is everywhere
Perhaps, to an extent, it might be some sort of escapism into a cocoon that represents an untarnished environment. For some people a beautiful object can be a treat. But what is beautiful? A lot of things for many people. Just as we can enjoy a sculpture in a gallery, a well designed object creates emotions, desires and might lead to people wanting to own it. Going back to the public segment of design, the beauty of our surroundings influences how we behave and interact with each other. In Sweden underground stations display art and create an environment people seem to care for. Graffiti is proof of a different kind. Stainless steel is not always the answer.
Do you think everyday consumer products should be beautiful and have a certain aesthetic? Or do you think they should serve a purely utilitarian purpose? Why?
They should serve their purpose well. For that they will require a certain shape. There are many answers as to what the right shape is, but most often the function and purpose of an object act nicely as honest criteria when developing a form or aesthetic.
What is the hardest thing to do as an industrial designer
To call a project done is my new answer. Money and time usually help us though to make that call.
Some say that postmodernism has introduced stronger elements of relativism and subjectivity in the appreciation of industrial design. In some ways, “any design is good”. Your thoughts?
I think, especially these days, when clients spend a great deal of money trying to objectively find out how good a design really is – “any design is good” is not going to fly for many applications. Upfront validation research evaluates design systematically to get to an agreeable viable amount of quality. For art, the situation might be different. Target groups might be much smaller these days as production runs can be small due to new technology. Unique solutions for selected audiences might create a feeling that there is randomness in design, but in fact the results are well tailored to a specific demographic.
With recent advances in AI, some feel that many of the technical aspects of industrial design (safety testing, material suitability etc.) can be automated leaving the industrial designer to focus on aesthetics only. Your thoughts?
The industrial design toolbox certainly changes. Software advances enable us to develop closer to the production line as ever. Many of the sheer mechanical steps AI might be able to take on soon. I am hoping that we will still be left with creative thinking and strategic decision making. In the upfront work, we truly see our services these days. It is interesting that the school of Ulm tried to create mathematical formulas for ideal designs and aesthetic. They failed 50 years ago. Who knows what AI can do these days with access to vast amounts of behavioral data and consumer information? Perhaps robots will become the better designers.
Human-centric design appears to be the latest buzzword especially when it comes to crafting digital experiences. In some ways industrial design has always tried to be human-centric through design thinking, prototyping etc. Do you feel that industrial design has already evolved as far as it could in embracing human-centric design?
I think in many ways the teachings of Henry Dreyfuss and others have been forgotten for a while and need to be dug out again. The human body and psyche is still the recipient of all human creations. Therefore it needs to take center stage in our work. There is always more to learn and to uncover. Brain science is still in its Kindergarten stage. With its evolvement we will learn a great deal more about the perception of design and human interaction. Design will be a beneficiary of advances in human science. So, therefore my answer is no: we have more to learn and further to go down the human-centric design route.
What is the future of industrial design? Do you think there are examples of this future?
Some say design in its traditional sense is dead. I don’t agree. It is not dead but has evolved more into a strategic planning role in the forefront of things. If you were only doing classic industrial design – shaping something nicely and ergonomically, you would not earn enough money any more to make a living. The competition coming from Asia is just too fierce. But engaging with clients regarding long term strategic planning will allow you to build long term and sustainable partnerships.
If you were not an industrial designer what would you be?
I would be an architect or filmmaker – primarily stop motion animation. I enjoy buildings and how they function as an environment and organism. Pixar’s quality regarding the study of nature in order, to derive characters is simply fascinating. They would be the first door I’d knock on to become an intern.