Me, Myself and I. The Next Design Superstar

Last week I was invited to speak at the Product Design + Innovation conference at the Oval Cricket Ground in London. The gathering of almost 40 speakers from leading international brands such as Cisco, Thomson Reuters, Telefónica Digital, Virgin Atlantic, Nike and Philips provided food for thought on how scientists, designers and users can collaborate in the future. Sessions on connected objects, the circular economy and the consumerisation of health covered a broad array of contemporary trends in industrial design. I’d like to focus on one stream of thoughts: how consumers are becoming the next superstars in design.


A first way to make consumers the next superstars in design is by placing them in the centre of attention. ‘Premiumisation’ is an ambiguous (and difficult to pronounce) trend, not only does it define trading up your products to a more premium proposition, it is also crossing a bridge to make the luxury world accessible to more customers. Dee Cooper, former Product and Services Director at Virgin Atlantic, talked about how the attention for detail in the customer journey of their Business Class passengers influenced the experience of all Virgin Atlantic customers. They went beyond their ‘hero’ product – the seat in the airplane – and storytelling to enrich this experience by challenging the norm. One way to do this is by recognising the power of conversations and delivering unexpected (and conversational) distractions such as waiter service, spas and jacuzzis in the lounge.

Structural collaboration

The former trend makes the consumer feel like a superstar. But the user can also become a superstar by participating actively in the design process. This in particular was the topic of my presentation in the ‘Product service ecosystems’ session. On the one hand users are already participating spontaneously in design initiatives, they talk about problems they encounter, come up with solutions, build them and share their creations with the rest of the world. On the other hand, innovation challenges are becoming increasingly complex. Even when taking inspiration from observations or coming up with ideas together with users, there are still a lot of variables to get right along the way.
With the focus on a holistic user experience, product design goes beyond product attributes and features. In addition to evolving from product- to service-thinking, the ‘experience environment’ broadens the ecosystem and makes other users part of the value proposition. When I was reading a book on my iPad Kindle app and wanted to highlight an important passage, I was quite surprised to see popular highlights by others. The activities of other readers are thus creating additional value for me. As an increasing number of stakeholders is taking part in such systems, there’s a need for intensive and efficient collaborations. Users are becoming more and more design-savvy; it’s time to not only involve them in one phase of the process, but to set up a more structural collaboration. Please check my presentation below and get in touch with questions or feedback.

Additive manufacturing

The democratisation of innovation is stimulated by technology. Internet and social media allow people to connect with like-minded people and to build on each other’s ideas and creations. The act of participating in innovation activities is even creating additional value for consumers. When people construct products themselves, such as IKEA furniture, they tend to overvalue their own creation, a phenomenon known as ‘the IKEA effect’. Technology like additive manufacturing or 3D printing is also facilitating this effect. Stijn De Rijck, Marketing Manager at Materialise, was proud to showcase his very own iPhone cover with a pattern he designed himself, without CAD skills, via an intuitive online tool. Assa Studio & Digital Forming is a pioneer in this type of manufacturing and Assa highlighted this technology is revolutionising the design world. The designer of the future will not have full control over the end result anymore as users will have the freedom to customise their products within a pre-defined (and pre-designed) framework. Although this is very much focused on durables, we can already dream about how this will shape the expectations in the world of FMCG or CPG.

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