Industrial design has been a part of manufac-
turing industry in developed countries for
over half a century.
For much of that time its contribution has
mainly been identiﬁed as the ﬁnal link
between production engineering and market-
ing – producing end product solutions that
meet the marketing requirements in terms of
the potential customers’ preferences and
desires for a particular styling.
This is often a very important aspect of a
product’s offering, but there is also another
way that industrial designers can contribute
signiﬁcantly to product development, and this
is in providing that element of design that
ensures the product is easy and “good” to use.
Although past emphasis has been on
styling, the increasing requirement for prod-
ucts to satisfy actual customer needs and
wants highlights the fact that the importance
of this latter aspect of industrial design cannot
Unfortunately, the way that industrial
designers can contribute is signiﬁcantly affect-
ed by how they are involved in the product
development process. Typically, industrial
design is a process tacked on towards the end
of product development, or an activity kept
entirely separate from engineering design.
Although this is not the best approach, effec-
tive styling can be achieved. However, either
way it is practically impossible for industrial
designers to inﬂuence the engineering aspects
that affect the product’s “ease of use”.
Therefore, if companies are to harness the
full potential of industrial design then they
must recognize that it is more than just
styling, and learn to cultivate the designer’s
skill by fully integrating these industrial
designers, from early on, into an effectively
managed product introduction process.
Importantly, the potential competitive
advantage is signiﬁcant, as few companies –
even when considering the global picture –
successfully achieve this integration.
National generalizations are not always appro-
priate as processes and approaches tend to
differ between companies and industries.
However, it is fair to say that UK industry,
compared to its main international rivals,
tends to make the least effective use of the
considerable industrial design talent that it
has at its disposal.
Nobuoki OhtaniMDes,RCA, is co-founder of Ohtani &
Associates. He came to the UK in 1973, after six years of
industrial design work in Japan with his partner Shigenobu
Ohtani, and completed his Master’s degree in industrial
design at the Royal College of Art in 1976. He worked
in the UK and Ireland before moving to Canada and setting
up his own design consultancy. He returned to the UK in
1988 and now operates the UK arm of Ohtani & Associ-
ates. Nobuoki Ohtani can be contacted at Ohtani &
Associates, 17 Woodforde Close, Ashwell, Hertfordshire.,
SG7 5QE. Tel: 01462 742794.
States that industrial design has in the past emphasized
styling and tended to ignore the importance of satisfying
consumer needs. Suggests companies should learn to
cultivate designers’ skills by integrating industrial design-
ers from early on in the process, harnessing the full
potential of industrial design. Indicates that most Western
companies have poor product design management.
Suggests that one way to help improve both integration
and design management would be through extra post-
World Class Design to Manufacture
Volume 2 · Number 1 · 1995 · pp. 13–16
© Ohtani & Associates 1994 · ISSN 1352-3074