The designer’s role in the new production landscape
26. June 2015
Denmark can use advanced technology to claim its place as an innovative production country. But what role can designers play to make sure the technological potential relates to human needs in a way that generates innovative solutions? The Danish Design Centre opens the debate about the role of designers in Future Manufacturing.

Denmark needs to be an advanced production country. That awareness seems to be spreading: We can regain many of the lost manufacturing jobs and strengthen product and service innovation if we harness the potential of advanced technology. In May 2015, the Danish government allocated DKK 100 million to promote manufacturing in Denmark, thus highlighting the need to invest in the development of advanced technology to bring Denmark at the forefront of what many call the third industrial revolution.

Fremtiden Fabrik
I fremtidens produktion vil robotter sjældent arbejde helt afsondret fra mennesker. Vi vil i stigende grad arbejde tæt sammen, som kolleger. Det giver nye interessante muligheder for at designe avancerede produktionsprocesser.

The Danish production landscape is rapidly changing. The technological development opens the prospect of increased automatisation of industrial processes and a more flexible and agile production apparatus and enables the transition from serial production to order-based production. We envision a future factory where, for example, robot technology can relieve the workers by automating standardised processes, and where the workforce utilises technology to work faster, better and with greater flexibility.

We are also seeing the emergence of new, advanced technologies, such as 3D printers, laser cutters and new user-friendly hardware and software. Even a start-up entrepreneur with limited product development experience can quickly turn an idea into a tangible prototype using open-source platforms that make knowledge and tools available for free. And then have the prototype put into production in FabLabs and maker spaces. Denmark already has fifteen of these technological workshops, and these new and highly accessible technologies now form the basis for an exciting democratisation of the production process.

The designer as facilitator
The new production conditions are greeted with enthusiasm from several sides because they appear to hold a potential for developing efficient and flexible systems, a new innovative production culture and entirely new products that bring technology into play – including solutions related to the Internet of Things (IoT). In this broad field of possibilities, design offers a crucial competence for the development of system and product solutions that enlists technology in the service of human needs.

Technology in itself is not the answer. Many excellent technological solutions essentially render the technological aspect invisible. So before we can create innovative products we need to think beyond technology, considering the service experience, the users and the systems that the technology is part of. It is during this process that the designer can contribute as someone who is able to navigate and maintain a focus on needs in complex development processes. Designers have a special capacity for inspiring and enhancing interdisciplinary production processes in industrial product development teams together with engineers, technicians and mechanics. This facilitating design role clearly warrants further exploration with a view to a more systematic boost to production.

The designer as manufacturer
Industry has a demand for the competencies the designers can offer. But in addition, the technological development also offers new tools that designers can use to develop professionally and expand both their design field and their business model.

‘Designers can seek their own path and utilise global networking possibilities,’ said Kristoffer Kelstrup, founder of the design firm MOEF, at the morning seminar ‘Fremtidens Fabrik’ (Future Factory) co-hosted by the Danish Design Centre and the Danish Architecture Centre. Easy and low-cost access to prototype technology such as 3D printers and laser cutters lets designers link prototyping and product development much more closely to their own practice. In recent years, MOEF, which takes a design-based approach to prototyping and product development in projects for public and private actors, has developed its own product, the ‘Water Wolf’ – an award-winning underwater camera for anglers. MOEF has the advantage of being on the forefront of product development and the use of digital manufacturing technologies. However, the Water Wolf marks the first time the company has covered the full 360-degree product process, and that has required them to bring new competencies and resources into play to handle sales, market knowledge, production and distribution. To shoulder this task, they have engaged in global networks, for example bringing in a Chinese manufacturer, and in partnerships with industry-specific actors, for example, Svendsen Sport.

“Whoever is the first to identify or predict a user need and is also able to deliver the solution wins the market”

Kristoffer Kelstrup

The Water Wolf case may inspire designers to take on production. Because the new global conditions have changed the ground rules: ‘Whoever is the first to identify or predict a user need and is also able to deliver the solution wins the market,’ Kristoffer Kelstrup points out. And in today’s world, that includes small design firms as well as established production companies.

Future Production – a focus for the Danish Design Centre
Many indications suggest that if designers manage to keep abreast of technological development, they have a strong potential for qualifying development and ensuring a holistic, innovative and needs-based approach to production processes and product development. Both as facilitators and as product developers.

At the Danish Design Centre, we focus on the new challenges and possibilities that emerge in this new production landscape. After the summer break, we launch a new platform that we have named Fremtidens Fabrikation (Future Manufacturing). In an open and development-oriented approach, we aim to facilitate new meetings between actors from design and production, explore how we can promote professional growth for both businesses and designers and inspire and share new knowledge in the area in close cooperation with the key Danish and international actors that define the field.

Follow the debate about Future Manufacturing on our website and at #fremfab.