Design matters

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It’s always tricky launching an inaugural conference – what calibre of speakers are you likely to get onboard, who will support it and will visitors feel compelled to come along?

Julian Thomson, director of advanced design at Jaguar, will be speaking at the conference on Jaguar’s vision of design and innovation

Well, Crain Communications seems to have put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the Product Design + Innovation (PD+I) Conference is going to be a resounding success.

Specifically dedicated to industrial design it promises to champion innovation and showcase best practice by providing a platform in which debate, the exchange of ideas, collaboration and networking can all take place under one roof.

With a blend of keynotes, panel sessions and case studies, the content has been designed to focus on the main challenges and opportunities for product design and innovation.

A variety of topics will be discussed from open innovation, intellectual property, strategic design through to materials and sustainable design.


The conference boasts a heavyweight speaker line-up featuring leading names from the consultancy world and in-house design teams. Some of the speakers include: Jon Hague, vice president open innovation at Unilever; Clive Grinyer, director of customer experience at Cisco; Richard Seymour, co-founder of Seymour Powell; Sandy Spaan, senior design consultant materials, finishing and technologies at Philips Design Centre; and Julian Thomson, director of advanced design at Jaguar Cars.

Innovation nation

British Design Innovation (BDI) is supporting the conference. The organisation will have a strong presence with its chairman Gus Desbarats, also founder of design agency TheAlloy, giving a talk as well as facilitating a number of the sessions. He will be highlighting the need for a stronger voice for industrial and service design in the UK andwill also be promoting the role the BDI is playing in raising the profile and perceived value of all the designers in this space.

“BDI is the voice of UK-owned design businesses with a track record in delivering strategic innovation propositions, including the ability to assess business problems, create design briefs, deliver world-class design interventions and oversee the implementation of those interventions. Getting this across to stakeholders at every level is crucial for the UK’s industrial health and economic success,” argues Desbarats.

Case in point

Two BDI members will be presenting case studies during the BDI’s focus session – ‘Raising the Profile of Product Design’ – taking place on the 19th May. Firstly, Steve May-Russell, CEO of Smallfry Industrial Design and a BDI regional director, will be presenting a case study entitled ‘Strategic Design – the route to the loot!’

It will focus on Smallfry’s recent work for Metrasens on the development of a metal detection system to improve the safety in MRI scanning suites. During his talk May-Russell will demonstrate how strategic design, in collaboration with regional support agencies, took a two man band to the world stage. The result is an eight-fold increase in turnover, a ten-fold reduction in assembly time and a 40 per cent reduction in manufacturing costs within one year.

Speaking of his support for the PD+I conference May-Russell says, “I’m all in favour of supporting it because I believe that anything we can do to bring manufacturing back to the UK is a good thing.”

“What you’ve got at the conference are some of the leading thinkers in terms of industrial design and design thinking – the ones that genuinely understand the more strategic aspects of design and what design thinking can do in a business context,” he adds.

Les Stokes, partner at design agency London Associates (LA) and director at BDI, will be presenting the second case study during the BDI session.

Entitled ‘Design Impact: ELGA LabWater’s PURELAB flex project’ Stokes, together with Lee Underwood, head of engineering at ELGA Labwater, will be looking at how LA helped the company develop a new water purification product for laboratories. The presentation is aimed at giving both the consultancy and the client on a co creation project.

LA was involved in the design strategy, user research, product proposition as well as final realisation. The result has had such an impact that ELGA is now a ‘Centre of Excellence for Design, Manufacturing and Logistics’ for the Veolia Water Group.

“ELGA LabWater did not invest significantly in outside design services before the PURELAB Flex development but it is now seeing increased sales and profitability,” comments Stokes. “PURELAB Flex is a genuinely innovative product that has had a positive but disruptive impact on the market.”

Quick fire

An interesting feature within the conference programme is the Pecha Kucha session. Originating in Japan, this presentation methodology consists of around a dozen presentations with each presenter having just six minutes and 40 seconds to explain their ideas before the next presenter takes to the stage. “The format can give focus and pace to a presentation, as long as the speaker is gifted at abstracting what they say into bite sized chunks,” says Martin Darbyshire, managing director of product design agency Tangerine and facilitator of the Pecha Kucha session.

“I have sat through far too many PowerPoint presentations that make the ‘death by PowerPoint’ phrase only too real. By its very nature, Pecha Kucha has a tendency to eliminate this,” adds Darbyshire.

The title of the Pecha Kucha session is ‘Where do good ideas come from?’ and presenters who include, among others, Jeremy Leggett, chairman of Solarcentury; Simon Colbeck, head of technology at Marks & Spencer; and Dr Bettina von Stamm, founder of the Innovation Leadership Forum will each reflect on the best source of ideas that generate real break-through innovation. For Darbyshire this is an interesting subject but as he says, “finding ideas is one thing, getting others to adopt them, believe in them, convert them into reality, is another thing altogether!”

At your service

The conference organisers are feeling confident that a good calibre of visitors will be attending PD+I. So far delegates from design firms PDD, Cambridge Design Partnership and Lucid Group will be attending as well as representatives from the in-house design teams of Sony, Pegler, Hasbro and Novo Nordisk. However, May-Russell and Darbyshire share the same concern that they may be preaching to the converted. “The conference has a clear agenda and a growing audience. Hopefully, it will attract a broader audience than just the product design community,” comments Darbyshire.

But the conference sponsors, including Objet, Dupont, IP Research and solidThinking, are all looking forward to demonstrating how their services and products can benefit designers. As Vice president of product strategy and marketing at solidThinking, Alessandro Mazzardo, says: “At last I have found an event which is truly targeted at the industrial design community. High profile and well respected speakers make this a great learning and networking opportunity, enabling us to showcase our latest technology advancements to the right audience.”

PD+I will no doubt provide an ideal opportunity to learn from the leaders and network with peers. As media partner, DEVELOP3D will be there in full force on both days.
To find out more about the event visit the dedicated website below, which also includes product design news and blogs as well as updates on the conference speaker programme.

Product Design + Innovation Conference 2011

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