Question: Why is it that companies with billions of dollars who can hire any designer or design firm in the world put out such crappy products?
Answer: Excellent products require more then just a good designer or a good design agency—they require humanistic and cultural vision, courage and discipline in execution. There are two reasons why crappy products are so common: first, most “companies with billions of dollars” don’t want to charter new ways because they are in a defensive setting in order to defend their existing business—and when the billions and the business are gone, it’s too late for change. Second, big companies normally have neither the people nor the processes to innovate and there are no real rewards for taking the risks and efforts required in the endeavor for excellent products. In my career, SONY under Akio Morita was the only big company which rejected the common addiction to mediocrity and went for world-changing innovations. Now they are stuck as well…
Question: If a young person wants to be a great designer, what should he or she do?
Answer: “Design” isn’t a clear-cut talent profession, but one of coordination and catalyst between human needs, science and technology, business and economy, as well as sociology and ecology. The artistic talent required is more of an enabler at the end of rational and emotional analysis as well as strategic conceptualization.
Therefore, it is vital to learn and study as much as possible especially about business, technology and human nature. In the end, there are flavors in design which are more esthetic—see New York Times “Style Magazine”—but design is only relevant when it improves human lives by appealing both to the mind and the heart.
Finally, a young person with the right talents needs to have infinite desire and never give up. I apply a simple test with young students: smash a teapot into pieces and then hand out the glue. Those who rebuild the teapot won’t make it, those who create phantasy animals and spaceships will.
Read the rest of the 10 questions with Hartmut Esslinger