An interview with Carleton University's School of Industrial Design
of Industrial Design
World Industrial Design Day is a celebration of the profession of industrial design. In recognition of this day, Félix Dionne, Director of the Industrial Design Office at CIPO, met with Stephen Field of the Carleton University School of Industrial Design.
The theme this year for World Industrial Design Day is: Industrial Design: How does it improve your life? How does the work of industrial design (ID) students improve the daily lives of Canadians?
Almost every product an industrial designer or an ID student develops benefits someone. The students take a humanistic approach to school projects - they have an awareness of the world around them and how they can improve the lives of Canadians. One example is of a student who developed a fully adjustable youth wheelchair that can easily convert to sports use allowing disabled children to be more involved in sports. Another example is of a group of fourth-year students who traveled to Chile to develop practical solutions to help revitalize a small town that had been ravaged by an earthquake. The students designed products that addressed basic human needs such as shelter, food and hygiene. The examples are endless.
How would you say industrial designers contribute to innovation and economic growth in Canada?
Most of the products ID students develop contribute to innovation and economic growth. It comes back to their problem solving abilities. At Carleton University's School of Industrial Design we emphasize honing research and analytical skills and encourage students to go out and look at the different production processes around them. To look at the demands of the consumer and determine if what they develop is cost-effective, how it can be manufactured and what new materials are needed as they find a solution to any problem that would be beneficial and commercially viable. This end-to-end development process helps them become better entrepreneurs and ultimately benefits the consumer contributing to manufacturing in Canada and creating newer markets.
What is the biggest misconception or unknown about the profession of industrial design?
Sometimes industrial designers are seen as only focused on the aesthetics of a design. That's one part of it, but designers are also entrepreneurs and product developers. They are very skilled at analyzing a problem, knowing the market and demand and working with a variety of other professionals to come up with a finished product. Or they work with engineers for example to help validate a product. They use designs as problem solving tools.
What are your thoughts on the visual elements of a design that make one product more recognizable or interesting over another, and the economic value that can be derived from it?
It is clear that by making a product attractive and appealing its design will increase the commercial value and marketability. But you need to understand that the visual aspect of a design is a direct response to a lot of different processes designers go through to get to something that looks fantastic – something that has the right coloration, the right feel, the right physicality to it and the right fit in an environment. Industrial designers use things like interface design, computer modeling skills, and production processes to achieve this result and although it is an important element, much more than the visual aspect is involved in coming up with a cost-effective product that meets a specific target market group.
What is the basic knowledge level of intellectual property (IP) that you've seen from your ID students?
As would be expected, most first year students have a limited knowledge. As students eventually become more aware of IP, especially understanding what it means when working for a company, and what the commercial value of IP means for business, then they become more interested. The students are excited about having access to IP databases like the Canadian Industrial Designs Database and the Canadian Patents Database to learn of other designs that are out there and then they start to ask the right questions about their design or product to determine if they can protect it and what commercial potential they have. The more basic knowledge they have, the better equipped they will be when they do reach that point where they need to discuss it with a professional.
In your opinion, how important is it for ID students to know about IP and what are some of the challenges?
A basic awareness is very important for students. As they become more entrepreneurial with their projects, they are more interested and more comfortable about knowing the different ways they can protect their industrial designs. The challenge can be when they are developing their product to ensure that their great concept or design can indeed be protected and that it has commercial potential, so they really need to do their homework. Searching IP databases to see what's already out there is incredibly helpful to them.
You recently invited CIPO to present an industrial design case study that aims to raise awareness and understanding of IP among college and university students. How did the students react to this presentation and what do you think they learned?
The students found the Silver Communications IP case study extremely valuable. Having a representative from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office visit them in a learning forum where they can ask a lot of questions and have a discussion around the challenges and potential successes in protecting IP in the business world, is really important to them.
Thank you Mr. Field for sharing your thoughts about the field of industrial design and about the program at Carleton University's School of Industrial Design. You reminded me that good industrial design, as the industry understands it, can lead to more innovation in Canada and benefit our economy by improving the quality of products, saving costs, incorporating environmental concerns in the choice of materials, making products safer or just by improving the way products are used.
In terms of intellectual property protection, the improved products that are a result from better designs can generally be protected in different ways depending on the nature of the innovation and in some cases can be covered by more than one IP. The Canadian Industrial Design Act protects a narrower but very important concept of industrial design which is comprised of the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament applied to a finished article in order to increase its marketability, distinctiveness and consequently its commercial value.
For more information about industrial designs, including how to register a design, and how to search our database, visit CIPO's Industrial Design Office.