Industrial Design vs. Product Design

Source: Interview with David Kelley, 24 July 2000.

Pang: I want to get to Hovey-Kelley in a minute, but first I want to ask something else. At this point, in 1979 and 1980, what was the market for product design like? Were there established companies--

Kelley: No, no--

Pang: --or was it mainly freelance?

Kelley: This a really interesting thing, down at the level you're at. Here's what it was.

There was a profession called industrial design, and Manock was more like that than a product designer. Industrial design is taught in art schools, and it asks things like, "What's the shape look like? Should it be round or square?" In a camera [grabs a camera], people like things to look precise, so it has this knurling [points to detail on the lens], because it feels more precise when you handle it. So industrial design is taught in art schools, and it's how McKim was trained, at Pratt. The Stanford product design program was a reaction against that. It holds that a holistic design could only be done by someone who understood the technology and the human issues, so they could do the guts and the aesthetics at the same time. That's the main core of the product design program.

Stanford's the only product design program that exists. There were two kinds of people who existed at the time: industrial designers, trained in art schools, and technical experts, who were hired one at a time as you needed them. If you had a problem, you'd get an engineer who specialized in optics, or thermodynamics, or adhesives, or vibration, or whatever. That isn't to say that some of the people who were good at the technical stuff weren't also good at human issues, or some of the more technology-based industrial designers couldn't understand the technology well enough to integrate it into their work. But as far as a firm that had the point of view of integrating art and technology and business, there was nothing like that before IDEO.

In some ways, we were really lucky to have this point of view, because we had no other point of view. If McKim had been a Nazi artist, I'd be a Nazi artist now. He just created this ground that didn't exist. Now, later on that was a problem for us, not being part of an industry. A smart marketing, branding person would say, "You're better off being in an industry;" so some people thought of Hovey-Kelley-- and we didn't ruin that myth-- as part of the industrial design community, because there was a magazine, and awards, and a society, and ladder to climb-- as opposed to this that you had to always explain.

But the program was unique. Of course, that's not true today: the whole world's followed since then.

Pang: So when you started Hovey-Kelley, were there more conventional industrial design companies in the area that Hewlett-Packard or other big companies could go to?

Kelley: Yes, yes. There was a company called GVO, and there was one called Interform, or something like that. But again they were all artistic types.


Document created on 12 September 2000;