Product Design, Honesty, Character and Morals

Exactly what does product design or industrial design have to do with these human characteristics? My answer is EVERYTHING. The design process requires you to think, analyze, assess options and make decisions based on your values.

It doesn’t matter if you are designing a logo, a chair, a building or a rotationally-molded tank, the final design solution will depend upon your character, integrity and morals. How are these human traits related to design? Here are my thoughts.

Let’s start with honesty. I’m sure many of you have heard someone use the term “honest design.” But what is honest design? It’s exactly what it implies: Design that clearly expresses how a product is intended to function. It conveys functionality based on features that imply how the product is to be used or how it will function.

Although this premise may be obvious, many products do not convey their intended purpose. Designers will camouflage functionality with superfluous decorative covers, over-styled, grossly-overstated features or completely inappropriate forms with little relevance to the actual function.

Avoiding Dishonest Product Design

These designs are often represented in highly stylish consumer products such as consumer electronics, appliances and cars. Some style-focused designers tend to be pretentious, self-centered and somewhat dishonest.

The interrelationship among personal character, morals and design work is interesting. I’ve met hundreds of designers and engineers in my career. Those that are confident, knowledgeable, and honorable often are generous as well as very creative. They are typically willing to share their ideas as well as being receptive to ideas proposed by others.

These designers tend to acknowledge the contributions of those who share their ideas and thus stimulating creative design sessions. Conversely, I’ve also met many designers and engineers who are insecure, political, deceptive and/or manipulative. These individuals all share limitations…lacking imagination, creativity and devoid of constructive design solutions. Their designs tend to be overly complicated, impractical and costly. These correlations are not accidental or imagined. They can be traced back to the inherent attributes or limitations of the characteristics of the individual.

A critical requirement for being a great designer is having the ability to pierce a cacophony of information to identify the critical parameters for designing a product. This requires one to be open-minded, objective and analytical. It’s much more intuitive for a confident, generous and creative individual to objectively evaluate a confusing collage of information than someone hindered by numerous inhibitions.

Successful designs are typically developed with a collaborative team of creative individuals who trust one another and are willing to spontaneously bounce ideas between themselves. The best ideas are cemented into the product design, while the weaker ideas are pushed aside.

Creativity is encouraged through inspiration, acknowledgment and respect among those involved in the process. Self-centered, politically motivated, insecure individuals are typically the antithesis of this process. Unfortunately, they are often part of it.

I’m interested in hearing from you about this topic. If you’re interested, please reply via email: paloian@idsys.com


Michael Paloian, President, Integrated Design Systems, Inc.

Mike Paloian, an authority in industrial and commercial product design, is an inventor, lecturer and educator. paloian@idsys.com He is president of Integrated Design Systems Inc. (www.IDSYS.com), an award-winning industrial design firm. Mr. Paloian is a faculty member, Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a Contributing Design Editor for industry publications.