by Magne Ekerum Høiby | July 15, 2011


The automotive industry has been pioneering in the way it implements and uses design as a key instrument in product development. Not only has it been a major contributor to the idea of using design as a means to innovate, it is also responsible for the evolution of the design trade.

Only recently has the maritime industry opened its eyes to the strategic use of industrial design to make its products better. Optimizing safety, human-machine interface (HMI) and focusing on their main task, the new generations of maritime products are based on user-oriented research and critical simplification. The maritime industry has acknowledged over time that design is not simply about making products look pretty, but that it can also be used as a strategic tool to improve functionality and safety on complete systems. This has been a long journey, which started with the first attempts to allow designers to participate in product development by interpreting smaller components in conceptual projects. Industrial design has now become an important strategic tool in maritime product development operating as a holistic driver in complex projects to innovate and make better products for the end user. It also serves to project management and understanding of the complete development process. The designer is free from conformity and restraints to tradition, thus providing innovation in a conservative business.

Typically, maritime products have been assembled by arranging the available range of components into complex systems in boxes. When styling is applied this does not represent a useful innovation, but rather a technological mosaic of functionality. This approach is technology driven, resulting in products based on what is current and available rather than by investigating functionality and operation. The design-driven process, however, starts by analyzing the end user and their operations to develop solutions and find suitable technology to solve identified problems. The responsible designer must be capable of drawing together knowledge and experience from all individuals participating in the project and synthesize these findings in order to create workable designs. The natural curiosity of designers and their eagerness to create works as a channel for converting knowledge into solutions.

However it is important for the designer to listen. A designer in the maritime industry must use the customer as a source for information to create the design, not dictate the end product based merely on their feelings and intuition. This is not about creating desirable objects, but products to improve safety and simplifying operation, in essence making useful products. Still, the designed product must reflect the company’s identity through its concept and aesthetics, which have to form a fundamental part of the conceptual development of a new product. The product identity tells a story about who the company is and who it wants to be compared with. This is how they can be recognized, remembered and, most importantly, not be confused with their competitors.

The typical end user of maritime products is a highly trained professional but is still a consumer with high expectations to products, functionality, quality and identity. It is important to acknowledge that we surround ourselves with desirable objects created from a consumer point of view, designed to make us feel better and to simplify our daily life. The change of focus in maritime product development, where design is now the main driver, meets these high expectations to consumer products. By solving known problems in new ways, with a user-oriented approach and simplicity as the objective, the designer is able to recreate complete operational systems from scratch. This way it is natural to implement aesthetics and emotional values in the general concept. The emotional experience will then be comparable to what we sense inside a new car, when using our tablet computer or even operating modern kitchen appliances.

What we see in the maritime industry is that industrial design has grown from an artifact hidden in R&D, into a major strategic tool used to improve its products. What started as an experiment has challenged the conformity of a whole industry and placed itself at the highest level in the mindsets of organizations. The maritime industry is now finally following the path laid out by the automotive industry, where design has proven to spawn innovation and growth.



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