The theme for World Industrial Design Day 2015 is Redefine Design and in the months leading up to 29 June, Icsid will reach out to the industrial design community, seeking opinions and comments to help improve the definition of industrial design.

This month, Icsid spoke with Victor Ermoli, Dean of the School of Design at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). In 2011, he was named by DesignIntelligence as one of the 25 “Most Admired Educators” in the United States and has experienced industrial design across North & Latin America. He shares his perspective on why industrial designers will always be necessary, the future of the profession and his definition of good design.

Q: Tell us about how you started as an industrial designer

A: I have three industrial design degrees, one from Venezuela, one from Ohio State and one from the University of Calgary in Canada. I have practiced design widely, from special effects for TV commercials, all the way to designing water knobs and venetian blinds. I can say that this experience across the Americas gives me a somewhat global perspective. I have also written nine different majors related to design while at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), so I consider myself an academic entrepreneur.

I have been at the SCAD since January 1998, and Dean of the School of Design since 2005. Back then it was one classroom with 21 students and today SCAD is ranked as the number one design school in the Southern United States, and in the top 3 for the country. Over 600 students are enrolled in the industrial design programme and it has been a very interesting journey for me across these almost two decades.


Good design is a product that is part of a system that is also part of a service, which is part of an idea that generates a memorable, valuable and positive experience to the user.

Q: When you look back at when you first started, how would you say that the industrial design profession has changed?

A: The profession has dramatically changed. I remember when I was in school in the 1980s; design was still considered an art form. There was no defined methodology or process. We were being taught the European school, which I nicknamed military school. The professors had knowledge and experience, so they would destroy you emotionally to rebuild you in the way they thought you should be rebuilt. It was more of a survival of the fittest to make it as an industrial designer back then.

Today, teaching design is a very well established process. Everybody has their own taste and context, but at the same time there is a process and a methodology. Background research and data is always present as well as an exploration of how to make processes better in order to reduce the probability of failure. Today we design products that connect to people. It is a much more formalised profession than it used to be because there is a written body of knowledge.

One of the challenges I faced many years ago was that in order to teach and grade or evaluate design, we needed to define what design was and more specifically, standardise what good design was. These are two of the most dreaded questions of the professional designer!

My definition of design today is very different from what it was 10 years ago.

Many years ago, I defined good design as a product that met five criteria:
– must be innovative,
– must solve real problems,
– must be designed for humans,  aesthetically pleasing and useful,
– must be designed for mass consumption,
– must generate profit.

About seven years ago, I started to doubt that these five criteria would automatically equal success. Market research leads us to believe that products people love are not necessarily the products that fulfil the criteria above. We can love cars and show brand loyalty to products that are not necessarily the safest or the best in their class.

Researching this, I reached a very different conclusion about how good design is defined. Good design is a product that is part of a system that is also part of a service, which is part of an idea that generates a memorable, valuable and positive experience to the user.


A memorable product is not one that you can remember, but one that encourages you to talk to others about your experience.

Q: So, have we moved away from the profit model to the user experience model? 

A: Well, it is not about the product itself anymore because the product has to be part of a system. This means asking questions such as how do I get a manufacturer? How do I get my product to the shelves in a store? How do I package my product? How do I assemble it? All this becomes a system. This system needs to be part of a service: business structures are the relationship between people and the company or organisation. An example is smartphones. It is not about the device, it is about what the screen is doing, and about the apps we want to download, and new ways of communicating or entertaining ourselves. This is what gives value to the smartphone. Without this complete service, the smartphone has no value at all and would just be a brick we carry in our pockets.

Finally, it also has to be part of an idea. This is the store we fall in love with, maybe a brand or an emotional connection that is built. If you do not have this emotional connection, you will not be successful. Industrial design is not solely about the products, but everything that is built around it.

Then the second part of the definition: “a memorable, valuable and positive experience” is self-explanatory, but I particularly emphasise the word memorable. A memorable product is not one that you can remember, but one that encourages you to talk to others about your experience.

We can synthesise this definition as, “industrial design today is the ability to make the ordinary extraordinary”.

I teach my students that design is the ability to generate remarkable solutions, not crazy solutions for the sake of being original, but important solutions.

Q: Do you think that the term industrial design is still valid?   

A: Throughout my career and research in the field of design and design management, I can confirm that we do still need industrial designers.

Earlier in my research, I used to focus – not on the product, but on the strategy. Then I started to realise through the development of our service design programme at SCAD that one can ideate a service or a system, but without the industrial designer who is a master of atom manipulation, nothing will materialise.

Industrial designers are good at atom manipulation and they should retain this expertise and dominance in the field of materials and innovation. There is an emergence of new fields because everything has become much more complex. Service designers are the new creatives and professionals at the fore that connect people with entities: a company, the banking system, health system, religion or political party. They use the same research tools as industrial designers in order to identify opportunities and people’s interests. They design a system around the relationship between industry and consumers. Eventually, service designers will determine the elements that a product, a brand, a system or a marketing campaign must have. This way, we will have a comprehensive and consistent experience across all aspects of product development. It is not only about the relationship with the object any more; it is about the relationship with the object, the service, the brand and the ideas we want to share with the consumer. The design manager and the service designers are the ones who think about the holistic system relationship between people and entities, not the industrial designer.


industrial design is a problem solving tool and not only about product development. It is a powerful profession. We can solve social problems; we can promote work for the greater good.

Q: What do you think industrial design students think when they join an industrial design programme? 

A: The students, from my experience, do not really know what design means. They may begin their academic career with a traditional mindset of, “I want to be a graphic designer/architect/interior designer” based on ideas and understanding published in the media. Over the course of their first year, they start to discover they can have a career as an industrial designers or realise they have a gift for system thinking and become a service designer.

It is very interesting to see undergraduate students on this journey who think that industrial design is solely associated with automotive design or consumer electric design and later begin to understand a much richer career that is not just about an object itself, but also about accumulating a wide range of tools to create a solution to an existing problem. A mature student is one who realises industrial design is a problem solving tool and not only about product development. It is a powerful profession. We can solve social problems; we can promote work for the greater good.

At SCAD, we have four campuses, two in the United Sates, one in France and one in Hong Kong. Many of our students travel and see different perspectives of what design is, because here, in North America, we see the world as comfortable with large spaces, but when they go to Hong Kong and see different proportions, different climates, different problems they begin to understand the real power of design.

Q: How do you think industrial design will be seen in the future? Do you believe we will be able to break these stereotypes so future generations see and understand the profession differently?

A: Yes. Now everyone is talking about innovation as the tool that will propel companies into the future, but I believe the reality is that most CEOs do not really know what innovation is, they are not even trying to create a culture in their companies that increases innovation or when innovation does emerge, they aren’t sure how to foster it. Designers are the ones who master this process. That is why designers are taking over innovation spaces and positions.

It has become very trendy for business schools to teach design to their students, but designers still own this conversation. I think a very interesting and bright future is coming for industrial designers who master the process of innovation. Designers are starting to occupy very high positions in Fortune 100 companies and are taking part in the discussions on strategy. This is very important; our knowledge is being recognized as a crucial component in large organizations.

The next step is to see a designer occupy higher levels in government and management whether as a governor, prime minister or CEO at a Fortune 100 company. I believe this is the progress we will see in the next 10 years.

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