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Gordon Bruce: Good Design Involves Taking Time, And Risks

With the China Good Design competition now calling for entries worldwide, jury member Gordon Bruce shares the key to creating a successful product.



BY Editor

4 August, 2016


Gordon Bruce is the founder of US-based firm Gordon Bruce Design LLC, and has served as a design consultant to many multinational corporations across Europe, Asia and the US for 40 years. His portfolio of work is truly diverse, ranging from aeroplanes to computers, and from medical equipment to furniture.

Bruce is a well-respected name in the Asia design scene. He has served as a consulting vice president for the Art Center College of Design’s Kyoto programme (1991 to 1994), and was chairman of Product Design for the Innovative Design Lab of Samsung (IDS) in Seoul, Korea (1995 to 1999). In 2003, he also played a pivotal role in helping to establish Porsche Design’s North American office. For many years, Bruce has been head design consultant for Lenovo’s Innovative Design Center (IDC) in Beijing, and he is presently working with Bühler in Switzerland and Huawei Technologies, Co., LTD in China. An author, design publicist, as well as a visiting professor at several universities in the USA and in China, Bruce is also a recent recipient of Art Center College of Design’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”. As part of the international jury of China Good Design 2016, he shares insights on creating an award-winning product.

2 2015_China_Good_Design_award_ceremony_Gordon_BruceWinner

What will you be looking for in the entries submitted to China Good Design 2016? In your opinion, what are the key qualities that a winning work should possess?

I always look for a continuity of the experience from a macro (big) point of view to a micro (detail) point of view. I look for the context in which the product is used and how well the design of the product resolves all the issues that have to do with the human / product relationship as well as the context / product relationship and the human / context relationship. I look at the overall scenario and how well it fits people in a natural and intuitive way before identifying design qualities like design organisation, design intelligence, intuitiveness, good human factors, simplicity, elegance, delight, etc. I need to understand the ‘designed performance’ before I can make a judgment about the sophistication of the physicality and the interaction qualities of the idea. That is, I need to know what evolves the form of the idea, not just the shape but how well one interacts with the design. I do not like products that wrap an idea with a shape for the sake of shape or to simply try to make it look pretty.

You’ve served as design consultant to many corporations all over the world, including ones based in China. What are your views on China’s design scene today?

I believe that design – in the modern sense – in China is still in its infancy. There are many challenges. Most companies I know in China do not want to take the time to SLOW DOWN and invest in internal design education like Samsung did when I ran the “Innovative Design Lab of Samsung”, from 1995 to 1999. In China, companies also do not have a real understanding of what D E S I G N really means. Too often people see design as a process of applying a pleasing form over an idea – ‘from the outside in’. They are not interested in spending time to evolve design ‘from the inside out’. Also, design is often seen as something that happens after a product is developed and it does not happen until the very end of the product development. Good companies use design from the very beginning throughout the process. There are many other issues like embodying human factors, etc., but it would take a book to explain.

Remember, a good design reputation cannot be achieved overnight or one product at a time. Design is systematic. Design requires people to take risks in order to truly innovate. There are absolutely NO SHORTCUTS. Unfortunately, many people in the management position who are able to fund design (the way IBM has done continually over its 115 year history) think that all that is needed is a set of instructions for designers to follow. Often design is a result of pleasing a manager as well. However, good design needs to be culturally accepted (as part of the corporate culture) and understood by building a systematic process in order to achieve it. It takes vision, investment, time, talent, technology, tolerance, and support.

Are you able to comment on where the opportunities lie?

The opportunities are vast, but they are dependent on SERIOUS investments on many levels. All companies need to do is follow the examples of design leaders in the world. They all invest in what they believe is most important for achieving forward-looking designs that do not follow the market. They lead the market. Samsung invested very heavily in educating their best designers over three years and the opportunities happened because we were able to open the eyes of the designers and managers (chairman Lee, the former Chairman of Samsung believed in what we did and championed all we needed to do so). Design in Korea, in 1994, was much like it is in China today. I can only say that whenever a Chinese company invests in design in a very, very serious way, the opportunities are limitless. However, the culture of these companies think a Samsung, or IBM approach is too risky.

What advice you would give to participants of the China Good Design competition?

Participating designers need to develop their ideas with a keen sense of responsibility for what their ideas do or how they make lives better. Only with a deep sense of responsibility will designers look more deeply into the problem. Moreover, I always use the model of Mother Nature as the best designer in the universe. The more designers understand what creates form in nature, and follow the same rules, the better their ideas become. In Mother Nature, there is nothing unnecessary. If designers strip away all the unnecessary issues, their designs become better. In addition, be curious and never be satisfied with your ideas. Always look for ways to make your idea better and better.

Do you have an innovative product you would like to share with the China market, and the world? Enter it into China Good Design 2016. *Final deadline is 12 August 2016.