This morning [I started this on Sunday & finished it on Tuesday], very early, I had a chance to read Jon Kolko’s thoughts on IDSA. Just this week I wrote some thoughts of my own on the topic and much of what Jon states compliments my own analysis in that piece. In his piece, is decries IDSA as irrelevant and all but euthanizes the organization.
I’m afraid though that Jon dost go too far and over simplifies a much more complex landscape. But let’s hold off condemning Jon (too much) because, as I was talking with collegues last night about the piece before reading it, I cautioned them that the reason rants are ineffective for communication is that the tone, and provocation distract us from the kernel of truth almost always embedded within its core.
In here that kernel is that IDSA is in trouble. It is stagnant and there does contain a definite element of older guard that are unprepared and illequipped for moving forward the way it needs to. But Jon, in his all out diagnosis of terminal illness gives no hope and offers to path towards success and doesn’t even describe what a new (since this organization is dead) would look like. It is just a hopeless and well non-constructive scathing rant without constructive critique.
So what is the trouble. I think Jon outlines it quite good and I’ll even offer some others based on about 20 conversations with internal upper leadership of IDSA and core constituent stakeholders:
- commodity of core practice of industrial design
- lack of vision by significantly controlling leadership
- a small controlling defensive leadership with “something to lose”
- an under representation of membership compared to the community of practice
- A primary merit system disconnected from the realities of practice
- A contrived understanding of the expansive nature of design
- A leadership growth system that is pretentiously democratic, giving too much power to the oligarchy
But what Jon has done is throw away the baby with the bath oil and he disregards those who are part of the leadership who are giving the good fight and the elder statesman who are doing great work creating invaluable content. Further, I think Jon is confusing semantics for reality.
I’ll take on the last point. While the items he mentioned are all true, there was much in the conference that he ignores in his piece that could be used to create an completely different story. For example, the largest thread of content was nothing to do with industrial design at all. It was about design research. There were also many presentations about sustainability and the need to look deeply at connected systems, issues of contextualizing culture, service design and a few interaction design presentations as well. In fact, I never experienced a single traditional ID conversation or presentation at all. But again, this doesn’t mean that Jon’s argument is wholly wrong, but rather I mean it to demonstrate that his argument oversimplifies a complex collection of problems that require thinking from a larger context.
To say that IDSA is irrelevant is unfair and obtuse. There is some great content out there in IDSA land. Enough to justify the cost? NO! but again, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and this is my biggest point.
I too was inspired by the conference to write a blog post before this one. In it I congratulate what IDSA has that IxDA doesn’t have and what IxDA has that IDSA doesn’t. I like Steve’s quote about comparing IDSA to the intractability of the record industry and I agree that any organization that is out to first “sustain itself” probably will fail. Where I most disagree is in the early death sentence that Jon offers.
AIGA was (and some can argue still is) in a similar position. An artifact focused design organization that completely rebranded itself around an improved strategy. Why can’t IDSA do this? Because of the politics of a few? I spoke with too many at IDSA ’09 who know there is a problem right at the top. Board members and FIDSA’s who are frustrated.
What is totally clear is that IDSA is struggling:
- It charges too much for what it offers
- It’s overhead is too high
- It is out of touch with practice, education and design today
- It’s conference is valuable for networking but horrible for content
- It is out of touch with the middle & young generation of designer
Is IDSA completely irrelevant? No way! Is it on the brink of destruction? No way! Is it in need of revolution? Yell Yeah!!!!!!
But I also want to challenge something. This notion that designing 3D form for mass production is dead? Is fashion dead? Is furniture? Is there no place left to advance 3D form? Are we going to have static aesthetics moving forward? Architecture which is several hundred years older is still evolving.
I am always cautious of what I call “the big climb up the umbrella”. I think it is a disservice to any discipline when we look too high up the mountain (the 100,000 foot view). The truth is that even if you are designing services and eco-systems, you are still going to need to be pushing the interactions and the forms that are the very foundations (joints) of design. Services are nothing without the forms & behaviors that give them life.
So I declare that while AIGA has gone up high, have they done it at the expense of graphic design? I don’t know yet, as it hasn’t been long enough. Can a single organization represent meta-design and low level disciplines? It is a hard path that’s for sure! I don’t know if it is the right path for IDSA? Do they have no choice?
To be honest, I don’t know how we can do this? Should we concede to AIGA and remain focused on form? Do we need to just blow the whole thing up and start from scratch? What I know is that the industrial design point of view is both special and NOT unique. I know that other points of view are special and NOT unique. I know that design disciplines across all forms and behavior are converging, but I know that from an educator’s perspective that we cannot train all forms of design craft at the level of undergraduate cannot be done. I’m scared that if the organizations just keep lookin’ up that they will be doing a worse disservice to their respective disciplines.
What we need is organization cooperation. What we need is an education system that is more skillful, unified, collaborative, and cooperative across disciplines. What we need are graduate programs that focus on creation of new knowledge, explore form & aesthetics, and teach leadership & strategy. We need corporate practices that return to mentoring junior designers, that build relationships with a wide section of schools, and that contribute knowledge. Lastly, we need to acknowledge that more than degree-based formal training is needed to complete the needed education system for all of design.
So these are my thoughts post IDSA ’09 and in response to Jon Kolko’s own thoughts, euthanizing IDSA.
I’d love to hear from others.