As one of today's leading voices in the graphic design world, Ellen Lupton gives great credence to the power of presentation. But good design goes far beyond packaging. "It's something that you inhabit," says Lupton, who is the curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. "It's something that becomes part of your life and that we experience over time. We experience it with our senses, we experience it physically, visually, audibly, and it needs to contribute to the world."
In other words, Lupton--who is also director of the graphic design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore--is a fan of thoughtful design. As a judge for this year's Best in Class Awards, we asked her to share her thoughts about the ever-changing design landscape. Check out an edited version of her conversation with Inc. below:
How has the field of design changed in recent years?
The big change happening now is the user's ability to customize products using personal manufacturing and metrics where you can measure things at home with an iPhone or other devices and then feed that data into a system. Another huge thing is networking products: products that speak to services outside of your home and outside of the device. That's becoming super important. Then it's just answering questions like, Do things serve a purpose for users? Is a product beautiful? Does it add to your life? Those are eternal questions that remain really important for design.
What's the best-designed product you've ever come across?
I have to say I love my phone. That's a cliché, but that's like the one product that is with me all the time, and I have such an intimate relationship with it for work, for fun, for staying safe, for communicating with my family. I can't live without that product.
What product would you say would benefit from good design?
I'd love to see airport security reinvented. I'd love to see new ways to create building signage that's easier to change, easy to integrate, easy to upgrade. If you go through a big building like a hospital, you'll just see this incredible mishmash of signage systems that just accumulate over time. I think that's something that could be solved; to create a kind of living information system just glowing out of the walls and that can be fixed and upgraded and changed really easily.
What is the biggest mistake young designers make?
I think often young designers want to get too quickly to the solution and they don't think enough about the problem; they don't think enough about what it is they're trying to do. So in the kind of rush to solve and the rush to finish, sometimes they forget how important it is to try lots of different things and put it in front of other people and see what their reaction is.
Why should business owners and entrepreneurs care about design?
Design is a way to speak to the public--the people that are going to interface with your service or your product. And without design you end up having products that are strictly driven by engineering concerns or marketing concerns or manufacturing limitations and that don't ask the bigger question of why do people need or want this product? Will they use it? Will it be embraced by people?
What's your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs interested in design?
Collaboration is really important. Finding other great people to work with; people who have great problems to solve is really a big key. Great design is always done with great clients. You can be your own client or you can find other people with like-minded interests and problems that they want to solve in the world and go about it together with a passion for making great things and services for people.