Dave Allen

A problem of aging leadership at American design firms

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frog design, Windows 7 mobile, Apple, GE, Design
Microsoft’s Windows 7 mobile OS, which Fabricant likens to “an aging man who starts shopping at boutiques for tight shirts.” via Fastcodesign.com Image: Thomas Leuthard

“Frog’s Robert Fabricant argues that American companies no longer stand for real innovation in design–and that includes Microsoft (obviously), Google (okay), and Apple (really?!). So the trick is to empower a new generation.”

This is a strong and persuasive article that challenges assumptions about the state of design in American companies. Fabricant asks: “What’s next? Indeed.

Even Apple is assailed in the piece:

“Under Apple’s influence we are watching an entire generation of aging geeks recycle their early experiences with technology as iPhone apps with the look of Pong or Blade Runner. It feels like Back to the Future. Is this the future of American Design?”

Here’s a couple of extracts:

If Google is mellowing with age, Microsoft is having a full-on identity crisis like the aging man who suddenly starts shopping at boutiques for tight shirts, eager to take on any style that will make him seem less fuddy-duddy and old. The first sign was the Zune, with Redmond grasping for Vignelli-like cool. While this was a sideshow, the new look of the Windows Phone (which they are rapidly extending to their core products like Office) is truly eurotrash, aping the flat grids and minimal typography of Swiss design–like something purchased in an airport mall in Zurich. Is this really Microsoft? Is this really American? Gone is the chrome and with it the truly American desire to stuff more and more into the UI like a bloated car dashboard. How can Windows exist without the look of “chrome”? Is this is what happened to American auto design in the ’80s? There is something demoralizing about watching ferociously design-adverse Microsoft go “Swiss” at this stage in the game.

American designers can and should lead the way in showing how you adapt the design process to rapid, real-time product development. And lead the way in demonstrating what can be achieved by designers as entrepreneurs in our own right. Ten years from now I hope to see designers able to attract VC capital at the same rate as MBAs and software engineers. That is the next big mission for American Design.

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