The profession of Industrial Design is a rather young one, at least compared to professions like architecture or archeology – just to name two other programs at the Faculty of Architecture at the OTH Regensburg. Traditionally Industrial Design is understood as a profession that designs serial or industrial products, which by itself is already a rather broad definition and requires a wide set of skills. Industrial Design is often seen as a discipline which develops the aesthetic and/or the functional qualities of everyday, mass-produced objects. Less often are designers involved in technical or material innovations or the invention of a completely new product, very seldom the definition of a product shifts beyond an objectification or service, nor a product or invention that will even an impact on a societal and/or political level.
Currently we see in schools across the world a broad discussion of what industrial design might entail, and in this discourse the definition has been extended to an understanding that ranges from the design of services to the design of social artefacts. A discussion we in Regensburg have joined and for this years thesis, we encouraged this group of students to re-think industrial design.
Students were encouraged to go beyond the question of the ‚better functioning’ or ‚nicer looking’ object. The invitation was to think about the pressing issues the world is facing. My colleague Prof Jakob Timpe therefor asked the graduating students he tutored to think about the future production of energy under the umbrella of his project theme ‚Energiewende‘. I opened up the theme and invited students to choose a topic they saw potential themselves. In the past months students developed visions of a ‚better’ world. A different world, where they and their design proposal can be part of change, which sometimes also included the formulation of an utopian idea about the way we live together and relate to each other. What are opportunities for us, for our discipline, that is industrial design, to develop products which address one or many of these pressing questions? To ask this question and to choose a different approach might include that we have to re-think what a product is. Does it always have to be mass-produced? Is it customized, or can it adapt or develop over time? Could besides artefacts or objects it also include ‚products‘ which allow or work towards social innovation and political engagement or re-think questions of infrastructure?
The students addressed these questions and therefor their projects range from over-consumption and limited resources, waste and pollution, questions of hygenie and multi-resistant bugs, to social inclusion and participation, health and well-being, and robots in the context of ‚Handwerk‘ – to name just a few. This years graduating class has demonstrated that they are equipped to work as designers, that they are ready to understand the profession they work in, but more importantly, that they are ready to address the challenging questions and issues. That way their proposals are of outmost relevance to society.
While we try to project what the future will bring, a lot is already clear and foreseeable. In Industrial Design at the OTH Regensburg we aim to develop and claim some utopian ideas to demonstrate that we are designers, that are ready for the challenges of the future and that our students have the capacity to address these through their designs.
I like to congratulate all students on their achievements and wish them the best for their future.
Regensburg, April 8, 2018
Prof. Dr. Rochus Urban Hinkel