Brandon is the CEO of Good Design Australia, Chair of the Australian Good Design Awards, and Deputy Chair of the Australian Design Council. He has spent the past 25 years passionately advocating for the value of good design to improve our social, economic, cultural and environmental quality of life. He is a qualified Industrial Designer and currently an Adjunct Professor of Industrial Design at both the University of Canberra and the University of New South Wales. He became a Senator of the World Design Organization (WDO), the global body for Industrial Design, after serving as President (2013-2015), the first Australian to hold this position.
This week, Ingenuity Insights takes a deep dive into Dr. Brandon Gien’s passion for creativity, sustainability, and the future of design.
Read The Conversation Below:
When did you realise your passion for design?
Like many industrial designers, I always had a curiosity for pulling things apart and seeing how they work. I also really loved art and drawing. My mum told me I pulled her brand new swiss-sewing machine apart when I was five years old and tried to put it back together (it never worked again). So I guess from a very young age I was always super curious about how things work and that led me to finally study industrial design at university – I’ve never looked back.
What would be the top characteristics that you believe a product must have to be considered a good design?
In the Australian Good Design Awards, we have three overarching criteria that encompass all Design Disciplines: Is it good design? Is it innovative? Will it have a positive impact on our lives, economy, environment and society?
In the Product Design category, for a product to be considered good design, it must first and foremost function – does it actually do what it was designed to do in an intuitive and unambiguous way? If it doesn’t work, then it’s simply bad design! You’d be surprised at how many products we see that don’t actually even function properly.
Aesthetics, safety, quality materials and finishes, deep understanding of the end-user, packaging design, serviceability, UI and UX design etc., all these are all really important characteristics to design and develop a successful product, it goes without saying. To me, without doubt, the most important criteria for good design is environmental and sustainable design practice. Is the product made from recycled / recyclable materials and processes? Have the designers pushed the envelope on sustainable design practice?
If a product has all these attributes, then it’s definitely a good design.
One of my favourite quotes from one of our jury members is: “Joy is not accidental” – I love that. It sums up that feeling you get when you pick up a well designed product – you just know instantly it has been professionally designed.
How do you think AI will impact the industrial design industry and designers as individuals?
I think we are just scratching the surface with AI and other tech such as machine learning and platforms such as MidJourney and ChatGPT. There’s a flood of discussion in the design community about what these technologies are capable of and how they might even replace the role of a traditional industrial designer. I can’t see that happening. To me these technologies are tools that designers can use to improve their design process and improve the outcome. How can designers use MidJourney to pump out a few hundred concept designs (it takes 3 seconds). How can they use ChatGPT to pump out some code and prototype something quickly? How do they use ChatGPT as a powerful research tool v.s scouring the web hours on end? I think designers are going to get more and more savvy in their use of these technologies and use them like any tool as part of the design process. AI is a different animal and I really don’t know where it is all going to end up. I heard Elon Musk saying, “If there’s something he is terrified about, it’s AI”.
Do you feel that the design industry and the products it creates are moving towards sustainability and a lower environmental impact as much as media and design journals would lead us to believe?
That is an interesting question – who is pushing who? I genuinely feel we are at a tipping point with sustainable design practice. Designers have been banging on about the importance of sustainable design for decades already and I feel business, industry and government are now taking it seriously. Designing for the Circular Economy and Regenerative Design is really where it is all going. Designers and their clients have a responsibility to ensure they are all doing their bit to help transition our planet to a low carbon, more sustainable future – it’s a no brainer and an area where designers can have significant impact. So if the media elevates sustainable design and raises the awareness of this important area – that can only be a good thing. I think the real turning point will be when businesses start to understand that they can be sustainable and more profitable at the same time. Good design is good for business vs. Good, sustainable design – is great for business.
Do you feel that the design industry has/will change noticeably as younger designers who’ve had a longer/ greater relationship with technology put their mark on the sector?
Absolutely. My 14 year old son already knows how to code (in three languages), he uses CAD, taught himself basic electronics and has two 3D printers running non-stop. It blows me away to think what the world will look like when he grows up. Technology is changing every second and it’s only going to get better, cheaper and faster. Designers are in the driver seat to ensure we capture all the incredible opportunities that tech will deliver and embed good design at the heart of it. I also think young designers are acutely aware of the big, complex challenges our world is facing and the role they want to play in helping solve them.
If you could go back, what piece of advice would you give yourself early on in your career?
Don’t stress so much – it’s going to be ok 🙂 And…learn how to code.