Retooling for the 21st CenturyDesign, from my perspective, is playing an ever-more significant role in competitiveness. And as seen by the increase in trademarks and design patents, it’s no secret that design can create stronger economies when embraced on a strategic level. But when I say design, I don’t just mean the industrial design of products. Design is being leveraged everywhere—but it’s not yet embraced and supported by the U.S. government. Some time ago, I called for a senior leader in the U.S. government who would help propel the value of the American leadership in design. It hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it will someday. For now, let’s take a closer look at where things stand.
Design in the U.S. is at an all-time high.
Supporting the Future of U.S. Manufacturing: The Need to InvestI believe that if we are to enter into this new modern age of creation, we must be willing to make investments in the enabling technologies within and outside the sphere of manufacturing. Certainly, we won’t be the only country doing so. Many nations have supported design in substantial ways, including through promotional agencies, tax credits, and reaching out to design at the highest levels. I recall Margaret Thatcher having regular meetings with key British designers and find it no surprise that design in the U.K. has proven to be very strong in past decades. However, in the U.S., many politicians and taxpayers feel that when private investment is involved, public money should be off the table. It’s too close to gambling, they say. I disagree and believe that view neglects history and ignores global competitive dynamics. Sure, money is tight and tough choices will have to be made on spending and tax policy, but sacrificing our national future competitiveness in manufacturing and creation through myopic politics isn’t the answer. The U.S. must invest in innovation and supplement the private sector in response to actions being taken by competitors. Though I’m no policy expert, I think it’s pretty obvious that America will need to support manufacturers by maintaining a competitive currency for exports; better protecting R&D and IP investments; renewing our infrastructure for streamlined distribution of goods, services, and energy; and establishing energy and regulatory policies that balance business and environmental needs. The Alliance of American Manufacturing has a number of policy recommendations here for encouraging and accelerating manufacturing growth, including finance mechanisms, regulatory policies, permanent tax credits, and changes to our educational system. Access to highly skilled workers for talent-driven innovation was cited as the single-most critical factor in determining a country’s manufacturing competitiveness in the June 2010 Deloitte Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, well ahead of things you’d typically associate with competitive manufacturing like material and energy [costs], infrastructure and economic systems. The Council on Foreign Relations asserts that "to create jobs, contain inequality, and reduce the U.S. current-account deficit, the scope of the export sector will need to expand. That will mean restoring and creating U.S. competitiveness in an expanded set of activities via heightened investment in human capital, technology, and hard and soft infrastructure." So there’s considerable agreement on the need for supporting policy and what that should look like. However, policy is slow to come, and in today’s climate, one can hardly expect Congress to agree to turn off the lights at night, let alone come together with a great mission for this country.
How can designers shorten the bridge between product development and manufacturing?