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2006 04 14
Industrial Design in Montreal
Exploded view drawing from my office, Morelli Designers.

For most people, products are not created, they just exist. People have no idea the amount of energy and effort that is expended to bring an idea to market in the form of a desirable and useful product. Generally people that I talk to think that engineers create products, which is partially true. A successful product requires a cooperative team of marketing experts, ergonomists, engineers, and designers, working together to bring the idea to fruition.

Designing a product is both boring and intriguing. All aspects of even the simplest product must be carefully studied to ensure that no problems can result from its manufacture. A tea kettle with a hollow handle can result in burns due to steam entering the handle. A poorly shaped spout on a gravy boat can result in spilling gravy on Grandma’s heirloom tablecloth.

Industrial design is interesting because of the scale of production of the product. Designing a building is impressive because of the huge scale of the final result, and also because of the amount of money involved in constructing the building, but a building only has impact on a finite scale- the building exists only in a specific time and place. If a mistake is made in the design of a building, generally the error is fixed on site by the expert contractors who pour the cement, lay the bricks, or install the drywall. The rare big error may result in and expensive repair, but the error occurs only once. If people find a building ugly, the building is eventually torn down, and is forgotten.

A plastic snow saucer

When an error is made in the design of a product, even the smallest mistake is magnified by the quantity of objects produced. No one may be killed by the handle falling off a tea cup, but the manufacture of the teacup in the tens of thousands means that the mistake lives on and on- there may be a recall, which results in a lot of wasted material, and considerable embarrassment of the manufacturer/ supplier/ and designer. However, not every object on a recall list gets returned, so someone somewhere gets subjected the mistake. Likewise ugly products cannot be contained, they can be found everywhere like cockroaches. Products tend to get a life of their own after they have been created.

If people are aware of Industrial design, they tend to think that all the design work is done in New York, Paris, or Milan. However, Montreal has an extremely strong design culture. In fact, Montreal has now been selected to be the World Design Capital.

Montreal has a long history with design, starting with Expo 67, and the 1976 Olympics. Michel Dallaire has been in practice for over 30 years. There are design schools at the Université de Montreal, UQUAM, Concordia, and the Cegeps. There are many examples of successful manufacturers in Montreal; Bombardier, Axis lighting, Maax, and Mega Bloks to name a few.

Having worked in New York, I find the design community in Montreal much stronger. In New York the designers may have an esprit de corps with their coworkers, but there is not a strong network between offices. The best events in New York are usually organized by CORE 77

In Montreal the design community is like a big family, having seasonal get-togethers at the IDM Christmas party, the IDM awards gala, or at the many graduate shows at the design schools in town. To newcomers the Montreal Design community is like the mafia- very hard to penetrate, but once in, you are a lifetime member.
[email this story] Posted by Michael Bailey on 04/14 at 02:20 AM

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