“Get involved, they said!”
In 2009, in the shadow of the economic crisis, I integrated the renowned school of industrial design, the ENSCI — les ateliers. The opening speech of the former director, Alain Cadix, was: “Our company must reinvent itself! It is up to you, the elite’s future designers, to change things, to transform and to accompany the industry towards this change”. Young design legionnaires, newly hired and slightly candid, we were galvanized, fired up to become the spokespersons of a world to be reinvented.
Through my professional experiences and by hearing from my colleagues and friends, I finally realized that the big French industrial groups give too little power to designers. With a few exceptions, our room for maneuver remains rather limited and our profession is often misunderstood by other professions. Even though our profession has demonstrated over the years how valuable its contribution is, the fact remains that today, industrial design remains a misunderstood discipline by the vast majority of people. In 2020, the industrial designer leads a daily fight to have his field of expertise recognized and valued in the same way as that of an engineer or an architect…
France, however, is not stingy with major names in the field. I am referring for example to some of the pioneers of industrial design such as: Jacques Viénot, Roger Tallon, Raymond Loewy, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Henry Massonnet … But also the most contemporary: Marc Berthier, Philippe Starck, Jean-Marie Massaud, Patrick Jouin, Jean-François Dingjian, Jean-Louis Frechin, etc., who allowed and still allow a certain French design to influence the world.
But who are the young industrial designers of today? How do they work? Have they really become agents of change in society, as Alain Cadix wished in his 2009 speech, or have they become mere pawns on the chessboard of an industry that is struggling to reinvent itself?
Of course, we can still observe a few rare designers who keep the myth of the star designer alive, with series of objects intended for the more affluent audiences, where only aesthetics prevail. It’s still the same “design” that we talk about most of the time in the mainstream media (as such, the “Design” section of the newspaper Le Monde has always gently made me smile). No wonder that in 2020 there is still a total ignorance on the part of individuals, companies and institutions about what the profession of industrial designer can be (the well-known French expression “c’est design!” which, in the familiar language, qualifies something aesthetically beautiful, also contributes to the general confusion).
I am surprised to see that most of the young aspiring designers I met during my studies have simply changed their career path. Most have chosen to work in a profession without being directly related to industrial creation. Is it due to the lack of job offers on the market or was the fight as a designer too hard to lead because of the lack of consideration from employers?
“Get involved, they said!”.
What is certain is that the reality of the labour market after graduation has injured many of them!
The other former students with whom I have remained in contact generally work as Ui/Ux designer, Service designer, Product designer, Artistic director or “Design thinking” consultant for companies seeking “innovation”…
It is to all these designers that I wish to address myself. To these survivors of the profession, who, by hanging on to the branches that are handed to them, try to make a living, as best they can, from this fascinating profession. Perhaps they continue to believe that their mission is to change society by accompanying it towards a more virtuous model?
Dear colleagues, I want to tell you that this is still possible! At the dawn of a new global crisis, perhaps more important than the crisis of 2008, new opportunities will be offered to us to reinvent our society together. Those who only recently refused to reshuffle the cards will no longer be able to ignore us. Thus, despite our past disappointments and our weariness of having to continually explain our profession, despite the knocks, we will be able to prove our legitimacy. Even if the battle is far from being won in advance, we must keep this objective in mind. Each small victory linked to the preceding one can produce the changes our society needs. In this complex world, it is up to us to reinvent our ways to produce, to create, to design, in order to preserve our ecosystem! It is up to us to contest a proposal or a project that goes against the societal challenges of our time! It is up to us to question the products and services we give to consumeIt is up to us to choose which technologies are the most environmentally friendly (Low-tech Vs High-tech) ! We need to think about fair design practices (« fair design ») which combine context, physical fundamentals, resources and uses! It is up to us to participate, today and now, in taking on societal responsabilities in the industrial sector! Finally, it is up to us to design with intelligence, ethics, responsibility and solidarity…
At a time when a nanoscopic organism (Coronavirus) shows us how fallible our production patterns, our consumption patterns and our entire economic system are, more than ever, we must get involved to produce these changes without compromise. that humanity needs. We must remember our initial commitments and our enthusiasm as young recruits, when everything was possible and we were not afraid of anything.
By Quentin Lepetit - Retreeb’s Co-Founder
Translated from French into English by Julie Lenfant