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Northern Ontario needs to develop a design culture

Northern Ontario needs a design culture, says David Robinson, associate professor of economics at Laurentian University.
Prof. Philippe Lalande

Northern Ontario needs a design culture, says David Robinson, associate professor of economics at Laurentian University.

The establishment of the school of architecture in downtown Sudbury next year is an important element in creating that culture, but the next stage of development needs to take shape. That's why Prof. Philippe Lalande, director of the School of Industrial Design at the University of Montreal, was invited to Sudbury to hold a lecture and workshop Nov. 25 at the Living with Lakes Centre in Sudbury.

“Designers add something to products that people want and it's important to invest in design,” Robinson said. “They add beauty and useability. There is design capacity in Northern Ontario.”

The Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Services Association (SAMSSA) encouraged its members to attend and learn how to build the concept of design into their own disciplines.

“There really is a need to understand design issues,” said Dick DeStefano, executive director of SAMSSA. “Many of our people are doing rebuilds. They make changes to things and export it. We need to know what we can do to make our products better and export more.”

Lalande told the group at the lecture that he could not tell them how to profit from design, but could tell them about design.

“Design is mysterious for everyone, even foggy in designers' minds since it is applied now to everything,” he said.

Industrial design is one of a number of design disciplines such as graphic, interior and web, but a central element that unites them is design thinking.

“Design thinking has been identified recently and qualified as a different approach to problem solving,” Lalande said.

“The traditional approach is to analyze and look at the components and put them back together. Design is a solutions-focused method: what is the the objective and the solution and how do we get there? But with solving there is no single right answer. It's not a math equation with a proper solution.”

There is also a difference between industrial design and engineering. Products with direct human interaction relate to design and those with no direct human interaction, such as an engine, relate to engineering.

“The core of design is that we have to imagine a better solution. The designers are the end-user's advocate so they have to imagine, be able to visualize, give shape and communicate ideas and they have to be able to lead, create empathy and to mediate. They have to know who is driving the truck and who is sitting in that chair to make the products better,” Lalande said.

A study conducted in Quebec showed that out of 1,000 different businesses contacted, 131 had used design services.

The sector utilizing those services the most was electronics and when asked to indicate why, more than 20 per cent indicated it was to make their products more distinct followed by adding creativity and integrating technical innovation.

Lalande said when the businesses were asked what difference the design services had made, more than 70 per cent indicated it had increased the creativity of its team followed by more sales.

Lalande was asked how a design culture can be integrated into the North and if esthetics had a role to play in producing mining supply and service products. He said esthetics is a part of design and can't be removed from a product.

“The esthetics of a product, even one produced industrially, involves a message sent to the user which could be generic or could be ambiguous. It can't be taken away,” he said.

“Ideas in people's heads are worth nothing. But if it creates enthusiasm and then leads to working on them and bringing them to reality, then it is worth a lot.”