The design of products of every type is clearly linked to the economic health of manufacturing sectors. That said, society needs to replace outdated products and continues to crave new and better iterations. As long as society needs new products, there will continue to be a demand for their design
So, while much actual manufacturing is sourced elsewhere, the broad drivers behind new products continue to push the field forwards.
Innovation provides much of the competitive impetus for the development of new products, with new technology often requiring a new design interpretation. It only takes one manufacturer to create a new product paradigm to force the rest of the industry to catch up - fuelling further innovation. Product design teams are at the forefront of this, constantly seeking competitive advantage through innovation.
The big drivers to the sector can be summarised as:
Consumption needs to be healthy; consumers need to be spending on new products. If the economy hiccups, spending decreases and sales decrease, which in turn affects the health of the companies engaged in the development and manufacture of products.
The development of new technologies and capability fuels the development of new products.
The 'meta product'
Advancing technology, allied to extremely complex operational software and capability, are blurring the boundaries of what we understand by 'product'. Sometimes, the hardware we hold in our hand, or with which we interact, is just a small part of 'the product'. The activity of product design will continue to make inroads into the non-physical aspects of the product and even the 'virtual product' or meta product.
The more products become the same, the more important it is to seek difference. Product design, when done well, helps a manufacturer differentiate its products from those of its competitors, and win important distribution opportunities. Furthermore, the product's design both defines and reinforces the brand.
Longer term, these will fundamentally affect the design of products into the future. Recyclability, reparability and legislated longer product lifetimes will probably lead to better-quality, though more expensive, products.
These play a big part, but tend to shift the emphasis between product sectors rather than the whole business.