Blending Art and Science
“What is design? It’s where you stand with a foot in two worlds—the world of technology and the world of people and human purposes—and you try to bring the two together.”
—Mitchell Kapor, software designer (from his book “Bringing Design to Software”)
When I attended the first CEDIA expo at Amelia Island Florida in 1989, I witnessed the birth of an industry. At the time, “Custom Installation” wasn’t even a term used to describe what the pioneers of our industry were doing. Most of us were hobbyists; tinkerers; dreamers and problem solvers. We were the rebels—an underground subset of the consumer electronics business that was intrigued by the challenge of distributing and controlling audio (video came later) as an integral part of a home.
There were few people there whom you could call “designers.” Even though the core concept of the movement being launched was the integration of sound, automation and architecture, and in a sense it was all about design, nobody really thought of it that way. The players were convinced that “built-in sound” was the way of the future, but the emphasis was clearly on technology. Most of the products had the distinct look and feel of products designed by hobbyists at the kitchen table and assembled in the garage—because that’s what they were.
Fast forward 20 years and our “garage” industry has become mainstream. The products being developed and introduced to the market today are heavy on design and focus on integrating technology into peoples’ daily lives. It’s an important evolution for our entire industry and it’s what separates the winners and losers at both the manufacturing and retailer levels.
What is design?
It’s helpful to digress here and define the concept of design in more detail. After all, it’s tough to improve the “design” quality of your work if you’re not really sure what that means. I chose the quote from Mitchell Kapor above because I think he has done a great job capturing the essence of “design.” While there is a tendency to view design as simple cosmetics or “looks,” I believe design encompasses a much broader concept. To me, design represents the total package. Part cosmetics, part style, part brand but always blending art and science to enhance the experience of the end user. In our little corner of the world, it’s good design that enables technology to integrate seamlessly with décor and end users to harness the power of modern consumer electronics to watch or listen to whatever they please from anywhere in the home—all at the touch of a button.