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LIFE / Steve Montgomery

Designing a Better Life

September 15, 1997

Steve Montgomery, 44

Los Angeles

I'm an industrial designer, a principal of my own company, BioDesign, and an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. My profession is to design things that are manufactured--sort of like an architect for products. My passion is to make life better for people by making technology safer, simpler, more accessible and even more fun.

Industrial design started out as a marketing tool in the 1920s and '30s. The intent was to make things prettier. Much of today's industrial design, unfortunately, is still involved with the appearance of things, with giving face-lifts to the same old products.

Responsibility for this lies with the manufacturing companies. Too few managers and engineers understand what industrial designers can contribute to the development of a product. The result is that industrial designers are commonly brought in at the tail end of the process, and often just to design the box the product will be displayed in.

Done well, industrial design adds the human factor to the development mix. In my work, I'm constantly thinking of the people who will be using the product and shaping the product to take their size, strength, temperament, age and culture into account. I think of human hands and arms when I design a wheelchair control, for example, placing that control where it's most usable, even if that placement is not the most cost-effective to produce.

Although industrial design--what it can be and what it can contribute--is still not well understood in this country, I'm encouraged by the growing trend in Europe of bringing industrial designers in during the early stages of a product's development. I'm certain that competition from these more "user-friendly" products will eventually give manufacturers in this country their much-needed wake-up call.

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