) Macintosh; the Virgin Galactic Space Plane; the AK-47
Kalashnikov-series assault rifle; the floppy disk: When CNN
the world's best industrial designers to choose the most iconic
industrial designs created over the past century, these were some
of the answers they gave. These are products that have shaped our
politics, our culture, and how we live our day-to-day lives, and
they each underscore the influence industrial designers have in
Now, a research
from the the National Endowment for the Arts titled "Valuing the
Art of Industrial Design: A Profile of a Sector and Its Importance
to Manufacturing, Technology, and Innovation" sheds new light on
this influential profession in the United States. It is the first
time, claims the report, that anyone has taken federal data on
industrial design and looked at it from an analytical perspective.
One of the report's biggest takeaways? Industrial designers don't
just make the objects surrounding us look pretty -- they're
inventing them, too. Analyzing US patents awarded between 1975 and
2010, the report shows 40% of people named on design patents were
also named on utility patents (roughly 55,000 out of 136,000). Over
the same period, only 2% of of the 2.5 million people named on
utility patents ("inventors") were also named on design patents.
From the report: "These data demonstrate that designers are not
only crafting new or improved visual ornamental designs for
products -- they are simultaneously inventing the new and useful
products and processes themselves."
Design firms drive a $1.5 billion industry in the United States,
with the number of industrial design patents currently at a 25-year
high. It's an industry dominated by few firms. Four companies --
Continuum (West Newton, Massachusetts), IDEO (Palo Alto,
California), Frog Designs (San Francisco, California), and Lunar
Design (Palo Alto, California) -- generate 11% of the industry's
total revenues, with the 50 largest firms generating 45% of the
total pie. In comparison, the 50 largest firms in the professional
services sector as a whole (which includes industrial design)
generate only 18% of total revenue.
Employment for industrial designers in the professional services
sector is expected to grow 29% over the next several years. This
sector includes specialized design firms; engineering and
architecture firms; management, scientific, and technical
consulting firms; and scientific research and development firms.
In the US, the top-10 companies listed by number of industrial
design patents awarded are
The Procter & Gamble Company
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Stanley Black & Decker, Inc.
Wolverine World Wide, Inc.
(WWW), Kohler Co., Apple,
(MMM), and the
Ford Motor Company
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