It's only designPublished on December 6, 2010

  • Graham Cowen

It's a damp, chilly night here in Ottawa and I'm heading out to attend one of the most stimulating presentations I've been to for a long time.


As part of Urban Capital's "Trends in Design" series, I've come to attend a talk entitled "Where Industrial Design is Taking Us", hosted by Julian Goss. Goss, a fellow Scot, is the Program Chair of the Industrial Design Department at OCAD.

You may not immediately think that a discussion about Industrial Design is going to be the most compelling content imaginable, Julian weaves a wonderful story about where design has brought us to date and where it can take us in the future.

The presentation starts with the simple premise that everything man-made which we interact with is a piece of design. From the toothbrush you cleaned you teeth with this morning, to the chair you're sitting in reading this article, someone thought about the task the piece needed to perform and designed it to achieve that task, with as much flair as possible thrown in for good measure.

Julian describes Industrial Design in three succinct phrases: Industrial Design is somewhere between invention and improvement; somewhere between commodity and experience; somewhere between art and industry.

While Industrial Design's beginning was rooted within the Industrial Revolution, it really began to take hold in the public consciousness in the mid-19th century.

In includes designers such as Christopher Dresser, famous for his teapots and toast racks, which are still available from Alessi.

There's also Michael Thonet, designer of the unmistakable No. 14 chair, using industrial processes to allow him to mass-produce articles of great artistry. Suddenly, design was available to everyone.

As with any endeavor, Industrial Design has seen high points and low points over the years - compare the work of Charles and Ray Eames in the '50s to the output of the Memphis movement in the '80s - but it has never ceased to be a cornerstone of our lives, literally shaping the products which we use every day.

Julian wraps up his presentation with a tantalizing discussion on what the future of design might be here in Canada. His assertion? If Canada can combine its incredible richness in natural and intellectual resources with new and innovative approaches to design, the sky is truly the limit for what can be achieved.

... And so say all of us!

Thanks for reading and speak soon!



Graham is the owner of Blueberry Interiors, a new interior decor consultancy, specializing in modern and contemporary design themes. You can keep up with him here at Ottawa at Home, on Twitter by following @grahamcowen, or you can reach him directly at


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