Recently, when the giant retailer Walmart announced its commitment to source $50 billion worth of goods in the U.S. in the next 10 years, I was curious to find out what this initiative would mean to our economy, labor force, manufacturing capacity, and more. So I put some questions to Dr. Daniel Mahler, PhD in communications, partner and head of Americas for A. T. Kearney, a global management-consulting firm. As the firm’s lead senior advisor to several large global U.S. corporations with revenues of up to $80 billion, and with a reputation for a commitment to sustainability, I thought Dr. Mahler’s reasoned voice would help us understand what changes may be brewing as more of our products will bear the once familiar and proud label, “Made in the USA.” I tracked him down as he traveled between his New York office and Shanghai, to ask some questions about the economic shifts taking place today.
Susan S. Szenasy: With Walmart’s commitment to source $50 billion worth of goods in the U.S. in the next 10 years, and considering our crumbling industrial base, is there any low hanging fruit left in American manufacturing? Which industry is most likely to spring into action in wake of the Walmart challenge?
Dr. Daniel Mahler: My feeling is that if there’s any low hanging fruit to be found in U.S. manufacturing, little of it is going to be about further lowering the costs of manufacturing here. If you think about the economic period from which we’re only just emerging, not only those moving their manufacturing to China, but those who remained here had to do as much as possible to make sure they were competitive. Although there are always creative approaches to gaining new efficiencies, the most obvious efficiency plays have mostly run their course.
Therefore, this is probably more about Walmart sensing that when you do the math and look not just at the cost of manufacturing, but at the total cost, the equation starts to shift in favor of the U.S. There’s the cost of bringing manufactured product to the U.S., the risk-cost of a product not getting here on time, the cost of product adulteration when bad things happen in the supply chain, which is huge in terms of risk, liability and reputation – these are all parts of the total cost picture. (more…)
I have satisfied my first order for a large retailer, Anthropologie, and I must say I feel great. I feel great because for young designers, it is increasingly difficult to have our voices heard. And further still, most companies won’t even recognize that you have a voice until you have “proven” yourself. But I did it.
The paper vases, Om, that Anthropologie ordered have been loved and hated. I cannot, sadly, tell you why people like or dislike them; however, I can tell you how they came to be and let you judge for yourself.
The concept of OM grew out of research for my graduate thesis at SCAD. While most of my peers had some working knowledge of furniture’s holy three: leather, wood, and fabric, I was more familiar with industrial processes and plastics—my background is in industrial design. To me the smell of leather was foreign. The differences between quarter-sawn and half-sawn wood were lost on me. And the warp of a fabric was indistinguishable from its weft. I was naïve. But it was this beautiful ignorance that gave me a perspective not shared by most of my peers.
I was intrigued by simple things; the things most people take for granted. I was in love with the pedestrian things of our world. So I felt no embarrassment when I informed my professor that I would be exploring the qualities of wood and its by-product paper. And explore I did! I dyed it. I dipped it. I burned it. I pureed it. I mixed it with plaster. I even sewed it (inspired by a pair of Tyvek pants made by Maison Martin Margiela). I did countless studies and tests searching for…I don’t know what. Then, as things almost always happen long after my class and academic requirement to explore had ended, I came to it.
I was reading an article on the alterity of felt when I realized that this entire time I’d been attempting to bully the paper, bend it to my will. I had ignored the desires of the material, of the paper. After having this aha-moment my process changed. I would no longer tell the paper what to do; instead I endeavored to see if it had the capacity to achieve what I had in mind. I began bending instead of creasing—I viewed a crease as a command, irrevocable once committed, whereas a bend was a suggestion. I would let these bends and folds create both the aesthetic value of each vase while simultaneously acting as their structure. Through this process of “call and response” each vase became nothing like anything else. The shadows became design elements; the surface of the paper became a canvas for diffused light. I was pleased. But not everyone was onboard. Professors thought they were disrespectful; peers thought they were a joke. Others, though, thought of them as poetry made tangible. I thought of them as the zenith of my process. (more…)
Later this month the 2012 Venice Architectural Biennale will come to a close, so perhaps now is a good time to reflect on this year’s theme of common ground.
I traveled to Venice in October to check out some of the exhibits, which represented everything from abstract intellectual concepts to concrete solutions for the most stubborn challenges in planning and design in the public realm. The following are a few of the highlights:
The Poland and Rumanian exhibits took a somewhat conceptual approach. In the Poland pavilion the idea of common ground is tied to our shared experience of sound. One enters the pavilion to hear brash reverberations of creaking walls and thumping footsteps. Soon we learn that these sounds are actually amplified projections of live events taking place in real time within and around the pavilion, reminding us of the wide range of sound elements that combine to create a common ground of auditory experience. The Romanian pavilion contains a dark room filled with dozens of back-lit pedestals, some containing objects of graphic art (postage stamps) and others of bureaucratic process (architectural and other technical stamps), calling attention to some of the common but functional dichotomies of the creative and applied realms of planning and design.
Business has officially taken notice of design. The interest goes deeper than marketing the design features of a product, prompting business strategists to tap into design methods for innovative ways of solving traditional business problems. “Design Thinking” has become a hot topic among today’s MBA students. Apple is hard to ignore, and everyone wants a slice.
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Moggridge, cofounder of the pioneering design firm in this space, IDEO. I appreciated the meeting – and the fact that Bill passed away in September makes me appreciate my brief time with him even more. During our conversation in his New York office, he shared with me the story of IDEO’s transformation from product design firm to strategic design thinking juggernaut. He described how they deliberately asked people from divergent disciplines to work together, requiring that they check their egos at the door. Why haven’t more firms done that?
“Because it’s hard,” Bill said. I’ll second that.
Many firms talk the talk of design-led innovation. We’re attempting to walk the walk. We, too, have a point of view and are one of the pioneers in the reinvention of the design consultancy – a small design office with a growing number of MBAs and people with diverse backgrounds who previously might never have found themselves working at a design firm. Professional designers are also businesspeople of a sort, but people who have gone to school for business view the world differently than those who have gone to school for design.
We asked our MFA students to dream big, and then build their design for a literacy center for a juvenile detention center—in 10 days! We decided to pair unlimited imagination with pragmatic requirements to see if we could help the students realize t…
I just finished reading Lucy Kellaway’s acerbic-but-true piece (free registration required) in the FT about management consultants and all their related jargon landing in China. And it immediately brought to mind an evening I spent in Shanghai a f…