Megan Neese, an alumna from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design (BFA ’04, MPD ’05) recently had an article published in EPIC on her work at Nissan’s Future Lab on the subject of place-based design. From the article:
“In this world, what is a product? Is the product the physical object and all of the associated data that it gathers, or is it the service that this information enables? A tractor that knows how many rows it planted in a given day can help plan and predict seasonal planting trends, order new seed, or suggest alternative workflows. Tech companies have long understood this, and today many “products” have no physical form at all—even insurance policies and bank accounts are now conceptualized as products. Historically, job listings for “product designers” would have focused on expectations for design for manufacturing, including experience in CAD modeling and expertise in materials and processes. Today if you look for “product design” jobs you will find an entirely different sort of description. Similarly, the entire notion of “shipping a product” is being re-construed, at Uber this is referring to “weathering release cycles” whereas at Nissan this is loading vehicles onto a containers ship."
“As products become smarter the definition of the ‘industry’ that they service blurs,” said Neese about the article. “It becomes increasingly difficult to study a product category without understanding the broader context of the system that it lives within.
“A place-based process allows us to take a broader view of an opportunity space,” continued Neese. “In the end, the design brief reflects the unmet needs of the system rather than the unmet needs of the current product. The concepts that are generated from this type of brief strive towards different goals. For example, consider mobility from a system level view, we may be looking at congestion, or land use, or carbon footprint, rather than trunk configurations or rear seat legroom.
“These can be big and daunting topics that are difficult and complex to design for, this is where "place-based" helps.”
Neese is currently a senior manager in the Future Lab at Nissan Motor Ltd., a cross-functional team tasked with uncovering new business opportunities for the future of automotive. Her focus is to identify opportunities for the company that stretch beyond product. Once an opportunity is identified her team develops early stage prototypes and high-level business plans.
“A typical day in Future Lab depends on which stage of the process we're in on a given project,” said Neese about her position with Nissan. “Early in the process of identifying an idea we will be reading a lot of books, papers, articles, and commissioned reports. Once we have identified an interesting topic we will reach out to interview as many stakeholders as we can, this may be a day of driving around a city doing one-on-one interviews with city planners, energy companies, and start-ups or hosting a workshop to bring these minds together.
“Then a good bit of our work comes down to conceptualizing what we've learned into an idea for the company,” continued Neese. “This is a typical iterative design process of brainstorming, sketching, and rough prototyping.”
Even though she faces new and exciting challenges every day, Neese still uses the education and experiences she received at the School of Design to tackle every problem she faces.
“Freshman studio will always be one of my favorite times in life,” said Neese. “It was the first time that I really felt I had found my people. Bruce Hannington's class in design research set the tone for what I wanted to do and everything thereafter has basically built off of it.
“Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design gave me a real sense of possibility for the application of design,” concluded Neese. “I never felt locked into a specific topic, industry, or skill type and it didn't matter of I couldn't sketch perfectly or render professionally, I learned how to think and how to problem solve.
“In my career so far the concepts themselves are king, it doesn't matter how beautiful or how slick a presentation may be, what really matters at the end of the day is the idea itself and its applicability to the business, and this is exactly what I felt my education focused on.
“The School of Design took me in as a creative teen with lots of energy and no clear direction and let me go as an ambitious young professional with a sense of purpose, work experience, and real world projects and patents in my portfolio.”