Industrial designers solve lots of different problems. One of them is controlling the intent across a portfolio of products across product generations. New core77 forum poster Proe-warsztat from Poland asks how one goes about creating a language. From my perspective, there has always been two approaches to creating a design language, "prescriptive" and "descriptive."
The first is the traditional "prescriptive" language, with a clearly identified set of elements, treatments, materials and sometimes even radii. These often make for great designer books, but can be messy in application as they don't really foresee the types of problems a future product might have to address nor do they tend to scale. Early in the conversation, poster Modern Man brought up BMW's "Hofmeister" which is a great example of a perscriptive design element that has withstood the test of time.
The second type of language is a "descriptive" language, which is a loose set of guidelines that drive toward a desired end state. It has more to do with a feeling that a strict rule book. This is much harder to document and maintain, but the result tends to be richer and easier to evolve. The above example, designed by forum poster Jim Kershaw for Irwin Tools, is a great example of descriptive language in execution. Each product has slightly different material mixes and constructions, and varied feature sets, yet they hang together as a whole nicely.
Above is an example that my team developed that mixes the two for BOOM, our lifestyle audio brand. A set of guiding descriptive design principles were created to focus innovation around a particular type of problem set for a particular type of end user to achieve an overall feeling. We then layered over top of that prescriptive elements like particular disintegrating hole pattern to drive home the family connection.
Join in the conversation HERE, we'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in dealing with design languages!