I was fortunate enough to listen to Chris Bangle, group chief of design at BMW, talk about design, about his own personal journey to where he is now and what inspires him, when he spoke at Microsoft's TechReady conference in Seattle earlier this year. Paul Foster wrote a good review of that session, closing with a comment that Chris presented to us (bearing in mind the audience was several thousand technical people):
For generations, man has wondered what dreams are. We've had Freud and many others try to define dreaming, but Chris said Microsoft had helped him solve this mystery. Dreams are really just our brains defragmenting over night...
Now Chris is a man who has made quite an impact on car design at BMW, and has legions of fans and detractors in the car industry. His controversial "flame surfacing" design style, which first saw light in the BMW 7-series redesign of a few years ago and has gone to influence every model since, is a great example of the kind of design change which initially many people are resistant to, but get over it in the end and may even look back on it favourably.
When Windows XP came out, a lot of business people complained that it was too glossy and consumer-oriented, and they wanted to swtich off all the nice stuff and make it look like Windows 2000. I haven't heard too many people say the same about Vista, but the question of whether there is a "classic mode" always comes up with any UI redesign, like the Ribbon in Office 2007.
Listening to Chris talk about the way design evolves, and how sometimes it takes a leap forward, it's quite possible to draw comparisons with the world of IT, or wider into consumer devices, fashion etc.
I came across a video of Chris talking to car people, at the Autocar Awards 2006, on his thoughts of the cars of tomorrow. Quite a bit of the content he used was also part of his speech to Microsoft people, but what he said and the emphasis on what points he was making, were subtly different. It's well worth 12 minutes of your time to watch this video - even if you don't like Chris's car designs, you can't deny he's a smart guy who appears really likeable in person.