Industrial Design Matters

by Dr. Andrew DiMeo | 5 minute read

I've spent a lot of time recently asking both friends and professional connections what comes to mind when they hear the term "Industrial Design." My own perspective is that of an 8-year-old child dreaming of being an industrial designer, not learning of the profession until my late 20s, and finally gaining an appreciation for it in my early 40s. I sincerely hope that you read this tangent, debate the topic, and gain a deeper understanding of why industrial design matters, whether you are practicing the craft or still learning what the field has to offer.

Common responses when asked to describe industrial design:

  • People that build factories
  • People that make stuff look cool

The first answer stems from the confusion between "Industrial Design" and "Industrial Engineering." A google search on the difference highlights this with 620k results despite the use of quotation marks in the search terms. Those who identify with the latter response of making stuff look cool might have a different search result in mind. (Think turtlenecks and designer glasses).

The combination is a view of Industrial Design that is both confusing and narrow. I say this humbly, as someone who was once confused and narrow minded on the topic myself. I have great respect for the modern thought leaders of the field, such as David Kelley, Yves Béhar, and Jonathan Ive, as well as founding pioneers like Walter Teague, Raymond Loewy, or Ray and Charles Eams.

It is of utmost importance for me to ensure life is cherished, and to spend weekdays working on things that really matter, to improve health and happiness for all. And to spend my nights and weekends with loved ones, family, and good friends, enjoying all that life has to offer.

Sure, odd switch there... but choosing to work with Trig is choosing to spend such valuable time dedicated to industrial design. This is no mistake, and a decision that has taken years for me to study and justify.  In this exploration, I've come to the conclusion that it not just time well spent, but mission critical to improve all aspects of industrial design, from how children learn what it is, to how academia teaches it, to how professionals deploy it, to how it enables us to improve health and happiness for all.

 Industrial Design

It may take as many years to write about this journey of enlightenment, (a journey that I'm still on.)  But I think Ty Hagler likes to keep the Trig Tangents to 5 minute reads, so I'll choose to chip away a bit at a time.

If you've sat next to me recently at a bar or restaurant and been subject to my Chautauqua on industrial design, here's a chapter you may have heard: Consider the courses of study taught at Colleges of Design.  They are areas such as architecture, fashion design, digital media, graphic design, landscape architecture, and industrial design to name a few.

Consider how a new building or bridge may be constructed. I cannot imagine such an endeavor starting with engineering and finishing with, "now make it look cool." Rather, I imagine an architect sitting down with the client and getting a vision for the project: Exploring how the building is going to be used, how many people will utilize it and in what way, and where the building will be located, and in what relation to the environment around it. This must become a collaborative engagement of an architect designing such a building with countless stakeholders involved, including engineering, before ground is ever broken.

 Beautiful Bridge

When this process is done thoughtfully and with great care, the results are both visually stunning and provide a quality experience to all those that spend time in the building. When gone wrong, we have works of art that are not functional, or maybe purely functional structures that are eye sores, most unfortunately, sometimes... a project can be both.

In much the same way, I can't imagine a shoe or dress landing on store shelves without such collaboration including a fashion designer from the start.

So what happened in the world of product development that resulted in such a confused and narrow version of industrial design? The culprit may possibly be the technical revolution, which gave companies the ability to innovate on technological advances alone. Smaller, faster, cheaper won the day, and beautiful products that enhanced user experience fell by the wayside. One argument I get is that buildings are not commodities. We don't have time to invest in that level of industrial design for a commodity product as compared to an architect for a building.

Ok.

But do you consider your product to be a commodity?

From Medical Devices to Durable Goods to Consumer Products - if differentiation is what you desire, then that's the opposite of a commodity in my book.

"What Industrial Design is" may be another chapter of my Chautauqua and for another day.  Why it matters from initial exploration to final build?  To make your product iconic is make the world a better place.

Health & Happiness for All
Andrew