Until recently, the field of industrial design has been at work, unbeknownst to the general population. When I say I am an industrial designer, most people will admit they don’t know what that is, or will ask if I design things like factories or machines. My short response being that I design the products which are made in factories. This response is possibly the most simplistic way one could describe industrial design. To better explain this rising field, I’ve assembled five things you should know about industrial design.
- Industrial design is a term that encompasses a broad range of creative fields. Depending on their interests, or hired position, an industrial designer could design anything from the layout of your favorite superstore, to the shoes on your feet. For example: the font of this post, the application you’re reading this post on, the operating system the application is installed on, the device running the operating system; each of these things likely involved an industrial designer’s input in some way.The three major subdivisions of industrial design include product design (mostly physical products such as cars or electronics), user interface design (digital and physical interfaces such as apps or dashboards) and user experience design (like museum exhibitions or some product packaging). As you can see, the work of industrial designers plays a role in nearly everything people consume.
- Industrial design didn’t always exist in its current form. Artists, craftsmen and architects were the original “industrial designers” of the ancient world. These people designed and created products, with varying levels of beauty and functionality, to be consumed by their respective consumers. When the industrial revolution came, engineers quickly became the primary designers of products; generally designing products that were easier to mass produce.As industrialization grew, so did the gap between mass production and craftsmanship. This trend continued until the early twentieth century when consumers began demanding more variety and quality from their purchases. Many of the first true industrial designers were architects who could bridge the gap between appealing aesthetics and functional form in mass-produced products. Styling trends like art nouveau, art deco and modern evolved over time according to technological advancements and a growing economy. Because of this evolution, industrial design has shaped the way we categorize eras of our past.
- Industrial design today. The field is actually growing at a somewhat alarming rate. Countries like China and South Korea, who were not previously known for industrial design, are enrolling students to their programs in huge quantities. My alma mater, the industrial design program at Iowa State University, only began in 2010, but has already expanded to accept 72 students per year compared to the 20-student class of 2013.The internet and social media have spread the word of industrial design to the attention of millennials to want a creative, yet innovative career. The “maker revolution” also has played a major role in popularizing the field. Now anyone can bring their ideas to fruition like never before with technology like 3D printers.
- The industrial designer’s most important tool: the creative process. The creative process is something every industrial designer should practice from day one. In short, what this process does is enables the designer to efficiently locate and solve problems within a design or idea. Many projects start with a broad idea which, through research, gets filtered down to a singular goal of what the designer hopes to accomplish with their design. Simple sketches layout the basics for the design, leading to more detailed decisions and eventually prototyping. The creative process has proven its worth countless times and is ingrained in the minds of most designers.
- Industrial designers can be famous. Possibly the most recognized industrial designer of the millennial generation is Jony Ive, or “that British guy from Apple.” What Jony Ive has done to shape Apple devices into fashionable accessories has launched him to designer superstardom. Adam Savage from Mythbusters is another famous industrial designer who built his career in the movie industry as a prop designer. Since the early 1900s there have been famous designers, some of whom are less famous than the actual products they designed.If I asked you who designed the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, would you be able to tell me? Probably not. Brooks Stevens is the designer in question, and although his name is not easily recognized, his legacy is recognizable to millions of Americans even today.
It’s difficult to cram much information about industrial design into a short blog post, but I hope I could shine some light onto this interesting and exciting field. Even after three years devoted to studying industrial design, I still don’t know everything about it. Day by day, industrial design gains more exposure in the mainstream eye. So, who knows, maybe someday no one will need to ask me what an industrial designer is.
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