Many designers will admit that Industrial Design is a mindset and not merely a job. If your brain occupies a design mindset 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, are you always working or never working? I’d like to draw upon my college and professional experiences as an Industrial Designer to address this question. [Any time the word ‘designer’ is used in this article, I’m referring to Industrial Designers specifically.]
Industrial Design – Origin and Definition
Generally speaking, an Industrial Designer’s job is to optimize the aesthetics and user interface of an object while addressing challenges in mass production and mass market appeal. In short, designing is a balance of many skills. A designer must know a little about a lot and must be a master at connecting the dots and understanding context. The beauty and challenge of a Designer’s job is that unlike in engineering, there isn’t always a right answer. Engineers, accountants, manufacturers, data analysts and many other occupations have hard-set rules, algorithms and math that must be obeyed. In the case of the Designer, there is no such rulebook. Designers need to draw upon their own experience and intuition, be able to correlate data, observe astutely, collaborate well, find solutions and objectively evaluate their own work to find the best solution to the problem at hand. This is no simple feat. How does somebody balance both creative and analytical thinking while working with so many different people, all of whom think differently? The answer—Design thinking.
The phrase Design Thinking can be traced back to 1969, when Herbert A. Simon wrote a book called The Sciences Of The Artificial. In the decade that followed, a number of publications took the phrase a bit further until it became established as a means to describe a formal method for solving problems with intent to improve the outcome.
Design Thinking… a formal method for solving problems with the intent to improve the outcome.
Because a Designer’s job is dependent on his or her clients’ needs, Design Thinking is applied uniquely to each problem that needs solving. During formal education, Designers will learn Design Thinking early to aid in the problem-solving process. I still remember hearing the term in my freshman Industrial Design studio class when I attended CCS in Detroit, Michigan. The veil of mystery was instantly lifted when I was told that the responsibility of Industrial Designers is to solve as many problems a product or project faces while improving the end result. Design Thinking is used to build a design process composed of steps that can be subdivided as many times as a project deems necessary. The Designer uses these steps as a sort of road map to guide their process to ensure they’re not deviating too far from the main goal.
Design Thinking and Process
Like any other skill, Design Thinking can be learned, and requires practice to become good at it. There isn’t an on and off switch for Design Thinking. In order to really become a great Designer, one needs to remain in Design Thinking mode around the clock because sparks of creativity can come at any time. A mathematician can sit down and solve a mathematical problem in a matter of seconds or minutes. A Designer can try to do the same, but it’s not always possible to command a spark of creativity to strike. The most common approach is to remain in Design Thinking Mode and be aware of ideas that may solve the current problem at hand. Have you ever had an idea pop into your head while trying to fall asleep or while in the shower, or driving home from your job? These are often what Designers refer to as ‘aha moments’. Aha moments occur when, like in Tetris, a few relevant bits of information or ideas fit seamlessly together to create a solution to a problem. If a Designer is in Design Thinking Mode when an aha moment strikes, he or she will instinctively run through the design process to try and evaluate the idea that just hit. The more time spent evaluating ideas and trying to apply them to problems or situations, the better a Designer will get at it. However, being in Design Thinking Mode isn’t the only thing that Designers need to do. How about connecting the dots?
Connecting The Dots
By connecting the dots, I mean identifying relevant information as it comes to mind. The more connections and associations a Designer can make, the better he or she will understand relationships between things. Because a Designer’s job is to optimize user interface, he must focus on how someone interacts with an object, for example handle, button, light, texture, surface and screen.
A Designer is responsible for making conscious decisions based upon research and experience to make the interaction between people and objects as pleasant as possible.
Every time a Designer makes an association between two seemingly unrelated things, he or she is learning new ways things are or can be related. In order to innovate, design must address as many aspects of how a product will be manufactured, packaged, transported, assembled, used, repaired and discarded. Understanding the relationship between people and things will help a Designer consider as many factors as possible while innovating.
Inspiration is what keeps new ideas forming. Without new ideas, a Designer will feel stale and uninspired. Inspiration however, combats stagnation, can be found nearly anywhere and in different places for different designers. Actively seeking out new perspectives, art, concepts, cultures and learning are common ways Designers stay inspired. So, on top of staying constantly aware of their surroundings and always seeking connecting the dots, Designers need to set aside time to seek out inspiration or let everyday observances become sources of inspiration.
Perhaps the aspect of design that most people are aware of is the appearance of an object, often referred to as aesthetics. A Designer is responsible for a product’s appearance. A sculptor needs to understand form and materials; a painter, light and color; an architect, space and materials; an engineer, sciences and math; a graphic designer, typeography and color; a marketer, human psychology and technology. Somehow, designers are expected to understand a bit of all of those in order to help guide their decisions throughout the design process. Being instrumental throughout the entire design process, it’s in the best interest of a Designer to take an interest in learning.
Design for Love
Because of a Designer’s multidisciplinary approach and balance of micro and macro task management; they’re an extraordinarily valuable asset to any team. The fact that they’re working around the clock to solve problems is simply added value! From design thinking, process and connecting the dots to staying inspired and improving their understanding of art and aesthetics, designers virtually never stop working. The best part? Most Designers will tell you they love what they do. And that’s what it takes to never stop working. Besides... if you love what your job, is it really work?