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What is industrial design?

Last updated

12 June 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Picture yourself holding your iPhone 15 for the first time. Its sleek and ergonomic design fits perfectly in your palm. As you swipe through its intuitive user interface, you can't help but admire the seamless blend of form and function.

Have you ever wondered who is responsible for creating such remarkable products?

Welcome to the world of industrial design (ID). Here, creativity meets practicality to shape the products we interact with daily.

This guide dives into industrial design, exploring its history, principles, applications, process, and exciting future possibilities.

Defining industrial design

Industrial design refers to the creation of visually appealing and functional products optimized to be used by a large number of consumers. The main considerations during industrial design are usability, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Industrial design, or ID, also considers the manufacturing feasibility of a product.

Industrial design is responsible for most products that we use daily. For example, the ergonomic chair you bought from IKEA and the Dyson vacuum cleaner you use stem from industrial design.

Thanks to thoughtful design, ID transforms ideas into tangible products that meet consumer needs and delight.

A short history of industrial design

Industrial design has a captivating history that spans over a century. Specifically, the growth of industrial design started peaking during the Industrial Revolution. During this time, the Western world began the move to mass-produce products. The shift sparked a demand for better-designed products and hence, the advancement of industrial design.

Soon after, design pioneers started opening industrial design agencies. Walter Darwin Teague, Carl Sundberg, and Montgomery Ferar were some of the first to champion industrial design. By the 1950s, larger corporations like General Motors were dedicated participants in industrial design and had their own in-house teams.

The era also marked the ascent of industrial design as a recognized profession. Design leaders like Dieter Rams, Henry Dreyfuss, and the dynamic duo Charles and Ray Eames were some of the influencers during this growth.

Industrial design continues to evolve, adapting to digital technologies and embracing sustainable practices.

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What is the industrial design process?

The industrial design process involves a series of steps to conceptualize and bring a product to life. While variations exist, the general industrial design process typically includes the following stages.

1. Comprehensive research

Industrial design begins with thorough market research and analysis of user needs, competition, and technological trends. Designers research which problem needs solving, why, and how well design can solve it.

2. Ideation and concept development

Designers generate various ideas and concepts based on the research findings. Sketching and prototyping techniques are employed to explore possibilities and refine the concepts.

3. Sketching and rendering

Designers create detailed sketches and renderings of the selected concepts. This gives designers and stakeholders a glimpse into the appearance of products.

4. 3D modeling and computer-aided design (CAD)

The chosen design concept is translated into a three-dimensional (3D) digital model. 3D models bring ideas to life and provide better insights into the product's physical attributes.

5. Prototyping

Designers work with manufacturers to create a physical prototype of the product. The primary goal at this stage is to test the product's form, function, and ergonomics.

6. Evaluation and iteration

The prototype is thoroughly evaluated through user testing, functional assessments, and feedback gathering. Designers then make iterations and modifications based on the findings.

7. Detail design

The refined design is further developed, considering manufacturing constraints, material selection, and engineering specifications. Detailed technical drawings and specifications are created to guide the manufacturing process.

8. Production and manufacturing

Once the design is finalized, it moves into the production phase. Manufacturers translate design specifications into mass-produced products. They also ensure quality control and adherence to the design intent.

9. Marketing and launch

The finished product is prepared for market release. Package design, branding, and promotional strategies happen at this step.

10. Post-launch evaluation and improvement

After the product is released, designers, in collaboration with marketers, gather and evaluate user feedback and market performance. The feedback gathered guides continuous improvement.

Principles of industrial design

In his book, "Ten Principles for Good Design, " Dieter Rams, a renowned industrial designer, outlined principles that have profoundly impacted industrial design solutions. Here's what he emphasized.

1. "Good design is innovative."

Rams believed that design should push boundaries and embrace innovation. Industrial designers should strive for fresh and innovative products rather than replicate existing ones. 

2. "Good design makes a product useful."

The primary purpose of a product is to fulfill a practical function. Rams stressed that design should prioritize functionality to ensure the product serves its intended purpose.

3. "Good design is aesthetic."

Rams advised that well-designed products should be visually pleasing, harmonious, and elegant.

4. "Good design is understandable."

Design should communicate its purpose and functionality. Rams believed that users should be able to easily understand how to interact with and use a product without confusion.

5. "Good design is unobtrusive."

A well-designed product should be consistent with its intended use. Instead, it should be subtle, allowing the user to focus on the task.

6. "Good design is honest."

Rams was all about honesty in design. He advocated for products that are true to their purpose, materials, and construction. He believed that design should not deceive or mislead users. 

7. "Good design is long-lasting."

Rams highlighted the need for designs that withstand the test of time aesthetically and functionally. Timeless design reduces waste and promotes sustainability.

8. "Good design is thorough down to the last detail."

Every design aspect, no matter how small, should be carefully considered and executed. Attention to detail contributes to the overall quality and user experience. 

9. "Good design is environmentally friendly."

Rams emphasized designers' responsibility to consider their designs' environmental impact.

10. "Good design is as little design as possible."

Rams advocated for simplicity, eliminating unnecessary elements, and focusing on the essentials. Stripping away excess results in clean, minimalistic designs that prioritize functionality.

An example of excellent industrial design

The Coca-Cola bottle is often hailed as a perfect example of industrial design due to its iconic, functional, and timeless design that has remained virtually unchanged for decades. The contour bottle, introduced in 1915, has a unique and instantly recognizable shape. Its design sets it apart from other beverage containers and has become synonymous with the Coca-Cola brand.

How does industrial design converge with other design disciplines?

Industrial design works with other disciplines, such as graphic design, UX design, engineering, and marketing, to create successful products. For example, collaboration with graphic designers contributes to cohesive visual identities and attractive packaging.

On the other hand, UX designers optimize user interfaces and interactions of a product. Material and mechanical engineers ensure that the product is feasible for manufacturing.

Marketers then create effective strategies to promote and position products successfully.

The future of industrial design

As industrial design evolves, we expect better integration between products and technologies such as AI, IoT, and other smart technologies. Technology advancement will also allow designers to create personalized and customizable products at scale. Consumers will have more control over product features, aesthetics, and functionality, allowing for unique and tailored experiences.

Finally, designers will adopt a more eco-friendly approach in the industrial design process.

FAQs

What does an industrial designer do?

Industrial design professionals combine art and engineering to develop mass-produced products such as cars, toys, appliances, etc.

Is there a high demand for industrial design?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates industrial design jobs to grow 3% from 2021 to 2031.

What is the average industrial design salary?

The average salary of a US industrial designer is between $80k–$90k, but they can reach six figures further into their careers.

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