By Bill Huseby
Having been in the Product Design and Engineering business for over 30 years there is one thing that has become apparent to me: Industrial Designers are under-appreciated for the contribution they make to good Product Design. This perspective, mind you, is coming from a Mechanical Engineer.
Let me start by giving you the definition of an Industrial Designer. This is right from the IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) web page: Industrial Design (ID) is the professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimize the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer.
For me the definition is a bit long winded. I like to think of Industrial Designers as mediators. On one hand they need to be an advocate for the User. On the other they need to balance the needs of the Manufacturer. He or she is responsible for making sure that both the User’s and the Manufacturer’s experience with the product is a positive one. In its most basic form, not only must the product be aesthetically pleasing, easy to operate and functionally appropriate, it must also be manufacturable and simple to assemble. Blending the needs of the User and needs of the Manufacturer together is the challenge for the Industrial Designer.
ID when done poorly can result in devices that are too complicated to use, are difficult to assemble, you can’t tell what they are supposed to do, or are just plain ugly. When done right the product is intuitive in both its use and function and it also leaves the user and manufacturer with a positive experience. When done poorly you have a 100 button remote control for your TV. When done well you have a one button I-Phone.
Most folks outside the profession would say, “The ID guys just make pretty pictures.” This naive perspective is as far from the truth as you can get. There is a process for good industrial design. Data needs to be gathered, trends analyzed and exploration with feedback performed. The result, when done well, can be the difference between a successful and profitable product and one that is an abysmal failure.