Qualities of an Industrial Designer

Are you wondering if you have what it takes to be an industrial designer? There are a number of essential qualities, activities, and cognitive and interpersonal skills that both students and professionals in industrial design use on a daily basis. Knowing what these qualities and skills are can help you in a number of ways:

  • For those who are still deliberating between industrial design and other fields, it can be helpful to visualize the work environment. What is the ratio of creativity to technical expertise necessary? What kind of problem-solving will be expected? Will I be forced to work with other people?
  • Those who are in the process of applying to industrial design schools should learn the qualities that will interest and entice admissions committees. Industrial design degree programs make their money partially based on the prestige of their graduates; they look for individuals who seem destined to succeed and are organized to promote the success of their graduates.
  • Those who have already chosen to become industrial designers need to be prepared in order to succeed in school and after.

Education overrides and rewires intuition. Neurological research has shown consistently how much change the human brain is capable of attaining. Given the three years of industrial design school, individuals can completely rewire the way they implement creativity, approach problems, and look at human interactions. Introverts can become leaders. Someone who does not seem cut out to be an industrial designer can blossom into one of the most capable graduates.

Excellent Computer Skills

If you are interested in studying at industrial design schools, you will need excellent computer skills if you are going to succeed. You may not need to be a wiz at troubleshooting. You may not need to scour blogs every morning when you wake up. But you can bet you will use computers, almost every day, in your profession.

Even now, modern industrial designers draft with CAID software, at the very least. For most projects, this software’s ability to organize massive amounts of information, facilitate communication, and add/delete unwanted/wanted elements easily and efficiently improves the production process. In fact, the only aspect of industrial design that currently does not always see binary 1s and 0s is the initial brainstorming stage.

Qualities of an Industrial Designer
And in case you find this trend ludicrous and want it to end, listen to this sobering fact: implementation of computers will likely only increase. With the latest advents in the field such as three-dimensional printers, industrial design with computer aid is more necessary than it has been. Now, as soon as a product is fully drafted, it can be modeled within minutes. If the product is simple enough, then it can be manufactured as soon as the designer has finished his/her job and distributed accordingly.

It is predicted that as the technology becomes cheaper, so too will the cost of production. As such, more companies will start producing their own goods. Think of all the companies that have T-shirts made. You can bet that almost every one of them will place special orders for products, specifically tailored for promotional events.

These developments may sound space-age, but a mere look at The Economist will tell you the same thing. Three-dimensional printers will change the world as everyone knows it; however, this is especially true for industrial designers.

Consequently, industrial design is expected to expand considerably as a field, adding increasingly more trained professionals to fill increased demand. At the same time, computing skills will become even more essential to the trade than they are today. In most cases, familiarity with professional software will take priority over any skill with pen and paper.

Drawing will still be a valuable skill. Most CAID software implements a stylus of some sort, the use of which requires standard drawing skills. Drawing effectively with CAID software does require computer skills, as well.

Good Communication Skills

The vast majority of industrial designers complete their work in teams. As such, the position requires the ability to communicate and interact well in a group setting. While the degree of coordination necessary on a day-to-day basis varies, the importance of communicating ideas does not.

The following scenarios illustrate some typical environments so that anyone interested in study at industrial design schools will be able to decide if one seems right for them. In terms of communication, the size of the business has the most significant impact so these environments will be traced from large corporations to small businesses.

For those individuals who generally shy away from personal contact, rest assured that industrial design can still be a great career. Introverts can find the field exhilarating due to the professional structure of communication. In fact, if you do not find chit chat and idle banter interesting, then you are more likely to shine in a context where you will be expected to communicate important information regarding your ideas concisely and intelligently.

  1. Scenario 1 – Large corporation: Design teams can involve numerous designers, engineers, and a project manager who oversees and guides progress. Automotive design is a prime example of this, where each team member is responsible for specific parts of an engine, transmission, body, etc. Coordination would take place on a frequent basis, with consistent team meetings to update progress and receive feedback at every stage of the process. Working in this kind of environment requires frequent communication and team spirit.
  2. Scenario 2 – Mid-size business: There is a large amount of flexibility in this area, though designers are typically responsible for a sizable portion of the total product. Less daily coordination is necessary, though designers will often report to a project manager in team meetings. Communication from the designer to other team members can be largely visual, conducted via drawing or computer images.
  3. Scenario 3 – Small business: This is likely the area that will see the most pronounced growth in the next decade, as production technology, such as the three-dimensional printer, becomes cheap enough for small companies to purchase and implement. Designers in these situations may report directly to an executive and be required to communicate ideas visually and verbally in response to project cues.

Excellent Sense of Design

Before taking a step as large as applying to industrial design schools, many prospective students wonder if they have what it takes to be a great designer. They sit at home by themselves, looking at the sleek new products on the market today and wonder if they would have been able to come up with solutions as brilliant.

Clearly, an excellent sense of design is necessary to succeed in the industry, but how do you know you have one?

Before you receive an advanced degree, it will be difficult to say with any amount of precision how talented you are. Your sense of design will most likely be terrible – unrefined, unguided and undisciplined. So, you cannot expect to look at professional designers’ work and intuitively know whether or not you would have come up with it.

However, if you are perusing the Internet in search of nifty new products, business plans, and ideas that are cutting-edge, then it is highly likely that you could become a designer. All you can do is take the next step.

As industrial designers, we like to take things apart with our brains. We want to know how things function, how they work, and even how they are so provocative. Before you have an advanced education, these mental habits will be in place, like gears, but they will be untested. No one will have an efficient process for understanding and producing new ideas without training. Attempting design projects may be exciting, but it will also be extremely painful and it may feel like your head is full of molasses whenever you start.

Strangely enough, these are signs of an excellent, though untrained, design sense. If design is exhilarating but painful and perhaps even annoying, then you probably have a talent for the field. Beyond that, knowing how much talent and whether you will be on the cover of Time magazine is, sorry to say, impossible. Only time and a lot of hard work will tell. Until then, if you are nervous about future success, then pour that energy into renewed effort, learning design skills on your own time, reading blogs, and contacting industry professionals. Investigate the different courses you will find in industrial design school and focus on developing your skills at a beginner’s level.

Solid Technical Abilities

Designers toe the line of creative and empirical genius. They need an intuitive sense of design, which includes a capacity for understanding and anticipating fashion. This graphic artist half will not need a fundamental understanding of how things work beneath the surface. Industrial designers require the use of another, equally important, component. They are product engineers, who need to be able to think logically, solve advanced problems, and analyze existing systems.

Industrial design schools teach the technical skills necessary for success in the field, and succeeding will require a certain aptitude for mathematics, physics, and conceptual thinking. Working with computers intimately will also be necessary. They will expect a base level understanding in these fields and will test that understanding through application.

Industrial designers do not simply create, they often need to understand the systems or products they are working to improve or refine – anything from an engine to a business model. The field often requires rigorous analysis followed by creative design. If you cannot see clearly how a system works, then how can you hope to improve it?

If technical expertise is not your forte, that does not mean you cannot be a great industrial designer. It should be noted, however, that most jobs involve a rigorous technical component. Transportation design, for one, requires understanding of engines to the end of producing buses, trucks, airplanes, or alternate vehicles. Model builders work from stylists’ and designers’ instructions to construct prototypes or models. Automobile interior designers fashion components that are to be used in the interior of vehicles, using metal, fabric, plastic, and wood.

All of these professions are examples of options currently available to industrial design school graduates and require a technical aptitude. If you do not love technicality, then you may want to consider a career that would more strongly leverage your creative genius, such as graphic design, illustration, photography, or interior design.

Choosing a career is about exercising choice, so choose what you love. If you have a passion for technical elegance, for form and function, then as you learn the ropes and skills of industrial design, you will come closer and closer to a professional life that matches your natural aptitudes and intuitive thinking process.

Good Problem-Solving Skills

At its core, industrial design is the practice of solving problems. Can we make the Supra’s rear spoiler with fewer materials? How can we make French press coffee easier to produce? Most projects will begin with a problem, and those that do not, start with the search for one.

In fact, designers so deeply develop their problem-solving skills that this practice has become an art. If you can solve the same problem, accruing even a cent less in cost, then your design has a distinct one-up on the competition. And no wonder, when that slight decrease has the potential to save a large corporation millions in operating costs.

This emphasis on problem solving can scare away more potential students of industrial design schools than it should. When looked at from this perspective, those who value creativity may consider this field as something entirely uncreative. This point of view could not be any less true. Every MFA program across the country will seem to take some of the fun out of the creative process but this does not mean they intend to suck the inspiration from their students’ bones. Rather, the point is to give students distinct skill sets they can employ to use their creativity consistently and effectively.

Even painters systematize the production of art. They break down the activity into an exponential array of problems. How can I recreate her face on this canvas? How should I manipulate the light and shadow to make her seem fearful? Each problem is then divided into smaller and smaller problems, until a solution presents itself. If you were to go to school for painting, then you would be expected to have good problem-solving skills, as well.

In other words, do not let problem-solving skills dissuade you from enjoying a career in industrial design. While plenty of young artists may associate solving problems with organization – and, therefore, DEATH – this association is misguided. Creative geniuses, no matter the medium or activity, engage both sides of the brain to accomplish tasks. There are problems in every medium that require methodical, scientific solutions that will not engage creative problem solving. Other aspects of the same activity will not be as easy or replicable, requiring deep introspection and intense focus. No matter how you want to use your creativity, your occupation will require consistent exercise of your organizational skills, as well.

Good Business Sense

In the design world, which is guided and funded by consumer response, it is important to cultivate sound business sense. While there are a number of more technical jobs that do not require this judgment, one’s professional prospects will be significantly improved by the ability to distinguish the moneymakers from the flops.

Product managers, in particular, have learned, revised, and honed this intuitive skill through years of exposure to the world of business. They have seen product after product succeed and fail; they have searched beyond their immediate vicinity for new, innovative products that have performed well in the marketplace, and they have asked themselves, “Why was that product successful?” By locating macro- and microtrends, reducing products to a series of concepts, and by consistently looking for ways to apply breakthroughs to their own target markets, product managers augment this critical facet of their professional skill set.

In a way, it is part of the product manager’s job to teach business sense to the team. At first, this comes in the form of general considerations. For instance, guidelines will be constructed to direct the design team toward a successful product. Often, the brand must be considered, as well as the target market, trends, production materials, budget, and a host of other limiting factors. All of these constraints add to the efficiency of the team, as they concentrate the flow of ideas and provide focus for ideation.

The more quickly a team member can pick up on this high-order thinking and integrate it into the creative process, the more successful that team member will be, not only regarding internal promotions but also in terms of external transfers. Within the company, valuable work will be recognized and often rewarded. Once outside the company, successful products can be recorded on one’s resume, adding to the salary and stability of an industrial design professional’s career.

Inside industrial design schools, students will focus on technical and basic conceptual skills for the trade. In addition, if you want to get an edge up on the competition, keep your business ear to the ground, paying attention to innovations in the field and taking note of what succeeds and what fails. It takes years to cultivate a strong business sense; starting as early as professional school will not only add focus to your projects in school, it will likely convert to fiscal benefits afterward.

Ability to Collaborate

Communication and collaboration are two of the most consistent sources of innovation and invention in history. Even Thomas Edison, who most picture as acting in isolation, directly competed with Nikola Tesla and was inspired by many of the European scientist’s discoveries regarding electricity. The Renaissance is another prime example. This period was defined by the open communication of ideas between artists, philosophers, and religious scholars alike.

Seeing that industrial design is a field always in search of the next revolutionary idea that will change the way people live their lives, it is also a field laden with lines of communication. Seldom does a designer work in isolation, and if this is the case, then he/she will be significantly reduced in value. Without making conceptual contributions and without being able to listen to foreign ideas, our viewpoints become rigid and limited in ways that we cannot possibly see. Even one conversation with another experienced professional, however, can demonstrate any faulty assumptions we are making and identify limitations we are placing on the design process.

Collaboration, however, is easier written about than accomplished. Some students find it extremely difficult to share ideas. They tend to place considerable import on their thoughts, guarding them like a dragon on a horde of gold. They tend to be afraid of discussing their ideas, as if others might dismiss them and cast judgment.

Industrial design schools often require their students to work in groups to prepare them for a career of working alongside experienced individuals who will be actively looking for fresh ideas. You will be expected to listen, share, contribute, and collaborate with an intimate circle.

Even in design school, a number of group projects will be given to prepare students to deeply engage in team efforts. Rather than fighting oneself on the issue, as some students do, doesn’t it make more sense to give in?

If you are like the dragon on its horde, then perhaps it is time to turn around and look at your currency in a different way. There is an enormous difference between gold and ideas; namely, gold can be spent but ideas cannot. They are a self-perpetuating currency; if you send ideas out and receive nothing, then you have not lost anything. So why are you hoarding?

Able to Visualize a Project

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Industrial design has turned that cliche into a verifiable fact. Professionals involved in design have a penchant for thinking, organizing, and communicating in spatial terms. They would rather express a new idea by drawing a map than discussing it. They find spatial relationships more interesting than verbal or logical data, and if you were to ask designers to prove an algebraic theorem, they would probably attempt to do so geometrically.

If you decide to attend one of the many excellent industrial design schools, then you will find yourself communicating, quite literally, through sketches and drafting programs. Group projects will quickly evolve from basic discussions and brainstorming into visual solutions, drawn out by the various contributors. In this way, innovation moves quickly and effectively from concept to reality.

An individual who relies on spatial reasoning expresses one of his mental inclinations: “I was able to tell at an early age that I preferred spatial reasoning over other forms of thought and problem solving, because I found that I could easily remember the layout of every restaurant I had eaten in, but I could only remember the name if I had been there more than once. As soon as someone would mention the experience or the food, I would recall exactly where everyone had sat.”

If you would like to test your ability to visualize now, try the following exercise on for size. Think of a room you have been in that you will be able to visit again in the near future. The easiest way to do this would be to look at your schedule for the next couple of days and pick a location from that short list.

The room should be something fairly familiar, either a place you have visited recently or have seen a few times in the past. Now, try to remember all the furniture and major artifacts in the room with as much accuracy and precision as possible. Try to be as specific, tracing down paper weights, computer keyboards, cups or anything else you can recall. Focus on creating the most realistic image in your mind as possible. Then imagine walking through it and looking around at what you have created.

In addition, there are a number of stimulating spatial reasoning tests to be found for free, online. These can give you a fair estimate of your general aptitude and can be great warm-ups for industrial design projects.