Industrial design focuses on balancing creative, freeform, and conceptual thinking within industrial limitations like mass production. Learn more about the field and what industrial designers do in this article.
Form and functionality are critical factors to consider when designing any product. Fortunately, industrial designers have helped streamline the design process, making incorporating various features into a product easier than ever before. Industrial design seamlessly blends art, engineering, and usability to form a desirable product. In essence, industrial design focuses on balancing creative, freeform, and conceptual thinking within industrial limitations like mass production, material sourcing, and evolving technology.
What Are Industrial Designers?
Industrial designers are professionals who modify existing product designs or develop new and exciting designs from scratch. The purpose of industrial design is often to improve or change functionality, which is evident in several industries. For example, the automotive industry began with low-speed carriages with thin wheels and gutless motors. However, companies like Tesla design and implement light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology that helps users avoid accidents and touch screen dashboards.
Industrial Design vs. Engineering — What’s the Difference?
Industrial designers spend most of their time in and around the office collaborating on new product design plans and prototypes. As such, industrial design mainly focuses on product design. In contrast, engineers tend to focus on the mechanical aspects, ensuring functionality and manufacturability.
Notable Industrial Designers
In a consumer-driven world, most people have, at some point, used a product created by an industrial designer. Take, for instance, Coca-Cola’s iconic contoured glass bottle. The original idea behind the bottle design was to be distinctly unique from any other glass bottle on the market. In 1915, Earl R. Dean enlisted to create the bottle that’s still in production today.
The design process began with inspiration. As a reference, Dean’s boss instructed him to create a design inspired by Coca-Cola’s base ingredients, eventually leading them to decide on an image of a cocoa pod. This inspiration eventually led to the ribbed bottle shape that still sits on shelves more than 100 years later.
Dean wasn’t the only designer cemented in history. In the 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames unveiled their take on the perfect lounge chair. The Eames chair and ottoman were crafted of plywood and leather and designed specifically to the contours of the human body for optimal ergonomics. Some people consider the Eames chair to be the pinnacle of comfort. As industrial designers, Charles and Ray Eames identified a gap in usability and functionality of other high-end chairs on the market. They were able to pair a stylish look with exceptional usability. The Eames chair has naturally become a mid-century icon since the 1950s and has made appearances throughout pop culture — take, for example, the 1990s American sitcom Frasier.
How To Learn Industrial Design
Industrial design, like any other profession, requires time, dedication, and a degree. There are several top-tier design programs worldwide and dozens of reputable schools to choose from in the United States alone, like Rhode Island School of Design, Pratt Institute, ArtCenter College of Design, Rochester Institute of Technology, etc. Successful students with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree could very well find themselves in consumer electronics, furniture design, graphic design, or housewares, to name a few.
Industrial Design Software
Learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom — it also takes place digitally online. Industrial design software, such as Autodesk Fusion 360, helps users create, analyze, visualize, and communicate design intent and aesthetics before building a physical prototype. The days of drafting tables and chalkboards are becoming a thing of the past. Industrial design software typically includes 3D modeling capabilities such as:
- Polygonal modeling — used for concept modeling and quick ideation.
- Surface modeling — used to create and adjust freeform 3D surfaces with high precision.
- Solid modeling — used to create 3D models, assemblies, and drawings.
- Parametric modeling — used to change software parameters to alter design shape.
If you’re looking for industrial design software, download a free Fusion 360 trial today.