What Is Industrial Design?

Objectified: Smart Design OXO Good Grips Story: An excerpt from the feature-length documentary by Gary Hustwit about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. To watch the entire film and for more information please visit hustwit.com/objectified/

So you’re wondering, “What is Industrial Design?” You’ve come to the right place. IDSA is the oldest (and only) professional society of industrial designers in the United States. Our mission is to promote the practice of industrial design through education, information, community and advocacy.

Whether you’re a parent, student, educator or counselor trying to find out more about ID education; someone considering a career in ID; an entrepreneur or a corporation trying to find out just how to jump start your business through industrial design; or another type of designer hoping to partner with designers—this is your one-stop for all things ID. 

Industrial Design is the professional practice of designing products used by millions of people around the world every day. Industrial designers not only focus on the appearance of a product, but also on how it functions, is manufactured and ultimately the value and experience it provides for users. Every product you have in your home and interact with is the result of a design process and thousands of decisions aimed at improving your life through design.

If architects design the house, then industrial designers design everything inside.

Emerging as a professional practice in the early 19th Century, industrial design has come a long way since its early inception and is thriving as a result of an expanded awareness of design in business, collaboration and critical problem solving. Pioneers like Charles and Ray Eames, Henry Dreyfuss and Dieter Rams paved the way for modern industrial designers such as Jony Ives, Yves Béhar, and Pattie Moore, FIDSA, to stand at the forefront of modern industrial design.

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” —Charles Eames

Today, there are over 38,000 working industrial designers in the United States (2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics) and the impact of the profession on modern society is immense. Industrial designers are responsible for designing everything from cars and toasters to smart phones and life-saving medical equipment. The breadth of work and social impact created at the hands of industrial designers across the world is truly amazing.

In professional practice, industrial designers are often part of multidisciplinary teams made up of strategists, engineers, user interface (UI) designers, user experience (UX) designers, project managers, branding experts, graphic designers, customers and manufacturers all working together towards a common goal. The collaboration of so many different perspectives allows the design team to understand a problem to the fullest extent, then craft a solution that skillfully responds to the unique needs of a user.

Industrial designers design products for users—mainly people–but sometimes pets—of all races, ages, demographic, social status or ethnicity. To do this, empathy is a core attribute of the design process. An empathetic designer is able to “walk in someone else’s shoes” through research and observation to glean insights that will inform the rest the design process and ultimately result in a design solution that solves a problem in a beneficial and meaningful way. 

In the ideation, or concept, phase of a project, designers will sketch, render, 3D model, create prototypes and test ideas to find the best possible solutions to a user’s needs. This phase of the design process is messy, fast paced and extremely exciting! By testing, breaking and rebuilding prototypes, designers can begin to understand how a product will work, look and be manufactured.

In the final stages of the design process, industrial designers will work with mechanical engineers, material scientists, manufacturers and branding strategists to bring their ideas to life through production, fulfillment and marketing. After months, and sometimes years, of development, a product will find its way to store shelves around the world where people can purchase it and bring it into their homes.

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