A Young Designer's Journey: Graduating with a Major in Industrial Design

"This wonderfully creative major encompasses so many different outlets and allows you to explore just about any field you could think of. "

Dec 13 2020 - 10:47am


In 2019, Nina Hadden graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Technology with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Design. Below she shares her journey through school and after graduation.

Though there are what could be considered ‘traditional' Industrial Design jobs, I have learned that there are actually many careers that an Industrial Design major can go into.

Throughout high school, my FRC team spent countless hours organizing, designing, and building robots to compete at FIRST Robotics Competitions. As an officer on my team, I was able to gain experience in the project management and business side, as well as electrical and mechanical prototyping and design. These invaluable four years of problem-solving with an interdisciplinary team of students and mentors, along with some AP art classes, led me to go to school for Industrial Design. This wonderfully creative major encompasses so many different outlets and allows you to explore just about any field you could think of. Though there are what could be considered ‘traditional' Industrial Design jobs, I have learned that there are actually many careers that an Industrial Design major can go into.

When choosing a school for Industrial Design, two main factors that I considered were what the professors would be like and how the program was taught. Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Industrial Design Program gave me so many opportunities and freedom to work on a variety of design projects. We worked with many different mediums and designed for a variety of demographics. A few of my projects were even for dogs!

Every project was a new experience and taught a different lesson. As we know, experience matters. Even if the project isn’t the kind you dream of doing after you’ve finished school, you still gain experience from it, and that has value. With this in mind, I tried to make sure every project I did was very different from the previous ones. The design courses made that pretty easy to do since the briefs, though they were often very open, did have major themes or a specific demographic in mind. I was able to design toys, safety equipment, and even consumer goods during my studies.

For my capstone project, I designed and built a prototype titled The Whiff Board. This is a scent identification game for dogs. It implements the skills of searching for and identifying specific scents and target training. There are military and police working dogs that are trained to locate scents ranging from drugs to IEDs and dogs that detect illnesses in humans. Some people also train their civilian dogs to identify scents. The game consists of a large cylinder with six scent cups and corresponding arcade style buttons on the surface and game controls housed on the inside. The handler puts scents into the cups and uses the interface to select which cup will be the correct answer. They then instruct their dog to search for the specific scent. The dog presses the button with his/her nose or paw and a treat is dispensed from the game if that is the correct scent. This project’s focus was on K9s, which has been one of my main interests for a long time. For part of the project I trained with a dog at our local SPCA. It was exciting and rewarding to be able to incorporate knowledge that I have about dogs and combine it with my new knowledge of Industrial Design to create a working product.

After I graduated in 2019, I started working as a prototype fabricator on an assembly line of sorts. It was for a company that people would pitch ideas to and then pay for their idea to be designed and prototyped. It was amusing to see the different things that people came up with, and I did enjoy the hands-on making aspect of it, but I eventually moved on to the job where I am currently working. Back in Williamsport, PA, near Pennsylvania College of Technology, I design custom trailers for an enclosed trailer manufacturer. Our clients include the U.S. military and government, and companies across the country and around the world. Recently I have worked with clients in Germany and the UK.

One of my favorite parts of this work is that every project has been different and provided new challenges. Some of the trailers that I’ve designed include decontamination stations, specialized equipment displays, dog kennels, vending services, command stations, and a pizza oven trailer. Every trailer design starts with a base and body frame model and drawing. I work in Autodesk Inventor for most of my day and go out in the workshop to work with the welders and fabricators to determine measurements and project specific elements. Even though I had zero prior experiences with trailer design, I was able to learn through studying archived drawings and from working with the owners and my coworkers. My experiences so far have taught me that no matter what fields I work in, I will be able to continue learning and adding skills to my toolbox.