At a Glance
Imagine you are sitting at your workbench, carefully changing the diaper of a lifelike baby doll. You are an industrial designer and this doll is wearing one of the prototype diapers you have developed. You work for a large manufacturer of baby goods that has a reputation for producing environmentally friendly products. As part of its research and development department, you have been working on its biggest project to date: a functional biodegradable diaper. Given the millions of disposable diapers that end up in Canadian landfills each year, a quality, economical and biodegradable diaper would be a coup for this company.
As an industrial designer, you know that taking consumer products from concept through design, manufacturing, and sale takes years. You have already been working on the biodegradable diaper for more than a year, ten months of that spent in research alone. You began the project by researching everything you could on diapers, including the most common materials used to manufacture them, factors that influence consumer choices, and trends and innovations in traditional diaper designs. You also looked for information on existing biodegradable diapers. Are there companies that design or manufacture them? If so, why aren't they competitive in the diaper market?
Once you had that information, you began the ergonomic research that would decide the size, shape, weight, and kinds of materials that would be used in the diaper. From your research, you sketched a design and built a prototype that was evaluated and tested by the entire research department. Part of that evaluation was establishing a total cost for the diapers, factoring in the cost of materials, manufacturing, transportation, and retail mark-up. These biodegradable diapers must be priced competitively in comparison to regular diapers if you want consumers to buy them, so controlling cost is essential. You will incorporate your colleagues' feedback into the design and build another prototype for testing. After months of retooling and perfecting the design, the diaper will eventually be approved for production and appear on store shelves shortly thereafter.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an industrial designer:
- Research markets and talk to clients to determine their needs and how new products will be used.
- Redesign existing products to create a more aesthetic solution, lower production and maintenance costs, improve efficiency ratings, or make products easier to use.
- Refine designs for their appropriate manufacturing considerations.
- Research product usage, design trends, materials, and production methods.
- Create concept sketches by hand and using drafting software.
- Build models and three-dimensional prototypes of new products.
- Evaluate design ideas for practicality, cost, and market characteristics.
- Make presentations and consult on designs with clients, design committees, or product development teams.
- Prepare complete specifications, including production-ready part files and drawings and a list of materials and estimated costs required for production.
Industrial designers work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:
In the office:
- Brainstorming new concepts and hand sketching and rendering on a drafting table
- Using software to create new designs
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, suppliers, and experts in the field
- Researching new technology and advancements in industrial design
In the field:
- Giving presentations to clients and attending trade shows and conferences
- Field-testing new designs
- Speaking to the public at product showings and product unveilings
- Discussing with manufacturers new processes for manufacturing and assembling products
- Watching how users interact with products to find ways for improving product designs
In the lab:
- Using light machinery and power tools to create models of designs for validation and testing
Where to Work
There are a number of places industrial designers can find employment. They include:
- Industrial design firms
- Architectural firms
- Engineering consulting firms
- Manufacturing companies
- Self-employed consultant
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as an industrial designer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
- Industrial Arts
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an industrial designer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an industrial designer, the following programs are most applicable:
- Industrial Design
- Environmental Design
- Mechanical Engineering
Although in most cases, it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as an industrial designer, some provinces have professional associations for industrial designers that offer professional certification. The requirements for certification and professional status vary among provinces.
“I was always the kind of curious person who enjoyed taking things apart and trying to fix them”, recalls Tim Poupore. He may not have always been successful at fixing things, but it was the shape and design of the objects which caught his eye. It was that interest in design that led Tim to pursue a career in architecture. On his first try, the recent high school graduate was denied entrance into the Architecture program at Carleton University because he didn’t have any samples of his design work. Discouraged, he enrolled in another program: “Two weeks before school was supposed to start I received a brochure in the mail.
It was describing the new industrial design program within the faculty of architecture.” Tim quickly registered and began his studies in industrial design. “I had no trouble connecting and relating to the things I was designing in industrial design.” Four years later he had completed a Bachelor of Industrial Design from Carleton University in Ottawa. Today, Tim is the president of his own industrial design company, Ove Industrial Design Ltd., of Toronto. Tim and his team design primarily medical and business products and occasionally industrial products. Much of Tim’s time is spent in his office communicating and meeting with clients, reviewing budgets, timelines, and design concepts.
He enjoys the multitude of tasks he performs and enjoys what he calls an increasing sense of freedom in his design work. “It’s becoming increasingly common for designers to be able to take a concept right through to production-ready completion.” Tim’s involvement in a project typically starts at the very beginning. A business will approach Tim with a desire to create, for example, a new communication device. They allow Tim and his team to do the user research to learn what consumers need, want, and like about existing products. “Based on our user research we are able to design product ideas which would resonate better with consumers.”
Once the research is done, Tim goes back to the client and discusses the findings of his research. Then the traditional design process begins. Tim creates a series of drawings according to the established specifications he and the client have devised. Throughout the process, Tim works continuously with the client. “By interacting directly with the client, I am able to track and guide the development of the project more effectively.” Once the designs have been completed and approved, the product is then manufactured.
Despite the fact that design is all around us, Tim says the majority of people don’t recognize the influence industrial design has on the things we buy and use daily. “I think it’s an interesting phenomenon; many people never stop to realize how a product lands on their shelves”. Industrial design is still a relatively new field, what Tim calls a pioneering industry. “Like any new industry, industrial design is trying to build brand value in a difficult business climate. We are using tools that are different from established and refined industries. Nobody thinks twice about going to a lawyer when you need help with a contract. But going to see an industrial designer for help with a product is still a novel idea.”