Basic I.D. Training

I’ve been a mechanical designer for 25 years for an aerospace company that makes commercial aircraft oxygen systems and galley inserts (coffee Makers, Ovens and refrigerators). Our products in the past have been designed mostly for function and not appearance. Today the industry is different. With all the new aircraft designs being done there is a demand for products that still function well but now need to also look good. My question is this. Is there any type of short term training or seminars available that I can attend to learn the basics of industrial design?

are your talking about a styling job? Why not bring in a freelancer to give you some concept ideas?

Yes, it would be styling the front visible portion of a commercial aircraft’s coffee maker. It’s more of a job advancement opportunity for myself.

I’m also a (former) aero. The short answer is “No”.

The good news is that anyone can - and will - design. I know engineers who already sell themselves as being industrial designers. The work isn’t very good. In fact, it hurts the profession in the same way that IDers who claim to know engineering hurt that profession. But they do get work… at least in the short term. Competition is fierce and you’ll increasingly be competing with people like me who have dual-degrees and went back to school (5 years) for a second degree.

If you opt for the short term, you potentially hurt the very market you hope to serve by not delivering to client expectation. They’ll either not bother with ID in the future figuring they can have an internal CAD guy do the design (I’ve seen this) or they’ll go to someone with the kind of experience they want.

Let me guess… you in Florida?

I think that you should bring an industrial designer to your team… or at least a freelancer, that would make the “design team” more dynamic and the products will be so much better.

Very well said csven.

Keith, definitely hire a product designer - someone with a holistic view of design and very in tune with their surroundings.

Observation skills are something designers are very strong in. Designers are trained to never overlook any details.

In short, I don’t think there is any short term training.

Post-graduates would be an alternative option.


I have to agree with cven, but for different reasons. I am assuming you have over 5 years of experience as an engineer in your industry. I don’t think it is necessary for someone with that type of experience to do another 4-5 years in a university to do ID. ID ain’t rocket science, hell, I know a rocket scientist and I think he is a dumbass. You could do graduate work but programs tend to have a research focus and offer little in fundementals. I think that could easily taught by 2-year technical colleges, but it isn’t. The lack of demand is probably the reason (I don’t know for sure).

If you don’t want to commit time and $$$ to 2-3 years of graduate work, this could be an alternative (assuming your engineering career has made you a top-notch problem-solver):
When you come up with hundreds of ideas (from your excellent problem-solving skills) you need to communicate those ideas quickly. Drawing is best for this. You DO NOT need to be the next Syd Mead, you only need to clearly communicate your idea. CAD is too slow. Take drawing classes.
From your OP, you have seen the changes in the industry that have dictated a need for styling. You are half-way there. How would the stuff you are currently doing refect those changes with regards to form, color, materials, etc. A community college won’t have any ID courses but you can get a good base of color, proportion, composition and other aesthetic issues from graphics courses.

I don’t think you will be the greatest IDer with that training, but that with experience could have you not hurting the profession. Start small and build your ID experience.

Also bringing someone in you will also gain alot from them, why not also do some sketches of your own and talk them over with the freelancers …like a mini tutorial you would normaly get at uni. Always fun to bounce concepts around. I found I learned alot about graphic design when my old company bit the bullet and got a graphic person in to do graphics.

What I have the most difficulty conveying to people is how it took me four of those five years to finally realize that my engineering training (both in school and after) effectively put blinders on my problem-solving. The assumption that engineers are the best problem solvers is a mistake. They’re the best problem solvers assuming that conventional solutions are desired. The best IDers solve problems in unconventional ways.

My engineering degree is from Notre Dame - not a bad school. After graduation my skills got me awards/accolades/offers/respect. But when I got into art school, kids out of high school were solving problems in ways that never would have occured to me. They broke rules. They didn’t play fair. And they embarrassed the hell out of someone who believed that because he had an aerospace degree from a highly-respected university, he should be the Problem Solver Guy. Not quite.

There’s a reason there is so much friction between ID and engineering. A lot of it stems, I believe, from completely different ways of both perceiving problems and then deriving solutions for them.

Implying that ID doesn’t require intelligence (“ID ain’t rocket science”) is, in my opinion, a huge mistake and furthers a perception of the profession that belittles everyone. I’m not saying that my experience speaks for everyone, but it is the experience of someone who has done it (and eaten some humble pie).

The issue here isn’t whether you’d make a good designer, the issue is whether you can advance your career by learning the methods of design.

I think you can.

Unfortunately I’m not aware of any coursework other than a masters program. There are boot-camps for User Centered Design specific to software (Human Factors International and Cooper both offer “certification”) but there is no such training available for Industrial Design. I’m not sure why, I think there’s clearly a demand.

You will probably have more success following the “user centered design” track than the “styling” track. Styling is more talent than process and can’t really be taught.

But first ask yourself if you’d be comfortable and/or happy doing the things that designers do:

  1. Observing your users. Truly empathizing with them with means admitting that they’re not stupid, your designs are. This also means leaving your cubicle and into the world.
  2. Incessantly building low-fidelity prototypes out of cardboard etc. and iterating them with users–no software involved.
  3. Constructing design frameworks like style-boards, sequence-models and user-segmentations.
  4. Developing and conducting usability studies
  5. Sketching, working with design software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop

For more in-depth, read a book like “The Art of Innovation” or “Contextual Design.” You could also sign up for the IDSA national convention, which is coming up in September in Austin.

If those things sound good to you–or are things you’ve been doing already, then design might be your thing.

There are some pretty short classes you could take that would give you a good boost in that direction. I took a 3-week intensive from a place in Chicago, that also does training in other cities, and it got me started after languishing for years in graphic and web design…

Call them up, see what they can tell you. They might be able to point you to something closer to you (I know they have offices / affiliates in other cities) … I took the class to learn a particular program (Pro-E) but I got a lot of good general-level ID learnin’ at the same time, since I had an ID degree, I was able to click right into that mode and get a lot out of it. Now I’m freelancing for some places, and taking on some projects with my own smaller clients.