Explaining what you do for a living-Industrial designer

How do you explain to people what you do in a succinct quick few words? I usually have to explain at length what exactly ID is. I realize this is quite banal but was curious how others explained themselves

Thanks and hope everyone had a safe and fun holiday!

You can probably find more answers if you do a search. I’m sure this has been discussed before. But …

I develop new products.

Are you an engineer?

No. I am an industrial designer. An engineer primarly works on the machine to machine interface, how the mechanics work. An IDer primarly works on the human to machine interface, how a person uses the product. Remember the flashing clock on the VCR that always read 12:00? That’s bad industrial design.

OK. The VCR thing dates me as an old man. But I like to point out and example of bad design because it leaves more of an impression than good design. Good design is usually not noticed, as it should be.

All the explanations only reach to a certain point, if you are talking to somebody who has no clue at all how new products come to life… So I always grab the next object of some complexity like a coffee machine and explain what engineering does and what design does. U still bump into people, who assume that design is something expensive which is only “used” for few fashionable items.


Both great responses. I did my best to quickly search and didnt see much.

I dug up this old discussion. Pretty fun to see the level of discourse back in 2004!

Lately I say I’m a product designer. When people then ask what a product designer is, I say “do you know what an architect is? It is like that but for products”. Seems to work to varying degrees most of the time.

Michael, I like the bit about the architect comparison. Might borrow that :slight_smile:

I tell my 2 year old that daddy goes to work and draws. Works for my mom too.

That is great. I miss UFO. Just kidding. I do miss SteveP, he had good opinions and wrote well.

That is some pretty funny reading. I miss Steve P as well, and CG! Though CG and I hang out from time to time now that we both live in SoCal. Would be great to get some of those guys back in here!

The forums back then were pretty hilarious. Not as helpful or constructive, but funny.

I usually just read comments and absorb… but found I had to comment on this topic:

It is still very perplexing to most people and drives me bonkers when people ask me to decorate their homes or give them decorating tips!? I am still surprised that most Americans know what a graphic designer or interior designer or architect does, but when it comes to ID or how products come to life, they are either clueless or assume that engineers are product designers or that ID is interior design.

Lately, I just say product designer… the one who drive the aesthetics, color, form and ergonomics behind a product. I then throw in that I am not an engineer but that we work closely with them to figure out the mechanics of the product. That usually works for me.

I just about always defer to ICSID’s old definition:

“Industrial design is a creative activity whose aim is to determine the formal qualities of objects produced in industry. These formal qualities are not only the external features but are principally those structural and functional relationships which convert a system to a coherent unity both from the point of view of the producer and the user. Industrial design extends to embrace all the aspects of human environment which are conditioned by industrial production.”

and emphasize the aesthetic, structural and functional relationships to convert a system to a coherent unity.

It is, to me, a real travesty that ICSID has over the years diluted their previously eloquent and accurate words into a multiple paragraph long read to make sure to include every possible subgenre, inclusionary, diverse and sustainable design jargon. ICSID’s definition now is both unreadable and understandable only to PhD semioticians.

Hey Yo, this may require a new thread, but I think this kind of thing is worth discussing! Observing for some time now and participating off an on, the ‘new’ style of forums can border unfriendly. Not that it’s anyone’s fault in particular, but the effort to be more helpful and constructive and less funny has lead to a general coldness toward clueless or more lighthearted posts.

Sometimes unnecessary is just what I need. And what I mean by that is this: valuable connections are often made in the silliest ways. The classroom or workplace are painfully monotonous without the occasional unexpected, inappropriate, or pointless happening. It is my opinion that cutting content to only contain the constructive/helpful/serious leaves out some of the most important parts, and the parts that could foster a brighter, broader conversation.

I have become more and more involved in the consumer up front and business strategy part of ID. Try explaining that to a nondesigner.


Recently, when I’m asked about my profession, I’ve been responding with “Product Designer”.

Usually the person will just respond by slowly nodding and saying the word “ergonomics…” in the form of a statement/question hybrid, as it trails off into an awkward silence.

Occasionally someone comes along who is familiar with the profession, and upon my answer, they’ll ask something like “So sort of like Industrial Design?”. Always cracks me up.


That’s easy.

Industrial designer - I make new products.

Industrial design strategy - I decide which new products to make. And why we make them.

It’s the difference between the trained monkey and who pulls the monkey’s strings.

Haha. I like the monkey comment.

I find that most people associate strategy with marketing. I explained that we go deeper.


I meet a lot of non-designers since I’m relatively new to the city. I use to tell people the ‘what Architects do for buildings I do for products definition’ too but for the past couple of years I’ve been telling people ‘I make products more attractive to use and look at- sort of like what they did with Apple products’ and right away people catch on. It’s not the most eloquent or comprehensive definition but it gets the conversation going. In addition I would say ‘I help companies benefit from making their products more attractive to boost sales without much added costs (what Hyundai is doing with their cars)’ and they seem to get that too.

Just watched a recent CBS segment, How to design breakthrough inventions, featuring David Kelley and IDEO. There was an amusing anecdote that when he would answer the “what do you do” question at parties with designer… he’d be asked to look at the host’s drapes.

Likely a subject for another/existing thread (but relevant to public awareness of the profession) would be how do people first hear about ID? How did you? I first heard the term well after college and certainly had no inkling in high-school that it might be a possible career option or alternate course of study. It may be wishful thinking but it does seem like there are more accessible avenues for exposure to the field now than even a few years ago.

I make a point of figuring out myself when i explain my role to people. Usually we tell them what we are trying to tell ourselves the goals that we want to commit in our career. Usually the person listening to you doesn’t care in the end. They always forget after the conversation. So instead of convincing them what i do, i am trying to explain it out loud to myself.

Yet for every job i had, i end up explaining it differently. I worked as a design researcher, industrial designer, business strategist, and now a user experience designer. I felt explaining the ID role is much simpler than explaining the UX role, and yet its because i understood my belief as an ID designer and i am only starting to realize the opportunities of what makes a UX designer.