Foot In The Door

Foot in the door.

As a recent Industrial Design graduate I can speak for many how incredible Fucking hard it is to be taken seriously. You just finish University with a fancy piece of paper, You have people gesturing to the fact that work is hard to come by, but your year is the best group of graduates your professors have seen. You work for hours on your portfolio making it pixel perfect only to be turned away before you can get your foot in the door, for a job you’re willing to do for free no less.

The bare bones of Industrial Design comes down to manufacturing.

The standard ID course is so jammed packed with sketching, CAD, model making, theory, history etc, that certain topics if not all are just touched on, something for you future employee to fill you in on. The never ending rabbit hole that is manufacturing is taught in footnotes, design is so grounded in the crushing reality that at the end of the day somebody has to make your mug, car, lamp or chair. If someone isn’t putting thing together there is a machine for that, which is programmed and maintain by a human.

I got my foot in the door not at a design firm but at a factory.

I worked with metal workers and all around crazy people.

If it wasn’t one thing it was another. It was the eye opening experience that University could never provided. The factory I worked at was reasonably small with a large turn over of items per year the pressure was always on. The cash flow and the workshop were not great enough to allow for large product lines with robots, performing a elegant manufacturing ballet. Many of my weeks would be spent in front of a grinding wheel or the polishing machine for 10 hours a day making sure that every last scratch was taken care of and made prefect. If it was not metalworking I was standing over warm vats of acid trying not to breathing in the fumes. (this is not a 3 world country for the record, just the reality of many people’s day to day life).

In my short 11 month stay, the factory with its close knit team of people gave me more knowledge than I could have asked for. I gained an eye for detail that I didn’t know I had. Much more than any University class could have provided. The content threat of “being let go” was a far greater motivator than a pass or fail could have ever instilled in me. I even become a morning person having to wake up at 6:00 in the morning.

All in all my time in the factory was one of the worst experiences of my life.

Long hours for very little personal reward or thanks, cutting myself, the freezing temperature, the content being yelled at my a man I couldn’t stand the sight of, The acid burns, the sore knees. The mind numbing boredom from the repetitive work. Come together to make me hate with a passion the none ID student life. I missed having the freedom to come up with ideas that were outside the box instead of making a box, I missed working in my time given that was generally 14 hour day sat in front of a computer, but it was my time. I missed making things my way, the fun of making something has the life sucked out of it when all the problem solving was done well in advance. The student life is behind me now and I accept that, but i will miss it.

However, I can say that I was an experience that I wouldn’t trade (I would not like to do it again though)I have an insight into the world that I had only seen through countless episodes of ‘how it made’ and ‘how do they do it’ that most ID graduate could only speculate on.

Whenever I design a products I will always understand that there will be a person with boots on the ground cursing my name for having designed such a product. There’s nothing I can do to help that person but I will try my utmost to think of that the person when i’m sitting there in the design studio.

For any graduates reading this wondering if they should consider starting out by working in a factory my answer to that is, i don’t know.

Very interesting commentary…!

I think this is the same point your making, but you can help that person.
You can help them by understanding what you’re asking for when you’re designing and making sure that the value in the details is worth the cost/effort to manufacture.

It seems the overall lesson you learned is good, I can tell you that there are a lot of senior level designers out there that still haven’t learned this and it often shows in their work.

As you continue your career you’ll find even more value in this experience and maybe it might eventually move out of its current position as “the worst experience of your life” .

I had one basic class in college that covered materials and process but i threw myself in to the technical aspects of industrial design head first.
I read, visited factories and practiced practical skills in the shop and all of that gives me/you a huge advantage over those that don’t.

There could be a lot more of this taught in college courses but it’s also the kind of knowledge you can seek out and learn on your own.
This is probably why there is more emphasis on concept development and abstract thinking, those are things that you get to practice a lot less outside of the classroom. You can certainly use your abstract thinking and concept generation exercises in your design process and if you’re disciplined you can you can practice them outside of work but when it comes to real project timelines there are real constraints many of them defined by manufacturing. The more you can prepare for those constraints the more freedom you actually have.