How do you want to evolve Industrial Design profession to be relevant in the digital age.

Hello - I am doing some research on how the Industrial Design profession will evolve to be relevant in the digital age.
If given a chance to change the course of your career, how do you want to navigate ID in the coming years?

Thanks in advance for your insights!

I think if you want more meaningful responses to this thread you might want to explain the context for your question, give some examples, suggest why the ID profession is not going to be relevant, etc.

+1 Sean.

I think the question makes a core assumption that hasn’t been logically explained. I my view, humans will continue to live in the physical world, so at both a consumer product level, and systematic problem solving level, much of our work will remain physical. I don’t foresee an app that allows you to sit or get food from your plate to your mouth. Solutions to global issues like climate change, potable water shortages, healthcare, and human migration are by their very nature physical (though the solution may have digital components… assuming there are power and data capabilities at the site).

The tools however have become very digital, allowing a small group of designers and engineers to do what it used to take a large group over an extended period.

The future evolution of Industrial Design is skills…

The more skills you acquire the more you can creatively combine them to interact with others and create the future. Be it ideation, prototyping, language, leadership, relationship, financial, managerial, digital or physical manipulation. Your skill at opening inquiry into a problem space by using the skills you have or are currently developing, will see you into the future whether you are an Industrial Designer or a Youtube Creator or an Entrepreneur.

The EU will have you believe 5 things to know about the future of jobs | World Economic Forum that the future is full of data analysis and manipulation. If you choose to pursue what they think is the future of work, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the digital domain when you are young. Knowing and understanding the role that China has in the creation of physical stuff allow you place context to your ideas. Some of those ideas will leverage what China offers your idea (i.e. learn Chinese), and some of those ideas will distance you from China (i.e. learn about Communism).Paulson Is Concerned About Militarization of U.S. View of China - YouTube

You can begin to see how the western Baby Boom generation who is at the end of their careers are occupied with space travel and development. (Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Phillipe Stark, Donald Trump, Richard Branson et al.) Philippe Starck: ‘Design Is Going To Disappear’. Heed what these individuals are doing with design, but do not forget there are nearly 8 billion people in the world that you are potentially designing for.

For young designers making their way in the world I would recommend being aware of the balance that comes between the digital and the physical. You need to master each domain and not neglect one for the other. Push your skill sets in each domain at different points in your career to combine them and apply them in as many problem spaces that you can. Don’t limit yourself in the acquisition and application of your skills.

Lastly, Do not be a frog in a well. Know who you are and where you are from. Use Industrial Design to get out into the world and make your mark. You can always return from time to time…

Thank you all for the reply.
Yes, I think @designbreathing nailed it. Thats basically the context I was looking for.

My analogy is the one below:

I think the idea of attaining many skills is a great start, however as Michael said, the foreseeable future has many, many, physical products and experiences. I believe designers looking through the lens of only physical, and only digital risk being relevant, because we have all had a moment when a problem was solved poorly because it was viewed through only one lens.

The pilot and cameraman are still doing the same work but with a drone and an industrial designer is still designing the physical objects. I don’t see that much has changed – maybe you can find a better analogy.

That is what I was thinking, Dan :slight_smile:

sure, automation makes the drone easier to fly, but someone is still flying it. In addition to the person flying it (if we are talking professional grade image capture) there is someone separately pivoting, coming, and focusing the camera (a camera man)… at least in my experience with working with video agencies.

I find that analogy overly simplistic, and not exactly accurate. Its a good meme though, for those who like to substitute memes for critical thinking.

I would contest that ID has not meaningfully changed its core competence or promise since the profession was invented. There are simply more overlapping fields now. VR, 3D printing, smart CAD systems, and independent/crowdsourced/crowd-funded product development have augmented the speed and capacity of the industrial design worker, but they aren’t mandatory.

Skills as a designer are easily learned and portable because ID knowledge is a fundamental understanding of the process of creation. The artifacts get produced using knowledge and skills (ie injection molding requires knowledge of molding and 3D modeling. UX requires knowledge of software and prototyping) but the overall process of creation are effectively the same. Creating something which is great is what a good designer can do.

You can explain wall thickness requirements and Solidworks to an average person, and they won’t become a good designer.

Likewise, you can explain a new tool or medium to a good designer and they’ll immediately start to learn, grasp and explore it because that’s what we’re coded to do.

To stay relevant, all a designer needs to do is grasp something new from time to time. Theres a reason you see guys like Yo who have touched everything from footwear to consumer electronics to cars. Every single one of those requires knowledge of vastly different processes which wouldn’t have worked if he one day sat down and said “I’m not going to learn how fabric works”.

The same would go for the camera man if he said “Digital photography is a fad, I’m sticking to film” or the graphic designer who refused to give up guache.

The more arrows in your quiver, the deadlier you’ll be.

And right now I’m editing a product launch video for a client and doing some of the animations myself… As you said Mike, “keep learning new shit” is a more optimistic spin on this. I added the exploitative for effect :wink:

The older I get the more I realize there is no one path, there is no single way. The right answer is what works for you and your career, your goals, your fulfillment. I actually know a photographer who only uses Ansel Adams like cameras with giant 8x10 negatives… but he has built a career around that. It is what he is known for. Not everyone could pull that off. And even still he is always learning new.

Totally this. Bridges to something I meant to also put in the ‘2020 goals’ topic - the need to sit down and do the work and determine what you want to stand for, even at the risk of being polarizing to many others. Stephen Gates said something in the Design Observer podcast about him having “a brand that people hate” - intentionally provocative statement but it means having a clear point of view, approach, style, or field.
“Being relevant in the digital age” sounds like you have to chase new tools simply to continue to practice your profession. I mean if your goal is to be the most relevant-est ID’er on the interwebs then sure, that’s a path. But the designers I respect are either agnostic of toolsets, or exploit the bejesus out of one set and are on another level than the rest of us.

Hi Neilsondesign,
That is a good question, but I have the tendency to cringe at the term Digital Age, which is incredibly overhyped.
So let me be a little rambunctious here.

First of all ever since life has existed, it has been embodied. I reside within my body and am continuously proprioceptively and kinestetically aware of it. If I am not, I must be dreaming. There are these ideas of uploading myself into a universal disembodied consciousness - oh wait, let’s face it, it’s a dream. For what am ‘I’?

So there you have it, most part of the digital age to me is a dream. The internet clickholes, the instagram explosion, the ‘news’ sites, movies, comics etc…everything mediated. And 99% of it is crap so better avoid it altogether. Most of it rests on the axiom ‘what I do/write/think/view depends on and is shaped by the judgments of others about my behavior’ which Piaget calls the conventional stage of the mind. We can skip it altogether and move towards a more objective post-conventional mode of operation.

Then what digital information is for is to reflect the part of our body (somewhat) good at handling information, or at least that’s what it’s trying - the prefrontal cortex, in particular the RLPFC. It is there to help us plan, organize, automate. Which is only a small part of a human’s capabilities! Some cultures at least take the cognitively-biased people to prom, so at least they have to be within their moving body for once in their life. In central Africa, in many communities all people come to a dance at the end of the day, no matter what.

The digital transformation many businesses are undergoing adds new tools and higher levels of automation, ultimately giving people more choices and achieving their goals faster. But it does not change the profession of ID which in its core is about providing people meaningful, intuitive, pleasurable ways to fully connect, in an embodied way as we are, with the world around them.

Is the OP going to share any progress or findings of the research?


This sounds tangent to Transhuman or Posthuman views of the current and future of some sectors of design. You seem to be placing a higher emphasis on the physical rather than the digital here.

“Some cultures at least take the cognitively-biased people to prom, so at least they have to be within their moving body for once in their life.” What does this mean?


First, thank you all for the different insights, those are very helpful.
I am still in my early research phase… but I will share when I have this done.

I see that some of you equate being relevant with technology or software tools… for me, it is more of professional development. Are there still skills that I don’t have that will make me more relevant in the future.

And I agree, this can connect perfectly connect to another topic “2020 Goals”.

Thanks and happy new year!

so your last comment makes me wonder about your initial question. so let me reverse it on you - how isn’t industrial design evolving to be relevant in the digital age?

I mean that it’s most important we fully learn to inhabit our bodies. The body and brain are inextricably linked, one cannot do without the other. Taking that even further, there are views that the brain is most like another muscle. It is all intelligent. So I do not mean physical as in the opposite of digital, or as a concept pertaining in the mind itself (the molecular model, billiard balls bouncing off etc…), what I mean is embodiment.

Then design can also be an embodied activity, shared between humans and working for humans.
There’s plenty of methodology developed, starting with Paul Dourish, then Hiroshii Ishii being a pioneer on the design level, now it is adopted by many design schools. That’s where I would like to see design going.