Industrial Design & UI/UX Design

Hi everyone!

I’ve asked this on other forums already but I’m always looking for opinions so any advice, insights, or experiences are greatly appreciated thank you!

So a bit of background…I’m a recent graduate in Industrial Design with pretty much no experience in UI/UX design (took one class and have maybe one and a half projects in my portfolio). I do have about 2 years of cumulative experience in Industrial Design in a workplace setting (with some mass market product out). I was recently offered a job in UI/UX design and the job looks promising (decent work, pay, convenience, etc), but part of me is afraid of being pigeon holed this early in my career. I don’t have much experience with the field so I’m not sure yet if it’s what I want to do, but I do have an interest.

On the one hand, without any experience at all, I think this is a good chance to learn of the field and then decide if it’s something I want to pursue further. I know UI/UX is a hot and in demand area so I’m interested in learning about it further. On the other hand, I’m afraid that since UI/UX design is pretty much mostly digital that it’ll reflect poorly on me later on if I decide to transition back into ID (since I’ll be rusty on professional skills relating to things like manufacturing and prototyping and whatnot). I don’t mind the mostly digital nature of the work but I feel I won’t get a proper handle of whether I like or dislike it without doing it?

I guess my questions would be as follow (and feel free to interject opinions not related to these questions):

  • How easy is it to transition between these disciplines? Is ID to UI/UX easier than the reverse (knowing that i have formal training and some work experience in ID, but almost none in UI/UX).

  • Is there anything I should be aware about by making this transition? If I go down the UI/UX rabbit hole, will I never come out? Let’s say I decide to switch back within a year or two…will that be possible at all assuming the ID side of my portfolio will at best grow with personal or side projects as opposed to professional ones?

  • Any experience from people who have done (or know people who have) this change (in either direction) is welcome! I’d be interested I guess in how at an early stage in my career, maybe going this route is bad (but I don’t yet have other options and I’m afraid to pass up on an opportunity).

Thank you everyone in advance for your replies!

2 years of UX would not pigeon hole you any more than 2 years of ID would. In general UI/UX is typically on a LCD screen, but there are many physical products which have UX that does not use a screen. Think Amazon Echo, Jambox, or any of the many IoT devices that are coming out today. Some may have a digital component that go along with that experience as well, and a broader design thinking background is very relevant here (even though that’s a much smaller subset of the job market).

I spent 8 years doing ID before transitioning to UX. So from that perspective I felt about as well versed in hardware as I probably ever would have. Transitioning to UX has allowed me a lot more opportunities to apply the design mindset, and has also made me far less “sensitive” about how my work is perceived. A hardware product has an “End” - you ship it, someone says they don’t like it, and you feel bad or defensive about why you made decisions, and maybe in a few years the new product will correct that problem. With UX I can prototype something and iterate so quickly that “I don’t like that” becomes valuable and welcome and you’re excited to see how else you can change or correct the problem.

As far as “how easy is it to transition” - the fact that you got a job offer with “pretty much no experience” means it may not be as hard as you think. However that doesn’t mean the job will be easy. UI/UX comes in a lot of different role types and covers a LOT of ground. Will you be focused on web, desktop, mobile or embedded? Will you be focused more on high level UX and strategy or low level UI and visual design. All of those things make for a lot of different opportunities and challenges.

Now switching back later on could be a challenge, since your only experience will be what you’ve done in your first 2 years and college, and I can say from a professional perspective, your first few years of work are probably the most valuable to your learning and understanding of process. So you would have to accept that moving back to ID would probably only qualify you for a Jr or entry level role. If you do some side projects to keep your hardware portfolio up to date on the side that can help, but you usually won’t have the manufacturing involvement on a conceptual project as you would on a real job.

From an opportunity perspective, there are a lot more UI/UX jobs than ID jobs. Not every company makes hardware, but virtually every company has some type of digital presence whether it’s a website, mobile app, or even their own internal tools. You’d be surprised how many large companies hire UX designers just to design their own HR systems.

Before you accept the job, I would look at what the company does and see if that particular space interests you. If they just want you to update their website it may not be nearly as interesting as a company that wants you to do hardware UX or build products that converge both the physical and digital spaces.

You can also look for UI/UX opportunities at your current employer to see if you can branch out your skillset without leaving the current job. But if the new opportunity is better then go for it.

I’ve been looking for a position where I can get experience in UX without leaving ID behind. It’s tough because I love ID but that’s not where the future seems to be headed. Of course industrial designers will be needed in the foreseeable future for all the devices that make the technology function, but far fewer of them. Does anyone have experience getting their foot in the door as an industrial designer, then taking on a greater UX within their company? I’ve considered grad school for UX, but I don’t know if my heart can leave traditional ID behind.

The barrier to entry in “UX” in general is much lower than ID. The fact that most things live as pixels on screens (not everything, but most) means you can use the same tools you are familiar with (Photoshop, Illustrator) to mockup designs. There are tons of articles written on UX process (wireframing, information architecture, usability testing) that are very analogous to sketching, HF testing, etc.

If your company builds products chances are there are elements of UX easily available for you to work on. That could be anything from your company website, software that comes with a product, LED behaviors or simple displays on the product itself, instruction manuals, etc.

Once you understand design thinking and the approach to solving a problem transitioning from 3D to 2D is much easier than it would be for someone who is an expert in 2D wire framing to transition to be a CAD surfacing pro. A lot of UX isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about assigning meaningful hierarchy to information and using patterns which are common and easily understood. Anyone who uses a smartphone has a good idea about what good UI and bad UI looks like these days.

I’d agree with what Cyberdemon said above. I work full time as an industrial designer, but I’ve been jumping in to more UX/UI opportunities as they pop up. It was easier than I expected to get involved - I just asked around a bit to see where I could pitch in. It turned out that a PM wanted some help with an app that we offer with one of our products. I redesigned a couple layouts, and the company saved a little money by keeping the job in-house. Win-win! A week later, I had another UI project on my desk.

Ask around and talk to colleagues a bit. Maybe you can help an overworked designer on a different team do some wireframing, or maybe show a manager what an improved UI would look like with a simple rework. Once they know you have the skill and desire, they’ll know who to approach when the time comes.