Inventor vs. Designer

I am not a crazy inventor-type person, but I love designing and the process and everything about it. I could design furniture or whatever you threw at me to do all day for free. I feel it is my element.

This glaring friggin I’m-not-an-inventive-type-person prevents me from having more confidence in pursuing ID.

Is it totally a pre-req to have this trait?

I did a non-credit “Intro to ID” course and had good results, but will I be less successful in this career beacuse I lack the trait strongly? It just kills my fragile little ego to bits thinking about it.

Stories, insight, words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you



if this is not the right category, feel free to move it!

Funnily enough, this came up at a design event I attended the other night.

I think from what I heard and my own experiences I would say that designers and inventors are different things completely. An example of this is the humble vegetable peeler. Someone “invented” the peeler because they saw a need. People were probably peeling potatoes (maybe even the inventor) with small knives and it took a lot of time, so someone invented the peeler to do the job quicker.

Then there is the redesign of the peeler. OXO good grips are one good example of this. They redesigned the peeler (and other utensils) so that they are easier to use by people who have gripping problems such as arthritis sufferers. In this case it is a redesign of a classic invention.

I think good design is observational and it should make you think “Why wasn’t it always like that?”.

I think of inventors as being more technology focused, while designers are more application focused.

This comes up a lot when in relationship to Industrial Design. Are IDers different from inventors or is it pretty much the same act with some differences.

My feeling on the subject from observation is that the reason IDers are different from inventors is that IDers act with purpose and a plan. The process everyone refers to in design school is this it is away to deliver a good solution every time. Inventors do not have this ability I am not saying that they could or they don’t use a process I imagine that the best inventors use some process that they have worked out but for the most part it is not as formalized as ID.

Also another difference is that it seems that inventors want all the glory so they will fund the project themselves and do all the back breaking work to get the product off the ground. Were as IDers tend to align themselves with a company that will cover most of this initial work and expense that is why ID pays a flat salary with little chance of making millions. I consider my self almost a sponsored inventor I get to design and create(invent) with someone else money all while making a good living.

In the case of OXO they did kind of do a styling exercise but it was more then that it had a lot of innovation yes in simplest terms they just made something better. But in order to do that in away that means something to everyone was very important. Yes they did not create the basic structure of the peeler but after you use an OXO peeler you are not really eger to use the older original peeler. The ability to make this happen is what makes ID different from inventing.

I hope you guys don’t mind me throwing my 2 cents in here (still just a newbie to the site). Feel free to chastise or ignore me if you don’t agree with my opinion. I’ve thought about this a lot myself. What I’m going to say relates to my experience in the auto industry.

I think inventing and design, depending on how intricate the product is, are actually 3 separate specializations (Industrial Designers, Engineers, and Designers). If you’re looking at things with few moving parts or are just one piece, then there’s really no need for an engineer. ID’s usually take care of the the details in this case.

Keep in mind this is my own personal take on the matter. I’m and engineer and work with ID’s and designer’s on big projects. I see ID’s as the people that ‘invent’ a way to fill a hole in the market or in the way we do things. They come up with a plan to make something that does a series of tasks in an easier fashion than if the tasks were done the hard way or individually. The engineer takes the ID’s idea and invents a way to make the task work in the best way while meeting all the requirements. The design is then tasked with making the engineer’s product not look like a boxy piece of crap :slight_smile:.

Of course all 3 are capable of doing bits and pieces of the other’s job but may not be as efficient or good at it. For less moving, fewer component stuff like furniture or a potato peeler, The ID and designer don’t need an engineer.

For intricate projects, all three are very much dependent on one another. The ID may not know all the material properties, gearing ratios, voltage requirements, etc. etc. needed to make the design work. The engineer usually struggles to come up with the original concept and also struggles to make it look appealing to the public. The designer needs the other two in order to have a canvas to work on.

All three can and do typically overlap each other in many ways. If all the blurry edges were erased it would come down to this: ID’s come up with the projects, engineers make them work, designers make them into something people would actually buy.

Sorry for rambling but I my thoughts help shed some light on the matter.

invention at its basis (not the sham wow or such junk) is about new and unique things, design for the most part is not. Design is very important but for the most part is neither new or unique, nor should it be.

Yes, that makes sense to me. I like the definitions clearly laid out, but is it necessary to be an inventor to go into this industry? I suppose you define that as you go along, choosing your direction. Thanks for the input, much appreciated!

I am posting this mainly because I was just fired as “Administrative Assistant” from my last job, in which they cited me as “more suited to the arts: more a creative person.” How is what I am saying relevant? Well, I am tired of going into things I am not suited for…and this industry possibly being one of them. My ego just isn’t into it! :stuck_out_tongue:

More so, design and redesign…however, I do recognize being innovative and having an inventor-like mind as being completely valid, and valuable to the industry, I’m just not like that. I am creative, and perhaps it makes up for it, but I’m just different in that respect – hence this post…hence my confusion.

I think ID is still a relatively new industry that leaves me, at least, a liitle befuddled… :wink:

Yes, that is a good way to put it. Where do you fit in?

I just hope that what I can bring to the table works too! haha

I have a freind who is an inventor. And she’s loads of excitement and hype…and has had this ONE project on the go for the last oh, ten years or so that needs funding in order to get off the ground. I say that she should consider ID and make it happen that way. The chances of it actualizing might be better? But like you stated, they tend to stand alone. And so, it remains a dream. (I actually met her at the "Intro to ID course, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with anyone else’s help, ideas…or anything else pretty much).

“I consider my self almost a sponsored inventor I get to design and create(invent) with someone else money all while making a good living.”

I think that’s the most ideal situation! Or one of them at least! Especially in Canada? But what does that mean you do exactly? Are you given a group project to work on, and come up with solutions that makes the product better? Or more user-friendly? Or are you kind of expected to recreate something entirely new? Although I could see it happening simutaneously for sure! :stuck_out_tongue:

“In the case of OXO they did kind of do a styling exercise but it was more then that it had a lot of innovation yes in simplest terms they just made something better. But in order to do that in away that means something to everyone was very important. Yes they did not create the basic structure of the peeler but after you use an OXO peeler you are not really eger to use the older original peeler. The ability to make this happen is what makes ID different from inventing”

Yes, I could do that! By designing and re-designing – it sounds great to me! But to come up with something entirely new from scratch is not! haha I just don’t look at something and think “wow, I see immediately how it could be better by changing “x” or “y”,” it’s more a process of streaming ideas for me. Entirely fun!

And so, what you are saying is IDers come up with a problem they see, present it to the Engineers, then the Designers design the esthetics? An example would be awesome! :slight_smile:

And where do these “Designers” go to school? …I guess my question is: what are the credentials of a “Designer”? :slight_smile: Who are these mysterious people?! haha

This is my situation or “issue” with ID: that IDers are more “Inventors” as opposed to straight up Designers. This is it exactly! haha.

I do recognize that the line blurs a bit, but for the most part, my initial understanding of IDers was that they were Designers, and not Inventors per say, more it happened out of circumstance. Esthetics was the main focus.

That was very insightful! Thanks for that!

Don’t get confused about what Industrial Designers do. Industrial Design is one of many product development functions, most of which can be lumped broadly under “marketing,” “design,” “engineering,” and “sales.” Industrial designers don’t necessarily see and problem and say “hey, let’s solve that.” More often than not, marketers in a company’s marketing department will do some preliminary investigation into an opportunity in the marketplace. Maybe none of their competitors have an entry at a specific pricepoint, or their products’ styling is outdated, or they see a broader cultural trend suggesting an opportunity to make money through a product or service offering. The marketers will work with the designers to create product concepts. Not inventions per se, but rather potential responses to the opportunities they have identified. Depending on the organization, the designers play a very large or very small role in the opp identification phase. Having generated concepts, the marketers (maybe with designers) will test the ideas with end users or other relevant stakeholders to compare the business case for pursuing each. The project team (which may include designers, and engineers to talk costing) will present these top ideas to an exec committee to get funding. A lot of good ideas will get passed on because there isn’t any indication of market potential. And some will get funded. The designers will work with the marketers to design for impact once something is funded, focusing on things that create tangible value consumers will pay money for. This is where a lot of sketching, modelmaking, prototyping, and testing you probabloy associate with design occurs. Once the concept, technology, human factors, user interactions, and aesthetic have been locked down (with particular assistance from engineering in the tech area), projects usually pass from design to engineering for final part/tooling design, material selection, etc. That is generally how it works. As a newbie to the field, don’t get any wrong ideas from “reality” shows that show sort of lone gunman artistes. They are completely inaccurate. When it comes to the inventor scenario, anything goes depending on exactly how married the inventor is to one specific vision of how his idea could be executed.

I think the terminology might cause some confusion. I personally don’t like the term designer because it implies they are the only ones designing anything. All three of the divisions that I mentioned are designers and inventors in their own right. It all depends on what you think of when someone says invention or design.

I know designers in my company HATE this title but I prefer to think of them Stylists. I don’t think its a bad thing but apparently it is???

A good example of how the three have separate specialties can be seen is with something like a car accessory (I design accessories for cars). The ID may say ‘hey this car is pretty tall. We should have some side steps or something to help the driver get in and out more easily’. The may have some ideas for lights, shape, size etc to add to the concept. The engineer then designs and test the components/total assembly to ensure it meets all the necessary requirements (support a person with X weight, doesn’t interfere with aerodynamics, etc.). The stylist then takes the engineers design and makes it match the overall scheme or ‘feel’ of the vehicle. Ideally the end result meets new market need (what the ID came up with), meets all the mechanical, and electrical needs (the engineer’s job), and makes the car look real good (the ‘designer’).

Again, this is an over simplification of the jobs. Please don’t take offense, I’m not trying to say anyone’s job is easier or harder. They are all very difficult and rely heavily on different skillsets.

The ‘Designers’ in my company are all out in LA. Almost all of them went to one specific school that focuses on automotive styling/design. Its really a specialized art school where they do alot of clay modeling, sketches, Alias work …

bcpid is probably more accurate when it comes to smaller companies or consultancy firms. Any one of the departments can take the lead. It depends on who has the better idea or selling point.

My company has many thousands of employees all around the world. The process is very consistent and streamlined (ends up lacking in ingenuity sometimes as a result).

I know designers in my company HATE this title but I prefer to think of them Stylists. I don’t think its a bad thing but apparently it is???

Considering I am technically an “industrial designer,” and styling is 25% of what I do, yeah, I don’t like being referred to or viewed as a “stylist.” ID has evolved a lot since 1950.

Yes, this is excellent. This sounds more like it is something I could do, and I get excited about it. And if I understand you correctly, “they” present me with a problem to work on, or something they have a need to be made better or whatever it is:
be it for market, solely for money, whatever the need.

I would feel better suited to approach it that way and that it would be more in my “strengths” to do. I don’t care what you’re selling: toothpaste, dolls, cars, chairs etc. it’s exciting and I’d give you my first-born to do it. Well, my cat might do…though I do not own one. haha

It’s all super interesting to me. But yes, to be able to look at something and be critical of it and say “this needs to be changed,” or notice things on my own about a product or design to fix, doesn’t come naturally to me. I would need to work with them even to define the problem, or for them to tell me what exactly the problem is so I could design a solution/change esthetics/make user-friendly.

I hope I am understanding what you are saying. Thanks for the input!

Sounds like you might have found your answer then. Congrats!

bc, I hope you weren’t taking offense to my comment. I honestly don’t understand what so bad about the term ‘styling’. If you know, I would really appreciate an explanation. Personally I have a hard time with artistic style and am envious of those with it. That being said, I wouldn’t really put you in that category to begin with.

I am reading “The Art of Innovation” and it’s about IDEO’s team and how great they are basically, haha. But it’s insightful and it sounds more like what you describe – the culture there. They find problems and fix them, or make them better. The team described is very self-motivated-problem-solving-go-getters-inventor-like-people. It made me wonder if that was what ID was like everywhere, and if so, I’d better change my career path because God knows I am not like that! :stuck_out_tongue: And I am done with trying things that are not my deal. Spare us all!

It all depends on the culture of the company it would seem. My focus then would be to go to companies that are smaller like you describe, and favor my strengths basically. I am envious of people who are able to find problems to solve, but I need to see that I am special too haha :slight_smile:

Your post was very insightful, and really interesting, thank you. ID situations can be like that, but some are not I guess!


The issue with the term “stylist” is that while there are pure stylists out there, styling is only one piece of the industrial designer’s skillset. The term harkens back to the old days when engineering and marketing would create something and pull the designer in at the last minute to dress it up. While some companies still operate this way, many now do not and treat industrial design as an integral piece of the development cycle. I think you’d be a lot better served to think of industrial designers as “product developers” that bridge the distance between marketing and engineering and overlap the margins. Designers deal with everything from user research and human factors to component layout to aesthetics in these companies. Designers transform abstract marketing outputs into tangible engineering inputs, if you will. Stylists dress up engineering outputs. There is a really big difference.

Because compartmentalizing aesthetics is in effect an effort to trivialize it and to say “someone else can do that now that I’ve had the big idea”. Calling it styling or artistic talent undermines all the tremendous hard work that goes into positioning the aesthetic of an object in a culturally relevant and engaging way. In my experience, talent has little to do with any successful design solution.

Aesthetic development, design research, strategy, positioning, design for manufacturability, interaction design…In my opinion, to be an impactfull designer in today’s climate, you need to do all of it on some level. You don’t have to be a rockstar at every facet (which is not possible), but you need to be able to do enough to empathize with and collaborate with particular domain experts if you ever desire to really design something and go beyond your personal comfort zone.

Thanks for the info guys. I’ve always wondered what the seperation was and what was so bad about styling. Noone would ever give me a straight answer.
Again, I’m not trying to undercut anyone’s profession.