Positioning myself as an “Industrial” Industrial Designer

As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve developed a love for the detail part of ID. The “guts” of a product fascinate me far more than the user research that helped developed the concept, or the pages of sketches that helped refine the design or the initial renderings used to sell the concept.

Many of the projects I’ve worked on have been taking other designers concepts and developing them into final tooling ready designs. This is the part of design I love; figuring out just how something is going to work, go together and be mass produced.

I’ve designed hundreds of parts for injection molding, die casting, sand casting and sheet metal. Perfect G2 CAD surface models are a piece of cake. I’ve designed complicated products with hundreds of parts. I know the ins and outs of wide range of manufacturing processes.

As I look to update my portfolio, how can I demonstrate my proficiency of the above other than pretty renderings of finished projects?

Is there a spot in ID for people like me? How can I work to position myself less as a concept generator, and more of a concept finisher? What would you want to see in their portfolio that said “I need to have this guy!”?

Well, as a warning I am still in the very early stages of my career so anything I say to you can either be taken with a pinch of salt or thrown out the window.

To me, it sounds like you’d be better suited to calling yourself a “Design Engineer” as everything you have described as your selling points and best abilities are usually, in my limited experience what the engineers do when picking up a project. The nitty gritty of taking an “ooh ahh” rendering and turning it in to something tangible.

I’ve worked with a few engineers that have had formal ID training but have positioned themselves in to engineering roles. I can’t tell you how exactly they did it but I assume they started applying for engineer roles and had the ability to put their money where their mouth is.

In terms of a portfolio and being able to visually demonstrate your skillset maybe you could showcase how you can give a concept it ‘guts’? You could show the process of taking a concept to tooling and manufacturing - for example, start with a hero rendering of the final design and then go through the changes you made to get it ready for manufacture. I once saw a portfolio with a handheld vacuum concept and the guy had done an exploded view that showcased a rendered out injection moulded plastic component which was really compelling. It’d also be worth adding some photos of any factory visit/tools you’ve designed as well.

I’ll let someone with more experience give their input though but to be honest maybe just changing your job title could be enough?

Lowe 9, a lot of larger places have these types of positions. They can be called a wide variety of things but the term I often use is Production Design or Design for Manufacture. We recently had a bit of a designer exchange day with Nissan at our studio and I learned they had several “PQ” designers, perceived quality. These designers literally combed through concepts and better designed them for manufacture, making sure they would fit together better, close more nicely, feel better, things like that. Both are industrial designers by training and also jump in to assist concept design when needed but their focus is more on what I think you are getting at.

We didn’t have anything like that when I was at Nike, they might now, but they did have 3d designers, essentially people who were more focused on taking a sketch to CAD and really detailing out the design. The apparel side had production and technical designers though, who focused on exactly what you are talking about, but for apparel cut and sew operations.

Ironically I found myself very much doing that job (production design with very little up front concept development) though not by choice, I just happened to be good at it but it burned me out. There are jobs out there. As mentioned the “Design engineer” title is probably more commonly used for what you’re looking to do.

I’d suggest looking at either consultancies that do the full range of design, not just upfront ID but also some place that has engineering staff on hand and wants someone to help bridge the process gap. Likewise corporate work might be better suited, especially at places that have a lot of consultancies feeding the initial concept pipeline and then an internal team to help manage the production, especially in Asia.

These days its all about the story behind the images. When I look at portfolios here in Asia it is rare to find one that is not specialized in a narrow and specific area of ID.

What always interests me and is of high value is how design engineers will design parts for machines that are not brand new and calibrated for crazy tight tolerancing. It is always ideal to design parts and tooling for a brand new Arburg or Sumitomo, but when you have a bending machine or fixture that “still does the job” but needs to be altered (again) to accept the new design. There is real challenge working within existing constraints and there is an authentic and rare talent that goes with bringing magic to an existing already amortized down stream production situation.

I enjoy the images of not just the parts, but of the varieties of teams that have worked on the parts and machines themselves in a variety of environments. If you have those photos, they can add yo your portfolio stories.

Design process is another area of interest to me. How did you take the research or sketch or initial cad model and what were the steps in bringing it to reality. Sure your portfolio might have a variety of different products in it, but it is the design process that was behind each product that is of concern to any hiring manager (who, where and how in particular). You can have 5 different parts from 5 distinct industries in your portfolio, and you should be able to articulate how each design process was different from the one another. This will also stretch you into talking about the other upstream activities of your design processes, which some employers want to hear. Be careful about presenting yourself as a design super hero that does everything great. Part design and translation as you know is very specialized.

Good luck…

The OP reminds me a little of my own situation, but instead of doing engineering related tasks towards the end of a project I spend more time doing engineering related work up front (designing mechanisms, figuring out how to make things work, etc.). I also do some final detailing of parts including making toleranced drawings. I’m not currently looking for work, but what I’m wondering is how employers and hiring managers feel about someone using “engineer” in their title without having an engineering degree. My only point of reference for this is from college, where I was part of a new program creating a Mechanical Engineering Technology minor and the accreditation people having issues with using the word “engineer” in the name of a minor. Something about that word being sacred or carrying a lot of weight or prestige that could not be obtained with just a minor. I’m not sure how it ended up.

Personally I recently changed my title from “Industrial Designer” to “Senior Product Designer” because I thought product designer seemed to encompass more (perhaps through ambiguity) than industrial designer, which I saw as being more specifically defined. A bit ironic though given that “industrial” is in the name and like the OP I have moved in a more industrial direction.

My title is not by choice and has the word engineer in it.

I do not have a degree in engineering (although I need about 40 credits to get one if I chose).

My current responsibilities do include activities that fall under the traditional engineering tent.

I am certain that employers and hiring managers would only refer to my current “engineering” responsibilities and completely disregard my educational background in determining if I were “worthy” to use engineer in my title.

Engineers get hung up on the term engineer as it has legal standing. In many states, you can’t advertise being an engineer if you’re not in the professional order which has jurisdiction. Engineers that aren’t part of an order will typically use B.Eng. instead of P.Eng…

To get back on the subject, I’m seeing Product Designer and Mechanical Designer used quite a bit in job postings. Though it’s quite ambiguous as I’ve seen it being used to describe a draftsperson/CAD operator, ID (concept development), mechanical engineer (all the way in FEA and dynamics) as well as the role we’re discussing in this thread.

It’s a trend I like. Embrace the overlap between all these roles to get the right person for the job based on their aptitudes and experience rather than lock people in a career path after graduation. It’s something we’ve seen happen in electronics with lots of Electrical Engineers, Software Engineers, Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists being able to switch between these disciplines. Hence the job titles becomes more vague.

Lowe 9, I, too, appreciate the details that you find so interesting - I’ve always referred to this type of person as a hybrid ID/CAD designer. We don’t use traditional CAD engineers separate from our ID guys - that was the process in place when I started at Black&Decker but it left a disconnect between the function and the soul of a product so our department took CAD engineers who appreciated design and took ID guys who felt like you do and trained them into hybrid ID/CAD guys…I follow the same process now with our staff, we look for that combined talent in our CAD resources.

I’m oon the same boat…

I also have more affinity with the more technical areas of design (mechanics, production, detailing)… In my University in Germany I did almost all my projects in the discipline of “Technical Products and system of products”.

And looking for a job now, I’m also having a tough time to position myself. I also have 9 months of experience in China, working directly with engineers.

I get the different points of views exposed here. But I would go further and ask: What an employer would like to have proved to contract someone for an “design engineer” or “Manufacturer Design” or “however you wanna call it”?

One more info: in Chinai met many designers who call themselves “Design Engineers” who in fact don’t do nothing really different from someone with an “Industrial Designer” Title.