Questions About Career as an IDer

I appreciate all the information found on this forum and it has been a major factor in helping me decide on making a career switch from engineering (chemical eng) to ID.
Before quitting my job and jumping back to school as a full-timer, I still have a few questions about a career in ID that I hope people here can answer.

  1. What does a typical day in the life of an IDer look like in the real world? (i.e. are you sitting in front of a computer doing CAD drawings all day? How much team interaction do you have? Boring meetings?)

  2. How quick is a typical project turnaround and do you have the option to follow it from conception to manufacturing?

  3. Related to #2 when working on a design, are you involved with many/all aspects of it? Or just a small part? (i.e. are you only involved in designing the shoe lace for sneakers or the handle on a toaster oven?) In engineering (at least the jobs that I’ve held) it seems that people are placed in certain departments and your work is only focused on a small aspect of the big project.

  4. Do you have the opportunity to work in many areas of specialization? Can you jump from consumer electronics to, footwear to transportation during your career?

  5. How much of what you did in school are you still practicing in the real world?

I know a lot of these answers depend on the individual job but it would be nice to hear from a variety of personal experiences. Hopefully these responses can help me and others in a similar situation paint a more vivid picture of a career in ID.
I appreciate hearing both the good and the bad so feel free to be brutally honest. :smiley:

  1. All of the above. CAD drawings check, team interaction lots, boring meetings are often part of that team interaction. (No electrical engineer, I don’t care about the fact that you’re running out of memory at my design review).

  2. This wholly depends on the industry. The turn around for a kitchen widget and the turn around for a complex electronic device are rarely the same. Typical development cycles can range anywhere from a few months to 2-3 years.

  3. Again depends on the field. In corporate design you often are heavily involved from concept to production, whereas consulting work may be the full gamut, or only a single phase of development. You may be working on a product where several designers all contribute, or you may own 100% of the ID yourself.

  1. If your skills are exceptional enough there is no reason you can’t jump between different fields. The process is generally the same, but senior positions may look at your experience with relevant manufacturing processes and judge accordingly. IE if you were working on CNC machined furniture for 10 years and have never made a fabric piece in your life, you can expect that to be reflected if you were trying to jump into footwear. But if you worked on laptop backpacks the skillset will be very similar jumping to footwear, or if you work on medical equipment and want to jump to consumer electronics, etc.

  2. Basically everything. ID is a diverse education covering research, human factors, design, sketching, 3D, user interaction, and all of these are relevant in my day to day work.

Thanks for the reply Cyberdemon.

Is there anything that you dislike about the ID field or things that you feel are monotonousness in you daily routine?

There are a lot of battles that you need to fight in the real world. Designers will always strive for innovating and risky decisions for improving a product, but there is usually a level of pushback due to reasons we don’t always care about (cost, reliability, labor, legacy, etc). Figuring out which battles you should pick and what tradeoffs to make is always tricky and can be very stressful when you’re passionate about what you do. Sometimes you will have a decision pushed down from the top that you strongly disagree with, but still have to push to make something successful.

There are also activities in ID that may not be very “fun”, but it’s simply part of the business. But all those things depend on the field you enter.

I agree with cyberdemon on both of his posts, great answers to some complex questions.

I’ve been working the last two years at a large corporate toy company.

  1. No CAD drawings at all. Mostly illustration-style sketches and coloring, although many people choose to send sketches out to freelancers. I also spend a lot of time commenting on samples throughout the design process. Team interaction depends on which team you get put on, my team is interacting constantly which I really enjoy. Lots of boring meetings unfortunately…

  2. About a year, maybe longer. We follow it all the way from initial ideas to reviewing the product in the box a few weeks before it’s shipped to retailers.

  3. Definitely involved in the entire design. In my particular job it might be because our teams are smaller than you would expect, so one designer takes control of a ton of different items and works on every facet of all of them. It will keep you busy!

  4. Obviously at a toy company I only work on toys, but I do get a variety of different types of projects- collectable figures, playsets, electronic toys, plush etc…

  5. Honestly, not very much. Like I sated in #1, most sketches here are done in a very illustrated style, not at all like traditional “sketchy” ID sketches. So I pretty much had to learn how to sketch like that. Also in college, I spent a ton of time on 3D CAD… I probably have forgotten it all now…

hope this helps!

  1. I probably pump CAD about 40-60% of the time. We have informal meetings because I’m in a small company but have larger meetings when I have nearly completed a design and we’re ready to design tooling.

  2. I’m currently working on a large project which I started in late 2010 but have worked on hundreds of smaller things in between this project. We should have this product released by about April or May this year. I have been the single industrial designer on the project from the initial chicken scratch sketches, through to high quality rendered sketches, orthographics, prototyping, CAD, redesign and now I’m working on the tooling 3D prints and sand casting and shell moulding layouts, machining and assembly drawings for our machine shop and assembly departments. I will probably also do the graphic design of the promotional material too.

  3. See # 2, but also I’d like to add that there is a lot of management intervention in designs and a lot of consulting with the people who run the departments who actually physically make the product (in our case, foundry, machine shop, assembly departments).

  4. I hope so, this is my first ID job, but I have experience in woodwork, upholstery, machining and building as I started ID at 30.

  5. A lot. Especially the technical side of things. E.g. material specs, processes, manufacturability. Not so much of the user feedback as our sales guys do national trips and like to handle that side of thing.