The Accidental Designer - thoughts

So… there is no need to go into my background too deeply… I have a BS in mechanical engineering, worked at a graphic design shop during college doing menial tasks but became an Adobe wizard, did a lot of basic layout work, some medium-skill dimensional stuff of importance (fancy signs and display), and morphed into a web developer. At the moment I work in IT doing web dev BUT I spend a lot of time now developing cases to use in public-facing spaces on end user devices → 3D printed things for practical use, and am now being tasked to create prototype modifications to furniture to demonstrate a concept. I have always wanted to be an industrial designer, but never got the degree (was my intention, but fate chose otherwise).

Up to this point I’ve been pretty happy with my output - designing clever doodads to solve issues - short run prints (typical quantities are 50) - experimentation with multi-material printing. But I’m increasingly getting “depressed” that I’m going about this all wrong. That is, I want to improve my skill in a way that complements my job. I’m not expecting I’ll make a living designing stuff, but I want to be more INTENTIONAL about my design. And I feel like I’m floundering - I start out with something blocky to get my dimensions all right, and then refine the shape until it looks pretty.

What should I do?

PS - I literally work next to an Art & Design school, but they eschewed ID degrees years ago for plain old art degrees so I don’t think there are any courses I could take there.

When you say the school eschewed ID degrees for art degrees, are you saying they offer BFA’s in ID? Or that they got rid of the ID department?

If it is the former, than I’d say that is pretty common. Pratt, RISD, CIA, I think CCS all offer BFA’s in ID as a specialization. That is what I have. There was a brief time that schools offered BIDs, but that seems pretty rare. In a lot of cases in meant a 5 year program vs a 4 year program. The other common degree is a BS in ID. I believe these are mostly offered by the university type programs. I think Art Center is also a BS but I’m not certain.

Long story short, it might still be worth checking out that school next door to see if you can drop in on a few classes. I think when done well, ID is really a blend of form and function. Not form follows function, but the two coexisting and strengthening each other. This is what I got from my ID education (the 4 years of school, and the 20 years of professional practice that continues to teach me). As an example, I’ve been working with a client over the past year on a device. Over that time working with their technical people I’ve absorbed a lot of their primary concerns. We zoomed out and did an aesthetic exploration. The output of which ended up having further functional benefits leading to more IP. I think that is one of the tricks to what is sometimes called “form giving”. To focus on visually expressing the functional parameters. Sometimes those parameters are mechanical, sometimes UX, sometimes they a brand based.

If it is the latter and the school got rid of ID completely, then it probably wouldn’t be of much help.

Also, I think if you could post some examples of your work and your process it would guide the advice a bit.

No sculpture classes at the “plain old” art school to improve your blocky forms?
No composition classes at the “plain old” art school to improve your block forms?

They got rid of their ID program and only offer BA/BFA’s in art. I’m grossly oversimplifying. Essentially when I transferred into engineering and went to apply for the joint ID program it had been cancelled - this came as somewhat of a shock for me, as I had been in communication with them up until my first term (as a near-junior). I decided to complete my ME education - and stayed on at the design group for a while since I got to work on both code and did some design work as well.

I’m sorry if my original post came off as snarky (which it might have). They offer a good arts curriculum, but no specialization in ID. I’ve taken design and drawing courses - but nothing beyond four or five courses.

I’ll have to disagree. Form is form, it can stand entirely independent of “ID”. Brand language ain’t rocket science if you are not blind. Customer input can never be trusted with a junior designer. So that leaves us with the hot sketch. I’d recommend teh u-tubes for that.

But as best as I can tell, and correct me if I am wrong, the OP is kvetching about form and his/her lack of ability with it. Either you have a brand language or you don’t. If the former, copy it. If the latter, composition or sculpture can certain improve capabilities without being ID.

Yes - I (his :smiley:) feel like I need a bit of help developing my skills if I want to continue designing things that are public-facing. I’ll post a few things - some are purely utilitarian - and while don’t require design I want to impart a good ‘look’ to them. Others, like a portable charging cart, addressed a need, but I could do better. I’m not looking at winning acclaim, just building my skill. It’s a busy time of year for me - but I’ll try to post some things over the weekend.


Fair points. You are right. And, looking back on my time in school, the courses I reflect back on now 20 years later are those foundation classes. Art history, 2D/3D theory, life drawing…