The importance of communication tools...

How many communication tools does one need to master to be effective as an industrial designer?

I’ve been a student at the University of Montreal for the past year and a half now and the vast majority of our classes up til now (all but 3) have been centered around the visualization of an idea instead of differentiating good from bad design/solutions, developing a stance on the profession and consequently our voice and the impact we wish to affect, even if idealistic. The most vocal of our teachers stress intensely how important it is to be proefficient as a visual communicator and as such we’ve had classes and/or seminars on these various tools - sketching, physical scale models, 2d editing software (PS, AI), CAD & Animation (SW, C4D, Rhino, Keyshot), Photo & Video Editing… We’re presented with a vast array of tools and are told that we should be making their usage second nature.

This is an issue for me because I don’t consider myself an artist. I like to solve problems and learning about the methodology to think outside the box in trying to come up with clever solutions and so far, too much attention has been brought to perfecting the envelope instead of the content, imo. Teaching myself these tools isn’t exactly a problem, but it is time consuming and I can’t help but feel like my time would be better spent elsewhere.

In trying to improve as a designer, I’m wondering if there’s a specific skillset that is fundamental to learn and strive to become better at. Recalling the 10,000 hour rule to achieving mastery in any given field, it maintains that one should train in a focused and deliberate manner; keeping the end-goal in mind. What is said goal in I.D.? I can’t seem to find a precise enough answer… Or perhaps this difficulty is explained by the fact that everyone seems to have a different definition of what I.D. boils down to…

Way back in the dark ages, in college, one job I worked to pay for it was landscaping. We had just finished the job, loaded the truck and I was ready to go. My boss, the owner of the company, noticed a small pile of leaves and asked “Who’s going to pick that up, the customer?”

That has stuck with me for many decades.

As a designer, your audience is the customer. If you have an idea, how do you communicate that idea? Waving your arms around is not it.

If you wave your arms around, how are you actually going to communicate the idea? Have the customer do it?

ID school puts a huge emphasis on drawing. imo, a little too much. Yes, in some industries, like footwear, a drawing is enough. In other industries, a drawing is worthless. Unless a customer actually uses a prototype, they cannot make an informed opinion about how well that product works. A drawing in that case is equivalent to waving your hands in the air. I think ID schools need to put more emphasis on getting prototypes into the hands of users to get a better evaluation.

So even if you are not an “artist” you still need to communicate your “content”. You need something tangible. A drawing or a prototype is tangible. You talking and waving your arms is not.

btw, post something that communicates your content. We will evaluate it here.

Agree with the above. Post some work to be evaluated so we can know how to frame our responses.

  1. Employer’s view:

After looking at thousands of CVs and portfolios, I don’t think it’s possible for a student to be too good at drawing/rendering/graphic design/visual communication. I remember a diagram that my professor used to use. It’s approximately like this:


Ergonomics/Human factors


Imagine it inside a pyramid. The base of design is styling. It doesn’t matter what job you have, you have to make great looking product. Human factors may have a great value, but it’s not universally needed. I’ve designed many light fixtures, but I’ve never done a study of the motions of bulb replacement. No one will pay extra for an easy to replace bulb, but they will for a unique design that speaks to them. On the other hand, Boeing will spend a lot of money making sure that a pilot doesn’t hit the wrong switch in a cockpit. Lastly, there is experience. Liken this to the smell of a Starbucks or the way a Simon’s (Quebec based clothing store) employee walks out from behind the cash register to hand you your bag. Someone had to think of these small things that build up our overall experience of the brand. Mind you, even fewer are involved in this than human factors.

To bring this together, no one is going to hire you for strategic design thinking unless you can show them that you are an expert at visual communication, because you need to be an expert in order to explore and explain your strategic design thinking.

  1. Designers view:

The more quickly and better that you can explore concepts in 2D and 3D, the more great ideas you will have. Any designer will eventually get a render done. If one can do three renders in the time it takes the other to do one, the guy doing one better have the greatest idea in the world. The girl with three concepts can now have a conversation with the development team and maybe spur some new ideas. The guy with one is in danger of someone just saying, “uh…no”. That’s the power of visual communication.

I always tell my team the designer who does the first (good) sketch owns the conversation. It is the pivot point from which other things will swing off from. Get good enough at visually communicating anything that the act of creating that visual never takes up any brain space. Brain space should be devoted to thinking, problem solving, strategic planning. Be so fluent in the communication part that it is reflex.

As 914 stated above, if your skills are not sharp, you won’t even be in the consideration set. I remember being in a meeting at Nike where someone was presenting this crazy innovative product. It was super ugly. The VP of design asked why it looked that way and the designer said something like “innovation made it this way” to which the VP stated that no one would ever know how innovative it was because no consumer would ever take it off the shelf to try it on (due to the earlier mentioned bad looks). Make sure you are good enough that someone wants to take you off the shelf and give you a try.

The fact of the matter is a school can teach you some basic though frameworks and methodologies, but they can’t make you smarter. You can’t coach tall.

I dunno, I think I’d flip your pyramid in terms of importance for good design. Experience is first and the foundation. Styling can’t be done well if the experience and functional elements don’t work.

For the OP, consider that Visual Communication is not only for presentation but a tool for design. Sketching is not just to show a client a final design, but to help you explore ideas and solutions. No goo designer just sits in a corner “thinking” and “solving problems” in their head. It’s not about being an artist, but using the process to your advantage to problem solve and present ideas.

As for what you should be practicing…everything.


PS. As a student 1.5 years in, don’t worry about your professors not focusing on good/bad solutions. Probably all your solutions are bad. You don’t have a stance on the profession, and you hardly know anything about it. Be your own guide, but also trust in your professors/school’s process.

And post up some work. Will help further comments a lot.


As others have mentioned, I can vouch for solid presentation skills. - Even as a young mechanical engineer. I’ve recently starting sketching more seriously and I now see it’s potential to come up with ideas. You need to think about the reason for every line and it makes it easy to come up with off shots. With that said, sitting down and thinking is an undervalued skill :laughing: . Clean presentation plays a big role as well. I’ve often seen my work being promoted mainly because I took the time to put a bit more sheen than my peers (even at times when I felt my work was worse). If the presentation is good it’s start to feel real and people get excited. An ugly Word document with stock fonts and layout is easier to shoot down than a thoughtfully laid out and typeset document that fits the project.

However, if you want to improve the core of your designs, I’d suggest learning about the subjects around ID. I think industrial design can often be the middle man between departments and specialities. The more you can learn about engineering, marketing, finance,… the more your designs can be appreciated and you can avoid obvious flaws; on top of helping you discuss and speak the language of those people. In the ME realm, I’d suggest materials, basics on mechanics of materials (how the shape of an objects affects is strength) and lastly manufacturing processes. Getting a bit of hands on experience at the Polytechnique’s machine shop could be eye opening on top of being quite a bit of fun!

I think my first good solution came in my 3rd year of ID school. Even then, it started as a trickle.