Why is ID on the DL?

Engineers, lawyers, architects, janitors (sanitation technicians?) … Seems like all types of folks want to become industrial designers. I’m one of them.But I think it’s strange that each of these fields has something in common: they require their constituency to chose to study to be in them.

Lots of people seem to discover that ID exists once they’re out of school doing something else, and wish they had known about it sooner. My question is: why don’t they?

It seems that an industry with such a close relationship to branding and customer engagement would itself have a stronger brand and more engaged customers. Everybody knows that “engineering” (in quotes because most people don’t know what one does) is a profession because of the huge press in education for “STEM” careers, but lots of them go into it because they think it’s like ID.

So the question is twofold:

How did you hear about ID/decide to do it?


How would you apply your skills to educate the customer base (late high school students) to the existence and details of your own profession? Or, could it be that ID is the Isla De Muerta of careers, and can only be found by those who already know where it is?

It´s quite a new field, becoming more relevant since the 60s - 70s but not really known yet. If you ask the average folk, “hey, what´s an industrial designer?” 95% of the time they wouldn’t answer correctly, they guess it has something to do with industry and create things, but more in the engineering way than the correct mix we are. In my opinion, that’s also coming from the wide range of fields we cover, we can be one day designing a phone, next day toys, and then a chair or a lamp. In addition to this, our tasks are also very diverse, research, marketing, branding, sketching, 3D modelling, prototyping, DFMA, etc. We move between different fields and that makes the appreciation of what a real IDer is quite fuzzy.

I found out about ID because of a high school friend who was going to study it. She told me about it, started digging and found out it looked like something I’d enjoy doing. However, nobody at our high school ever said a word about ID (even though 3 of us out of 17 ended up studying ID). Before that, I thought the design was carried out by engineers following what marketing people told them.

A way to improve the visibility of ID could be holding open days where the schools can take their students to see what we actually do. There is a company here, KISKA, that is actually doing that. I can imagine more than one of these kids been thrilled by all the sketching, prototyping, 3D stuff, etc.

I heard about ID from my older brother who had just graduated as an engineer when he found out about it. He basically said “This looks interesting to me, I think you’d like it.”

I also had an art teacher in 8th grade who said “take a look at the classroom around you, everything you see started life as a sketch on a piece of paper.” That was mind opening to me, but he never gave the profession a name and I never thought to ask.

I’d happily participate in shadow programs or school visits. There are already a couple of these programs going on that I find interesting:
Dig 8, Beyond Design
Dig 8, Nettelhorst School
Spark Apprenticeship Program

If the goal is simply to spread the word it might be more efficient to speak directly to high school art teachers who can then talk to students.

Why not including technology teachers (we had technology class in Spain from 12 to 16 years old) or sociology teachers?

I’m in the same boat. I recently graduated as an ME but I want to do more industrial design oriented stuff. I want to have a say in how things look and operate, not just crunch the numbers to make them happen.

After high school, I got accepted to a university in ME. Due to weird circumstances, if I went to this university I could skip two years of pre-university studies. I figured engineers where the ones dreaming up new ideas and also had the knowledge to carry them out.

I knew about industrial design. I knew you could go to school as an industrial designer. But somewhere in my mind I thought engineers could kind of specialize in industrial design. After all, you start from the same diploma and some design parts for airplane, some design HVAC systems and some do pyrotechnics… industrial design really didn’t seem like that much of a stretch. I looked around the web to learn about industrial design and I don’t think I really got the right idea of what it was. I landed on sites like core77 and I was seeing way too much far fetched drawings of things that had obvious technical flaw, furniture or bike accessories. I figured “well, I guess industrial designers are kind of like interior decorators. You have a team of people dreaming up a product and I guess you have someone that’s more aesthetically inclined.”

The other thing is, industrial designed looked easy and engineering looked hard (and boy was it ever…). You learn as a kid that the way to your dreams is usually the hardest road.

So here I am, 5 years later, finding out that industrial designers are probably more like architects for things than interior decorators. Also finding out that solving 2nd order differential equations on paper doesn’t help me communicate visually.

Ok, it’s really not that bad. Job hunting makes you questions things a bit more.

The real problem may be (and I am open to correction or outright contradiction) that everybody relies on degrees to determine what you are capable of doing. I have a degree in aerospace engineering, and realized that it didn’t teach me useful skills . What it taught me was the “meta-skill” of how to learn and address problems like an engineer.

The main problem with the course was that the teachers weren’t aware of this, and tried to teach skills, as though the tiny subset of skills I learned really prepared me to be an engineer (or anything.) It was like going to Julliard to be a guitarist and coming away with G,C,D, Am.

I was envious of the ID program, because they seemed to focus more on a higher level of design, everything from markets through initial concepts through prototypes through mfg. We had some courses like this, but they were all mashed into the mold of “what is the right solution to THIS problem” when the more important question was “what is the right PROBLEM”.

I’d say that last sentence summarizes the difference between engineering and ID curricula. I’m of the opinion that both points of view need to be present in one pair of eyes. Are there schools that merge these two well?

This is an interesting question. You would think giving that everyone owns a product that has been designed by someone. Everyone would know what an IDer does. It is a new major but the 60s were a pretty long time ago so you would think word would have gotten out. I think the biggest hurdle for ID is the low employment. When you graduate from school with a degree in ID you really are not grantee anything close to a job. It is very hard to find work at first. So I suspect having even more people graduate in ID would not be that great.

I have also felt that the degree it’s self is very hard to find people who can complete it. You have to be very creative, artist and logical. It is a relatively rare combination of skills. You can’t be fully artistic or you would chose another art degree were you could be completely involved in just art. But if you get to heavy on the logical side you would go into a STEM degree. So it has to be a balance anything else you would chose another major.

It’s been a long time since I completed my sentence in K-12 education, and so maybe things have changed, but there was certainly much more emphasis placed on quantitative, fact, or memorization based subjects like math, science, history, etc. Interestingly, I remember arts and crafts being a huge part of pre-K and then seemingly disappeared after 2nd grade. It wasn’t until middle and high school where art classes were an elective, but these were rooted in fine art fundamentals, not necessarily design and creative thinking or problem solving. Sure there were CAD and drafting classes, but these were skill focused.

Culturally, primary education, in the U.S at least doesn’t seem to help students connect the dots in a way that leads them into ID, let alone other creative career paths. There’s “creative” art classes that you can take as electives, and then it’s up to students to figure out how to leverage that after high school I guess, maybe that was up to the teachers to consult students on how they can make a living going down a creative career path. But, I remember there being a lot of pressure not to waste time on art classes and focus on subjects that would lead to making more money as an adult. From the Sony thread, maybe this is why as a designer it bothers me to be labeled an “artist”, as having gone through institutionalized education taught us that art isn’t worthwhile because it isn’t a “serious” subject where you can have a financially viable career, not that I believe that now, but when I was in school the art kids were the weird ones who mostly didn’t perform well in the core subjects, and so were considered “outcasts”. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many people carry that perception into adulthood, which presents a challenge for creative professionals to achieve and maintain the same perceived legitimacy as lawyers, doctors, engineering, and yes even sales and marketing professionals. It is my hope and prediction that as professionals we will see this perception change gradually as Baby Boomers phase out of the workforce.

I find all of this ironic since the U.S. economy is partly dependent on consumer spending, and that we know that creative design (and marketing) has a large impact on the success of products in the marketplace, yet, subjects that lead to a career in creative product development aren’t more integrated in primary education.

I also blame standardized testing…and don’t even get me started on the Texas school book review nonsense…

I didn’t hear about it until after I graduated high school. In high school I was heavily into engineering as I thought that was how product is created. Joining a local F.I.R.S.T. robotics team while still in middle school allowed me a ton of experience with brainstorming/engineering/fabricating, but at no point did it ever enter the conversation that there was this thing called industrial design. Any of the more artistic kids seemed to love the brainstorming sessions, the prototyping phases, but somewhere towards the fabricating end of the project, we just ended up designing our teams t-shirts and fundraising.

The high school I attended was at a community college and after one year at a regular high school we were enrolled in cc classes year round for three years, and in order to graduate you had to at least earn a certificate (only “technical” degrees allowed, no humanities or art degrees). While there I played with an engineering degree but couldn’t cut it, it was the hardest I’d ever worked for the worst grades I’ve ever gotten, I ended up just going with a welding and fabrication certification as it was at least creating something with my hands.

After graduating I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I stuck around cc for one more year taking random art classes/graphic design classes (these weren’t allowed in my high school). My first semester after I graduated my old welding teacher tells me that she went to ccs and there was this thing close to engineering but geared more towards artistic kids, and that was it, weeks later I found core77 and my course was set. The next fall I was starting at an art school.

So I guess this is my major concern, how many kids looking for a creative outlet where they make STUFF end up being left behind with a traditional STEM based system of education. My robotics team was invaluable, but why was it never brought up (to my knowledge it still isn’t) that design was a viable career path as well (or that it even existed)?

F.I.R.S.T. has gotten really big lately, and people within the community love talking about things like the segway, but we know for a fact that it was designed, I’ve seen DEKA looking for id guys on coroflot…now I kind of want to get off my butt and give a presentation to my old team, I guess that would be a start!

I was a Pre-Med at SUNY Albany when my cousin from S. Korea visited us. He was an Industrial Designer for Daewoo (now defunct). As soon I saw what he did I knew what I wanted to do! The spring break of my freshman year I worked on my portfolio and applied to RISD, Pratt and Syracuse and ended up at Syracuse. While I was at Syracuse, a senior from Brown came to visit along with his fraternity brothers to our chapter. He discovered what I was studying and ended up applying to an industrial design program somewhere after he graduated from Brown.

I was lucky enough to meet people who were ID majors which coaxed me into it, although when applying to schools I still applied to some for ME since I knew “I wanted to make stuff” and the distinction wasn’t completely clear.

Ultimately kids find out about things because of what they’re exposed to. You can bet a lot of high school guidance counselors have heard of engineering, but not ID. Most dad’s won’t come in on career day and explain how they are an Industrial designer, and you can bet most career fairs won’t have ID since only a small percentage of US schools even offer the major.

Likewise identifying successful ID majors early on is tough, because it is a rare breed of skills it takes to truly excel. Just because you’re good at drawing won’t necessarily make you a good designer, there’s a certain amount of complex problem solving that isn’t really taught in many schools these days. Most guidance counselors will look at your grades and say “You’re good at math and science…you should probably be an engineer or scientist.”

Frankly, ID is still a complex thing to explain to people and distinguish from what marketing or engineering people may do. Even people who know what I’ve done for years still have a foggy understanding of what I do. “So you make the circuit boards?” “So you make stuff look swoopy?”

I think it might be because of the name? “Industrial” Design usually gives people the wrong impression - most people who have never heard of it assume that I design factory equipment or that I’m some sort of engineer.

Coming from a small town, the options presented to me were: doctor, lawyer, engineer, farmer posing as a cowboy, or factory worker. I showed a little mathematic competency and that kept me out of pretty much anything practical or creative. Those classes are where they shuffled the ‘bad’ kids for babysitting…“You’re too smart for that.”

Though considering we often work so closely to design things like injection molding tooling, one could argue that they aren’t wrong. :smiley:

I agree. If industrial design was called product design instead, more people would recognize it. Although, since product design is often referred to as a sub-field of ID, then some may consider it a slightly less accurate term.

I recently wrote a piece about the term Industrial Design vs Product Design for the main blog:

A lot of app developers and design engineers are also called product designers. That term is narrow and diffuse at the same time. It is already corrupted.

I like Industrial design because it covers everything from what an entry level designer does (designing products) to what a VP of Design or CDO does (designing industry, organizational design, positioning, thought leadership). I’ve come full circle on the term.

Getting back to the OP, Why is design on the DL?

The blunt answer is because you (me, each and everyone of us) have failed in properly promoting it. Be loud, be proud, and above all, be good at it. Lawyers, doctors, architects have lobbied for themselves very publicly for a very long time. We need to do the same. (insert IDSA discussion)

It’s a bit funny because at my University, the theme of this year’s graduation exhibition is “Design is…” as in trying to promote what exactly Industrial Design is (we dropped Industrial mostly because of poster/long title reasons).

That being said, I find that ID, along with a slew of various other professions are not known simply because they aren’t the one’s marketing. I see the same with engineering firms that design very popular products/systems, but in the end, only the firm/company that sells & markets the product gets the credit. It’s like, I was surprised many people don’t know Unilever, but can recognize 90% of Unilever’s brands. So my understanding is the same with ID: it’s the “behind the curtains” kind of profession unless people start signing their products a la Karim Rashid or Philippe Starck.

The word ‘Industrial’ will probably need to be dropped or replaced, or only used for things pertaining to industrial mass-manufacture. There won’t be much of a difference between industry and the everyday consumer world anymore when consumers turn into makers and local manufacturing hubs start popping up. I see the term ‘Product Designer’ better fit, although mainly we’re simply designers and then everyone could have their own subterm for their specific field I guess.

More on topic -even if I’m sort of guessing what DL means since I’m Dutch- it seems to me that ID is on the rise because people have an innate tendency to awaken their creative powers. I see ID’ers mainly as creative forces and as integrators of several disciplines - the ones who can make technology societally relevant, and beautiful. I think many people feel this need to develop themselves more integrally, and that their specific expertise is only a means to an end. In the end, we’ll all probably be functioning more like autonomous innovators, tightly integrated into the global community but with our own set of skills, knowledge, identity, design philosophy and a clear vision as to how we’re contributing to the whole.