It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

“What Does an Industrial Designer Do, Anyway?”

Ran into jwz at the Meat Beat Manifesto show and he posed the question to me, “What does an industrial designer do?”

My smart-ass answer was “make stuff!” followed by examples of what industrial designers make these days: furniture, video game controllers, tools, dashboards for cars, etc.

But I think my answer was biased by what I want to do as an industrial designer. There are a lot of Kareem Rashid and Philippe Starck wannabees out there competing to be the next Name and to be honest, I don’t care to complete with them one bit. Designing-to-be-consumed is just not something I’m interested in. If I make something, I want people to use it until it wears out or is completely obsolete, not just use it until it’s out of style and throw it away. Unfortunately for the planet, much of ID is based around convincing you to get rid of a perfectly good mobile phone, car, bicycle, couch or trashcan and replace it with one that’s simply different. (On the other hand there’s sculptor-turned-designer Michael Aram who makes plenty of things that people will probably replace long before they wear out, and of whom I’m unashamedly jealous.)

I respect the business sense of designers like Rashid and Starck, and there are some things they’ve designed that I wouldn’t mind owning, but making the same things in new styles just to support consumerism is not what I want to contribute to the world. It’s hard to imagine getting excitied about making This Year’s Sneaker when I’m completely happy with my ~10 year old ergo keyboards, ~100 year old ball-peen hammer, and Levi 501s that I wear until they fall apart.

What interests me is practical things that can be used for years: comfortable furniture that looks good, video game controllers that don’t destroy your hands and that can be moved from console to console, displays and layouts for motorbikes and automobiles, or kitchen utensils and household tools that you can hand down to your kids. I’m also interested in mobile computing and how to integrate wireless computing into everyday life, an area where people expect ot throw things out or replace them after only a few months or a year, so I’m sure I’ll have brain-lock any day now.

So, back to the question of what industrial designers make, here’s a few exmaples based on job listings I’ve seen posted in various trade magazines:

  • sporting equipment: bicycles and accessories, golf clubs, tennis rackets, safety gear for just about any sport
  • branded clothing and accessories: athletic shoes, motorcycle clothing, all the overpriced doodads you see in the display case at the car dealership (like the Jeep or Hummer sport radios)
  • medical equipment: next time you’re at the doctor, look at all the fancy tools with integrated computers and displays, an industrial designer was probably involved
  • power tools: the design-award winning De Walt boombox/battery charger really made people realize how useful industrial designers could be in what you’d think is a really boring market

Technorati: industrial design

posted by jet at 17:36  

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