As the president of Beyond Design, a Chicago, IL, U.S.–based product development firm, Michael Prince is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the product development process—including industrial design, engineering, user interface, and marketing. Before starting Beyond Design more than 15 years ago, he worked in product development and marketing for companies including Sony and Thomson Consumer Electronics. He is a member of IDSA and a graduate of Syracuse University in New York, where he received a BA in industrial design. If you wish to contact him, please e-mail email@example.com.
Years before industrial designers
started using computer-aided design (CAD), the tools of the trade were
pencils and markers. While these tools were useful, they limited the
scope of industrial designers, whose main focus and niche became
primarily product styling. Engineers always viewed industrial designers
as “sketch artists” and failed to realize the innovation and vision
they bring to the development process. However, over the past two
decades, the introduction of CAD has significantly helped bridge the
gap between industrial design and engineering. CAD programs like
SolidWorks and ProEngineer enable designers to create compelling forms
and precisely deliver the data necessary for engineering and
While industrial designers and
engineers share the same passion for product development, their
approach to solving a problem is often very different. Engineers and
industrial designers have been at odds for a long time, and it is only
recently that each started to acknowledge the benefits they can achieve
by working together. In addition, marketing teams have taken notice of
this collaboration and are using new methods for product development.
tend to be more analytical and approach problems in a methodical manner
that is based on mathematical principles. The engineer’s role is to
analyze the product efficiency, structural integrity, and performance.
It is their responsibility to develop the internal mechanisms and
ensure product details are suitable for manufacturing.
the other hand, industrial designers tend to be more visual and
abstract, concentrating on user features, ergonomics, and aesthetics.
The industrial designer’s role is to study human behavior and the
interaction between man and machine—to enhance the user experience.
Designers are inquisitive, bring creativity and inspiration to a
product, and present quick visual ideas during the development process.
the development of CAD, industrial designers have been able to capture
their design intent along with information necessary for engineering
and manufacturing. Without sacrificing creativity, industrial designers
also consider materials and piece part strategies in their design
process. Industrial designers are now able to control details including
parting lines, draft, wall thickness, and assembly techniques that were
once strictly the responsibility of engineers. This has not only helped
speed up the development process, but also enables industrial designers
to communicate more efficiently with the engineers and ensure design
details are not overlooked or misinterpreted. Unlike the computers used
back in the mid-1970s, designers are no longer restricted by the
limitations of computer software. On the contrary, these tools have
become easier to operate and are now an extension of the designers’
ability to capture their vision.
industrial designers are using the same tools as the engineers, this
does not make them engineers, nor does it replace the need for one.
Industrial designers still lack the training of physics, chemistry,
mechanics, and mathematics that lie behind solid engineering
principles. Designers do, however, have an obligation to understand
materials and processes so that engineers can effectively implement
their vision. Likewise, engineers don’t always take into consideration
the importance of form, human interaction, and ergonomics to which
industrial designers are naturally drawn. This is where the two must
come together to create solutions that are compelling, intuitive,
reliable, ecologically smart, and designed for cost-efficient
The way we develop products
today is very different from just 10 years ago. Time-to-market is
defined in days rather than months, and responsibilities between
industrial designers and engineers have evolved to a point where
everyone is working faster and everything must come together just at
the right moment. Over the past decade, industrial designers have been
able to position themselves in critical product development roles that
enable them to provide the necessary vision and guidelines inherent to
projects. Industrial designers know when to challenge engineering in
order to realize their vision, but they also understand the need to
compromise in order to keep the project on track and on budget.
relationship between an industrial designer and an engineer can be
looked at as a relay race: You have two runners that train and support
each other with the goal of winning the race. At some point, the two
must be perfectly in sync in order to hand off the baton seamlessly and
without error. While one runner takes over, the other runner continues
to support teammates until the finish line is reached. Industrial
designers and engineers constantly support one another and push the
limits of ergonomics, performance, and aesthetics to create a final
product that is both functional and meaningful to the user.
new technologies emerge, industrial designers and engineers will
continue to share their ideas more efficiently and new product
opportunities will flourish. The main focus will be not only on
features, but also on ways to reduce the carbon footprint and create
smarter products for the consumer.
Tell us about it:
- What role do industrial designers play in your product development processes?
your opinion? Do industrial designers and engineers work together
effectively—or do they clash and bog down product development?