October 30, 2006
The Differences Between Industrial Design And Design Engineering
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor


by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Editor's Note: The topic of this week's MCADCafe Weekly came to us from Agjah Libohova, Director of Research & Development at Autronic Plastics Inc., Westbury, New York. He brings out some good points on the obvious and not so obvious differences between industrial design and design engineering. I have some definite opinions about this, too, that I'll share at the end of this piece.


There is a huge misunderstanding between the overlapping functions in which these two processes-industrial design and design engineering-operate. The following definitions are from Wikipedia:


Industrial Design (ID) is an applied art whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be improved. Design aspects specified by the industrial designer may include the overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, colors, texture, sounds, and aspects concerning the use of the product ergonomics.


Design Engineering (DE) is a discipline that creates and transforms ideas and concepts into a product definition that satisfies customer requirements.


The definitions of these two categories of design have a fundamental difference between them: ID is an applied art, whereas DE is a discipline. This means that industrial designers more often have more liberal control than design engineers to design everything that they or their customers like. This is due to the fact that design engineers have only one choice: make it work.


However, since the functions of each are often unclear, customers can easily be confused as to which one they need. Although, misunderstanding which one they need is almost inevitable because of a series of factors:
  • Each industrial designer or design engineer has greed to get the job, so they do not make it clear to the customer what their function is.
  • The customer looks for a "one stop shop", so they want to accomplish everything in one shot, whereas they may need both an industrial designer and design engineer.
  • Designers believe to be something they are not. Some industrial designers believe to be design engineers as well, only to end up creating a product that is not functional or suitable for manufacturability. Whereas, some design engineers believe to be industrial designers as well, only to end up creating an ugly product that requires a three-armed person to use it.
  • It is both the industrial designers and design engineers' job to educate customers. If we compare them with doctors, doctors have done a much better job in educating their customers (patients) about their specialization. You never have a cosmetic surgery doctor performing brain surgery (or vice versa) due to the differences in specializations (and liability). It is very clear on what one can and cannot do. Unfortunately, it is not as clear what one can and cannot do in ID and DE. Therefore, it is a big mess.


    When I started in the plastics injection molding industry 26 years ago, I was fortunate to be taught then the difference between ID and DE. And so, as a design engineer, I have always been careful not to step into the ID area. My job is to design a working product and send that to an industrial designer to dress it up.


    Having worked with different customers of different backgrounds, I realized that industrial designers and design engineers very rarely recommend that their customers see the other (unlike doctors do). This is a matter of pride and business. There is a fear that the customer will think one is incompetent or that the customer will finish the project with the other one, although unbeknown to the customer the other one is not the expert in both.


    I consistently receive product designs from industrial designers, in which case 99% the parts are not ready for manufacturing. They most often times need a draft angle added in order to eject the part from the mold or a wall thickness increased to accommodate the material specification. Somebody has to spend the time to redesign the part, and that has to be paid for by the customer. Often times, the customer does not understand the need to redesign and the sequence of events to validate. This situation creates confusion, frustration, and mistakes.


    When a customer pays for a design, they expect the design to be ready for manufacturing. However, many times customers find themselves paying more and waiting longer for product redesign so that it is suitable for manufacturing. Therefore, know the difference between industrial design and design engineering, and ensure you know which one you are dealing with.



    Commentary

    by Jeffrey Rowe, Editor


    As I have stated over the years, computer-aided design (CAD) packages used for design engineering are not the same as computer-aided industrial design (CAID) packages, and vice versa - each product type addresses a specific need and serves a definite purpose. Historically, CAID has occupied the conceptual front-end of the product development process, while CAD has been best suited for the design refinement and manufacturing portions of the process.


    Typically, CAID packages have been used by design specialists (usually industrial designers) and the CAID data is exported (either directly or via IGES or STEP) to CAD/CAM packages for actually producing a design. All too often, however, the manufactured product bears little resemblance to the design conceived and intended by the industrial designer. This situation is often referred to as "throwing a design over the transom," where designers are often accused of creating concepts that are either not practical or impossible to economically manufacture; while more technical, engineering types are accused of destroying design intent.


    CAID packages are developed specifically with industrial designers in mind - in a graphic environment they strive to stimulate creativity by providing a wide variety of design options. In essence, these tools are used to quickly create and alter the shape, form, and surface qualities of 3D models. CAID tools also excel at presenting design concepts with photorealistic rendering, lighting, and animation effects.


    Are they really that different? Well, yes and no. Of course, there are some common traits found in both CAD and CAID packages, namely, they both are used to design physical objects, while attempting to compress the product development cycle, albeit with distinct methodologies and expectations.


    Although CAD and CAID packages do share some common elements, overall they probably are more different than they are similar, especially with regard to the process and environment in which they are used. While great strides have been made to the contrary, CAD tools are typically used in a more traditional serial, one-way process or workflow of Design'Engineering'Manufacturing. CAID tools, on the other hand, are used in a more bi-directional workflow that not only involves industrial designers, but also marketing, engineering, manufacturing, as well as the end user/consumer.


    Obviously, industrial design and design engineering are very different disciplines with very different tool requirements. Industrial design is art-centric, while engineering is math-centric. Industrial designers gravitate towards traditional drawing tools; engineers are typically armed with formulas and calculators. Each discipline also has different deliverables. Industrial designers express and communicate design emotion and feeling, while engineers communicate dimensions and other numeric entities. As a result, industrial designers and engineers have fundamentally different requirements with regard to the design software they need to perform their respective types of work.


    Until recently, many traditional CAD vendors didn't pay too much attention to the ID segment of the design software market because they perceived it as too small to bother with. However, over time, the practice of industrial design has received more respect and notoriety as a way to really distinguish products, especially consumer products, in a competitive marketplace.


    I estimate that in the U.S alone there are approximately 30,000-35,000 people engaged in what can be termed industrial design. Many of these users are not degreed industrial designers, but they do perform most or all of the functions requisite for industrial design - aesthetic form, optimized function, and user interaction. Worldwide, I'd estimate this number could be expanded two or three times to the 75,000-100,000 range, so ID is not such a tiny niche after all. While these aren't huge potential customer numbers in the eyes of some MCAD vendors, several of them have begun to target and market to the relatively "small" industrial design sector of the design software market.


    Today there remains a big gap in easily transforming 2D into 3D, as well as a gap between industrial designers and design engineers. To help bridge this gap, a growing number of vendors feel what is needed is a true unconstrained modeling, conceptual design tool allows and maintains true design intent throughout the process, and whose final product is a digital, visual representation of clay. A big part of the success of this type of tool is to minimize user interaction with the modeling tool. In this scenario, however, traditional physical modeling will not decrease significantly in importance, because physical models always have been
    and probably always will be vital as output, confirmation/verification, control, and reference. This is why traditional physical models and model making are still big business. A sizeable percentage of physical models are created and used in the context of reverse engineering by scanning the models, thus transforming and transferring physical information into a digital form.


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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


    Rating:
    Reviews:
    Review Article
    • October 09, 2008
      Reviewed by 'Kevin'
      Sorry but I totally disagree with your comments on industrial design as
      it is in 2006 worldwide. Perhaps this is and has been the case in the
      SA - to do the design engineering then "dress it up" but this will not
      give you a fully integrated design process. Most, if not all, major
      manufacturers and product development consultancies operate with
      engineers and designers in the same team. Only by considering function,
      aesthetics, ergonomics and manufacturability can a good product be
      developed. Good product development is about teamwork and communication
      not them and us.
      These days the boundaries do merge. I am a degree qualified mechanical
      engineer, but with a masters in industrial design. That was 20 years ago.
      More and more graduates are emerging from "joint" courses. This is the
      future.
      As for software, the one thing that is missing is the ability produce
      quality 2D drawings as well, or at the very least drawings from the 3D
      model, and high quality outputs to prototyping systems as STL.

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    • October 09, 2008
      Reviewed by 'Mike LaCroix'
      In my career of product design (electronics, mechanical, production tooling and others), I have worked for large companies in the Automotive industry, medium sized companies in consumer products and a few start-ups. But in all of the companies that I have worked for the person who did the Industrial Design was the same person who did the Design Engineering and that is true for many companies. The reason behind this combining of the jobs was simple. By letting the Design Engineer perform the Industrial Design tasks, time and money was saved as it prevented the reviews of products that just couldn't or would be too expensive to manufacture. As a Design Engineer performing the duties of the ID the person will automatically note if a concept or design is not possible or too expensive as the DE already understands the manufacturing techniques that would be needed to manufacture the product and would therefore avoid designs that can't meet manufacturing assembly processes. The second advantage here is that you only have to pay one salary. I have always been a strong supporter of the idea that in order to be a good product designer (ID or DE) you really must have a solid understanding of a wide variety of manufacturing techniques. At Boeing all new "Engineers" must work on the production floor for specified period of time at all (or almost all), jobs on the production floor before they can finally sit at a workstation to design anything. As one of your reviewers stated, that is becoming more and more difficult as most companies are moving production "Off Shore".
      My own personal belief is that the disciplines of the Industrial Designer and the Design Engineer should be amalgamated into ONE discipline to be taught at school. The result would be product design engineers that have more to offer than an ID or DE alone.

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    • October 09, 2008
      Reviewed by 'Richard'
      Hi Jeff,
      Once again you taught me something I was not too sure about. You explained it well and I understood it perfectly. I don't fall into either category but as a teacher of MCAD in the middle schools I now can tell the students I have about those two important but different professions. Thanks.

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    • October 09, 2008
      Reviewed by 'A Grey Beard'
      Another review of disciplines from the standpoint of inexperience in the "real world"... It has been my pleasure and pain to work with "Industrial Designers" over thirty years in Silicon Valley and other areas of American industry, and the main problem with your article is that you have bought in to the latest misapplication of design education. In the early 80's, I was brought into "Industrial Design" classes in the industry leading program at San Jose State, as a "Plastics Engineer" working in the electronics industry. My talent was experience in tooling and manufacturing, and the program was newly imbedded in the "Art Department" at San Jose State. I came in to talk to Juniors and Seniors about their "designs" and to bring "reality" into a "sketch, sketch, sketch" environment.
      A very few instructors valued my critiques of their student's design efforts, as I pointed out the limitations on using six inch long #6 screws and Velcro to hold product parts together. I talked to the students about the impracticality of designing products that "looked good" but couldn't be made by conventional manufacturing processes. I discussed "draft" in molds, parting lines, and variables caused by ignoring gating requirements. Far too many of those students argued with me that their job was not to know or care what "could be made", but to design for awards and art-inspired grades.
      Twenty years later, I see the same mentality being institutionalized, and expected. These days, there are very few of us "manufacturing-experienced" designers left to correct that nonsense, and there exists very few opportunities for the novice designers to learn what can be done, as most manufacturing is now done overseas.
      Just last week, I had a meeting with a startup that had a "design house" design their product, select a vendor, and purchase tooling to make the product. Only the money came from the startup, and now they are left owning unknown tooling, poorly processed parts and a selected vendor who does not want their business. CAD, CAID or spread sheets do not make design, and anyone who depends blindly on technology and "disciplines" to stay in business is headed for disaster. Know what you are buying, paying for and getting, not the tool used to get there.

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