October 30, 2006
The Differences Between Industrial Design And Design Engineering
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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:
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.
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.
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.