Industrial designers create a wide range of items, including everything from electronics, domestic appliances and machinery to company brands and web apps. They also work on improving existing items. They combine art, business and engineering, focussing on the user experience in creating style and function for a particular gadget or appliance.
Industrial designers typically do the following:
- consult with clients to determine requirements for designs
- research who will use a particular product, and the various ways it might be used
- develop ideas and make initial sketches or outline plans
- use computer design software to produce detailed blueprints
- make samples or working models, known as prototypes
- examine materials and production costs to determine manufacturing requirements
- work with other specialists, such as mechanical engineers or manufacturers
- evaluate product safety, appearance and function to determine if a design is practical
- make presentations to senior design management or clients, either when bidding for a contract or to present design proposals.
Why did you choose industrial design? As a kid, I was always getting my hands dirty making things and I constantly wondered how stuff worked. My dad had a background in carpentry and a career in electronics, which helped fuel my passion. My discovery of industrial design was by complete chance when we had someone come to speak about it at our school’s open day. The idea that a person could design products as a career seemed incredible to me.
Describe what you do I design, develop, engineer and help bring to market a variety of the consumer products/physical objects that a person sees around them every day. These items can be as diverse as household consumer products, electronics, furniture, lighting or even cars.
What training did you undergo? I completed a four-year BTech degree in Industrial Design at what was then Cape Technikon (and is now CPUT). Subjects include design, drawing, theory, business, history, technology and professional practice.
Is there a type of personality best suited to this work? You need to have a passion for design, making things and solving problems. Patience and persistence is also key. It’s important not to take yourself or your design ideas too seriously.
Is experience as important as formal training? Absolutely! Every day you learn how to do something better through practice.
Describe a typical day A typical day could consist of research and design exploration; meetings with clients and manufacturers; preparing product design specifications and briefs; putting together quotations for clients; engineering and detailed design development; rendering 3D models to look realistic for presentations.
What do you enjoy most? It is incredibly rewarding to see a concept sketch develop into a finished product on the store shelf. The design process, strategic thinking, problem solving, prototyping and often hands-on work make for a truly dynamic environment that keeps me on my toes and surprises me every day.
Which aspects are you least keen on? Many clients do not understand the value of design and the lengthy process that needs to happen for a final product to be realised. This is a day-to-day struggle and can be quite draining.
Any advice for someone just starting out? In order to be sufficiently prepared for a career in industrial design, one needs to do a lot of self-study around materials, processes, 3D modelling and other computer skills. I would also encourage people to look at existing products to see how they are made and put together. So much can be learned from taking things apart.
Your job in three words Fun • Exciting • Humbling
IN THE BAG
Describe what you do My company, Rarity Handbags, manufactures unique handbags aimed at the export market and at local top-end boutiques. These products are made out of responsibly-sourced hides.
Why did you choose to pursue this line of work? I chose it because of my love for design and fashion.
What training did you undergo? After completing Fine Arts at Michaelis School of Fine Art, I ended up designing for a company, then worked my way up to lead designer and factory manager.
What does one need to make it in this industry? If you are creative, with the ability to be analytical and focused, you are perfect for this kind of career.
Describe your working day Waking up early for boot camp (come summer or winter); it keeps me present and gives me precious time alone. The factory production line starts at 7.30am, and I’m there by 8am after dropping my child at school. Running a design and manufacture concern that is focused on exports sees very few normal days; each day is exciting and interesting. Every client and every country comes with its own challenges and thus needs to be approached accordingly, so planning is paramount. A daily meeting with the factory manager ensures that I’m up to speed on everything and allows for scheduling and problem solving. Export requires prompt and efficient service, so most mornings are dedicated to correspondence with clients. A fun part of the day is identifying design and materials for new ideas, which requires a detailed time and cost analysis. I explore all options on new ideas/ranges or requests to establish which projects are feasible, as well as exploring new markets, shows and marketing platforms.
Experience vs training? In this field you need both, especially if you want to run a successful, growing business. If I had to choose between the two, I would choose experience.
What do you love most? The challenge of addressing the unique demands of our discerning clients. I am proud of the fact that we have a happy and productive working environment, with skilled and dedicated staff. I love being in our factory.
What don’t you enjoy? Accounts are really hard work, but doing them becomes easier with time and practice. It is an integral part of understanding your company and planning growth.
What have been your career highlights? Being a top ten finalist in the ABSA Western Cape Exporter of the Year, and having Princess Mary of Denmark carry one of our designs to the Monaco royal wedding (and also to several other functions).
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs? Love what you do – working is a big part of your life; plan everything; know what’s coming in and what you have to spend; stay focused; put in the hours; and, do your research…all the time.
What is good to remember about being in business? I always choose the nice guy over the cheap guy; people respond to passion and will do more for a person who believes in themselves and their business. Respect makes the world work a whole lot better.
Describe your job in three words Exciting • Rewarding • Challenging
A bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture or engineering is usually required for entry-level industrial design jobs. Courses that include a relevant placement year or those with significant practical design content are particularly helpful. You’ll be required to show a portfolio of your design work when applying for jobs, so anything that helps to build this up will be useful. It will be important to keep up to date with developments in design trends and computer software throughout your career.
WHERE CAN I STUDY?
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
National Diploma / Bachelor of Technology: Industrial Design
Tshwane University of Technology
National Diploma: 3D Design
University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Industrial Design
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended:
• Physical Sciences
• Visual Arts
• Information Technology
• Engineering and Graphic Design