Q&A with a Senior Industrial Designer on the Product Development Process
Sr. Director of Industrial Design
1. What role does your team play in the PD process?
Like most Industrial Design teams, our primary purpose is to represent the individual or group of people who will use the product; whether it be hardware, software, or a combination of the two. We convert user needs in combination with technical requirements into manufacturable products that and both elegant and functional.
2. In general, what competencies do you and your team bring to most projects and what are your most frequent tasks?
Our Industrial Design team brings all the competencies one would expect of a top tier design studio. Plus, we bring additional competencies not likely found in many design studios which can be of significant benefit to our clients.
Our most frequent tasks usually involve hardware concept development (and all that the activity entails – from market research to proof-of-concept models), 3D CAD of Class-A surfaces for production tooling and user interface/user experience development.
We also provide detail simulations both digitally and physically to allow product concepts to be tested and vetted. This includes the use of virtual reality as part of the development process.
3. What are some of the most unusual or difficult challenges your team has been asked to meet and how did you meet those?
Perhaps one of the most challenging projects from a technical standpoint was designing a wearable camera intended for use in explosive environments. The concept development proceeded through a typical process involving concept sketches, 3D CAD concept models and quick 3D prints for evaluation/presentation, but meeting all the extraordinary requirements – from heat dissipation to static discharge constraints, from drop tests to providing ease-of-use user experience while ensuring the camera didn’t become a missile hazard when dropped by oil platform workers – meant working seamlessly with in house and client engineering teams to deliver a best-in-class product in augmented reality and remote assistance services.
4. Which other IPS departments do you work most closely with and what sorts of conflicts may commonly arise that require detailed collaboration and compromise?
Industrial Design team members work most closely with Mechanical Engineering and Software development teams.
The conflicts that arise between the ID team and ME team are the same conflicts that exist between every ID team and ME team: Industrial Designers traditionally want the impossible, and Mechanical Engineers traditionally want the practical. Fortunately, the teams at IPS aren’t like “every ID team and ME team” out there. The breadth of experience on our teams usually means we collaborate more than conflict and find it relatively easy to arrive at a resolution when compromise is necessary.
The conflicts which arise between the ID team and the Software team may be better described as creative tension. Each individual scenario is different and is influenced by the level of complexity, NRE budget, level of fit and finish (premium brand product vs. rapid proof of concept). Regardless, the ID team works to ensure that the appropriate level of consideration is given to each product and the users described and works with the other disciplines to ensure that the user needs and the decision this drives are captured.
5. Tell us about the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you and/or your team during a product development project.
While working at a large corporation some years ago I received training on a new-at-the-time market research technique which came to us via our new VP of Marketing, a former Proctor & Gamble standout. That technique came to be called “Consumer Encounters”. You can find the white paper online, but in short, we would observe consumers while they conducted a particular activity, make notes and ask questions only upon completion of the activity; the goal being to avoid interrupting the consumer while s/he was performing the activity.
In our first consumer encounter we were tasked with going into people’s homes to see how they organized their closets, among other things. Our team met one of our volunteer consumers at her home; she’d graciously left work early on a weekday/school day to participate.
When it came time to observe how she stored items in her closet, she opened the door to see her son hiding in it, as he’d clearly not gotten the memo his mother would be home early when he was supposed to be in class.
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