Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Do Industrial Designers have a future?

An industrial Designer just asked (edited slightly):

What is the industrial design's value in the future?

With electronics  getting smaller and smarter, it seems that we don't need industrial designer any more. Today it is interaction and service designers who are in the spotlight. What is your opinion?

The question, basically, is whether the field of Industrial Design has a future. Huh?  If anything, ID is needed more now than ever.

Perhaps the confusion  is in the definition of an Industrial Designer.  I must admit to suffering from this same confusion. For example, am I an industrial designer? I'm a member of IDSA, the Industrial Design Society of America. I consider myself an interaction designer, but why isn't that a sub-category of ID? The same with service design.

Well, I recently heard a talk by a great industrial designer who does brilliant work,but who clearly was clueless about interactive design.  Traditinal designers are mostly taught form and styling. They learn about materials and manufacturing. All that is very important, but it isn't all there is to design. Design, like all disciplines, changes with the times. New technologies, new activities demand new skills.

Now that computer chips are embedded into almost everything, now that devices become smaller, sleeker, and more complex inside, the Industrial Design has to change to take advantage of the great new opportunities that these changes afford. (Hey, there is that word "affordance" sneaking its way into my conversation.)  In a similar way, service design requires new techniques and new approaches. Neither service design nor interaction design requires an understanding of materials or manufacturing practices. But they still require trained designers.

Do we still need ID? No, not the old-fashioned kind of ID. What we really need is a new breed of designer, one who can work across disciplines, one who understands human beings, business, and technology. The traditional industrial designer is too limited. We need a new breed of modern designers. 

Hmm, sounds like a great topic for my Core77 column.


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