Product design is all about creating new three-dimensional products through an efficient process of idea generation, development and evaluation. Product designers have an understanding of the relationship between art, science and technology, and have the ability to exploit each of these things in different ways to create new products.
Good design is the backbone of our everyday lives. Product innovations can radically alter the way we are able to carry out simple daily tasks. On a higher level, new designs can change the way we interact with the environment, influence our social experiences or even save lives.
A career in product design offers you an opportunity to make a real impact. The process of nurturing a design, from the early concept stages to a commercially viable solution suitable for mass manufacture, can also give product designers a great amount of job satisfaction.
What are good qualities of a successful product designer?
Product design careers cover an extremely broad spectrum of industries. Consequently, the emphasis on technical or aesthetic design expertise can vary from role to role. More technical projects will demand a greater understanding of engineering, where function may dictate form. More artistic projects are likely to focus on form and usability.
Product design requires a great deal of understanding of both materials and manufacturing techniques. A product designer will be expected to stay aware of new developments in these fields, as this will aid them in their daily work and drive innovation in their company.
A product designer will typically work as part of a team, often comprising of junior, middleweight and senior designers. These guys all report to a design manager or creative lead. Most product designers rise up through these ranks of increasing responsibility, as they prove themselves to be not only a talented designer and innovative thinker, but also a great team player and communicator.
What is the process of commercial product design?
Commercial product design falls into two main categories:
- In-house companies, where all design is conducted and driven by a marketing department within that company
- Consultancy-based design, where design is driven by external clients’ needs.
Despite these differences, all projects undertaken will stem from the common ‘design brief’, which is steered by market research into the product field.
Throughout the project, regular forums will be scheduled and presentations will be made to ensure the project is progressing in the right direction. Sometimes these forums can mean radical shifts in the design are called for, and a product designer’s skill lies in their ability to evaluate these comments and implement them back into their designs.
A designer may use various tools to realise their design effectively, ranging from advanced computer modelling to more traditional workshop techniques. For example, a design will start life as a pencil sketch, then be developed using foam models that lead to a working rig before a computer is even used.
In parallel to this, the team dynamic offers many opportunities to exchange and brainstorm ideas, and final designs will often be shaped and steered by a collection of people’s inputs.
Time management and scheduling is another key aspect to a product design role. A product’s market launch time will dictate this, and it is up to the designer to structure their project time to ensure vital deadlines are met. This can range from internal coordination of tasks, to liaising with external suppliers and manufacturers.