Is the Industrial Designer’s Job Ever Finished?

That’s a tough question…and it’s one that has troubled nearly everyone who has developed and manufactured a product. Just when does the industrial designer’s job end?

For most of us, the answer isn’t a sharp line. It’s somewhere in a wide gray zone. It all depends on the individuals involved, the product, staff, resources, expectations, commitments, knowledge and skills. Large corporations with virtually endless resources of manpower, money and equipment can restrict specific responsibilities within very well defined boundaries.

In some instances, industrial designers will be limited to overall styling, product branding, aesthetics, concept development and human factor design considerations. They are not responsible for structural integrity, tooling or ease of manufacturing. Mechanical engineers translate the concepts provided by the industrial designers into a product that complies with performance specifications and meets structural expectations.

It Takes an Engineering Village: Designers, Mechanical, Production and Others

Some companies also have plastics/tooling engineers who are responsible for specifying resins and assuring the design is optimized for tooling and molding. Additional staff may also include industrial/production engineers who provide a liaison between the development team and the production floor. Their job is to further optimize the design so the assembly workers and QC department can efficiently produce quality products.

And, what’s more, large corporations also retain a testing and evaluation department to verify designs before they are released into the market place. All of these engineering responsibilities are still directly connected to the design, the work of the designer. At every stage, they must be managed with the common objective of outputting a safe, high-value product at minimal cost.  Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of large corporations that can provide this kind of safe cocoon around individuals within each department. So…

QUESTION: Where do most designer’s responsibilities end?
MY ANSWER: I believe a designer’s responsibility should end after a product has been manufactured and for a sufficient period of time to verify its performance and functions are as anticipated. Without the design, there is no product. A designer’s decisions for prioritizing critical design parameters, and creatively applying them to a product, essentially define the product.

Industrial designers don’t typically have a neatly contained boundary of limited responsibility typical of large organizations. They must wear the hats of all the engineers in big corporations, being responsible for everything starting with the concept and following up with the first articles entering the production floor. Designers must have tremendous foresight with the ability to circumvent potential problems at all levels of development, as well as production and eventual product use.

As one example, it amazes me how so many rotationally molded products are introduced each year with so little regard for design. I frequently encounter OEMs who have grossly underestimated the complexity and risks they face when considering their new product development program. They often trivialize the time, money and resources required to fully develop a successful product that contributes to their resistance to allocating the proper funds for attaining their objectives. I often wonder how huge this industry could be if all the benefits of the process could creatively be applied to countless new products and markets.

What do you think? I’d like to hear your answer to this question and hope you’ll send your comments today.  Please contact me at