This article is a transcription of episode #12 of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.
In this episode Anita and Voytek discuss some of the industries most mixed up phrases and definitions. As design, R&D and product development spread across industries and around the world, many definitions began changing. This led to problems in communication, as people with different industry backgrounds often have in mind different definitions of the same specific word or phrase.
Voytek Holysz: Hello, Anita.
Anita Rogoża: Hello Voytek.
Voytek Holysz: This will be a weird talk. Preparing this podcast and the topics that we would like to talk, about we encountered this issue, problem, don't know how to call it maybe a challenge, with marketing and SEO especially, and we noticed that the term, "industrial design", carries a lot of weight with it and no weight at all, people interpreted it differently. And then in a couple conversations I had with people I met when they asked me where I work, and I said that at an industrial design company, they looked at me and repeated the question, but slower like I didn't understand, because my explanation wasn't good enough for them. So I figured maybe this is a good chance to talk about some of the terms that are used within our industry, that also exist in other industries or with other types of companies and are simply interpreted differently. In your experience, have you had examples like these where you thought that something was pretty obvious by the definition and it turned out that the client had something else in mind?
Anita Rogoża: I think the main issue is with the term of product design, because it is quite a broader term. And we have industrial design, which usually lits people somewhere towards the manufacturing stuff. And sometimes they usually think that it regards more heavy machinery, for example, and like heavy duty stuff.
Voytek Holysz: So like when they think of industrial design, they think of big machines, not necessarily like remote control...
Anita Rogoża: Factory plants and assembly lines and stuff like that. Not necessarily all the stuff that surrounds them basically.
Voytek Holysz: Exactly. So it's basically everything that's manufactured.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah. Actually we can go towards the definitions maybe. Because what is designed and what is industrial design. I really like the definition of design by Penny Park, who is an author, specializing in the history of design. And she defines design "as a process of shaping surroundings and objects in that surrounding in a way to make them function and look as we want them to." So it's like a very nice broad elegant definition. And in industrial design, actually it is quite new subject of people's…
Voytek Holysz: Okay, what do you mean? Like, that is barely 300 years old.
Anita Rogoża: Barely 200 years old, I would say because it started somewhere during the industrial revolution. I don't have very broad historical knowledge, but it started during that shift from craftsmanship and craftsman made objects, towards the factories and mass production. And that was the time where the need of combining two sets of skills happened, because usually at that time, users of those new mass made products thought of them as soulless and lacking the artistry that craftsmen can offer. So that was the time when that need of a designer having two strong feet.
Voytek Holysz: So there was suddenly a need to design for the production line.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, for different tools basically. But with the same attention to details and to human needs, I would say.
Voytek Holysz: But like you said, today, industrial design is about designing anything that is physically manufactured, not necessarily mass production. So you've mentioned product design, and this also causes confusion.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah because I consider myself a product designer, physical product design but I know...
Voytek Holysz: Consider a product designer.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, that's true, product designer. But during the course of new stuff emerging in the word internet and mobile phones, apps and stuff like that, there was a need to design all of that. So we also have product designers who create websites, who create apps and stuff like that. And they do put products on the market, but they're digital products.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah, exactly. I found the same with product development. If we try to find a product development company, you would probably get the first page of your search to be software companies.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah software companies and stuff like that.
Voytek Holysz: And product development like new product development departments and companies are departments solely dedicated to developing new physical products and introducing them later to the market.
Anita Rogoża: True. But I believe that set of skills or maybe way of thinking is similar in those fields, physical world and software world I would say, because you still need to think about the end user. You still need to think about constraints that technology use brings to you, but the outcome is different.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. And since software and the IT world is so, well, I don't want to use the word popular, but it's very mainstream, so to speak. Everything is digital. So people often, first when they hear product development or product design, they instinctively think about their app or piece of software that they use on their laptop.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, the digital world became more obvious for a lot of us. And this is the world when we see some stuff much faster, some stuff happens faster. I mean that, for example launching different versions and newer versions of some applications, it's much quicker and noticeable. And for example, launching a new car, new phone and stuff like that takes years. So it's harder to get a grasp on that.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah, another term that I think sometimes is misinterpreted is research and development. Sometimes I have the feeling that for some people, R and D is like googling intensively, and that's not it.
Anita Rogoża: Research and development sometimes is aggressively googling stuff because you need to conduct your desktop research, but sometimes it's going to, I don't know, some experts and talking with them. Sometimes it's to have a workshop with potential users to maybe have some insights in the way they use some stuff. And stuff like that. But research and development also consists of development. Which is iterative improving and experimenting and exploring.
Voytek Holysz: Experimenting, so it requires testing, not testing, just theoretical thoughts, but practical.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah you are dealing with the physical world, so it is best to.
Voytek Holysz: And that's why I think also sometimes people are surprised to hear how much time research and development takes, because if they instinctively think about like googling something for some time, then it doesn't seem like it should take a lot of time. But when you take the full R and D process into consideration, the development part, I'm not sure, but that's my guess, correct me if I'm wrong, that the development part takes way more time than the research part. And you can never tell how long it'll take.
Anita Rogoża: It's true. Because it is a process, you have to evaluate your outcomes on the go, and see if they're aiming into the qualities you want to achieve at the end. So it requires more elasticity in thinking, I would say, because sometimes the outcomes surprise us and we have to ask ourselves if is that outcome is good enough? Is it something that will satisfy the function we want to have in the future product and et cetera.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah, okay, next one. In my short time here, I have already experienced the confusion in the word prototype, and I can imagine you have experienced it a lot.
Anita Rogoża: It's a prototype is a whole different story, I would say. But mainly the prototype can be different things because, the prototype can be a different thing each time it comes to exist, because prototypes serve different functions on the different stages of the design process. So for example, during the conceptual phase, we can make ourselves a very crude prototype of the looks of the device and see if it fits our needs in the real world, but we cannot check the mechanical stuff inside because it's just for the looks. But during the mechanical phase, we make a lot of prototypes because that's basically what our work is based on at that time. And those prototypes serve different functions. For example, they check if we are able to assemble the electronics inside, how well can we fit them if we need to improve some stuff that I don't know, are mounting screws inside or some other prototypes can check if our design is waterproof or maybe if not, so where are the leaks for example, et cetera. Because this is the only way to check what we've done on a computer. Designing in the cat software.
Voytek Holysz: Well, I've noticed that clients who don't have experience in designing new products or physical products in general, they sometimes think that a prototype is basically a master copy of the device that they are planning to introduce to the market and they do not know the process because it's a new process for them. They don't know what the first prototype might be like, we have somewhere here just a piece of foam sculpted in a specific shape that we intend to test if it's a good shape or not.
Anita Rogoża: So these are just the visual prototypes, I would say. And even after the mechanical phase, when we have that prototype in which we can fit some stuff inside, we can fit display and battery there, we almost have a feel of the final looks of that device and final functions. Most of the time those prototypes are still made with the surrogate technology. For example, when we are designing for the injection molding, the final prototype is not made by injection molding.
Voytek Holysz: You don't have tooling.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah because tooling is really, really costly and preparing that tooling also takes a lot of time. So usually it is 3D print, which in its structure, in its geometry, regards all of the demands of injection molding.
Voytek Holysz: So when working with an industrial design studio, expecting that the end result will be a functional prototype, you should still keep in mind that it's not a...
Anita Rogoża: It's not a product.
Voytek Holysz: It's not a product. It's something that if made correctly, is ready to become a product after going through the details with the manufacturer.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, exactly. It can be a great reference during the talk with a potential subcontractor or manufacturer. But it's not the product yet. We are close but not there yet.
Voytek Holysz: Sure. One other term that Rafał pointed out to me was the term that is usually associated with software development, which is agile development. So we also use this methodology, agile methodology. But in our case it is the same, but it also is very different than in software companies.
Anita Rogoża: I would say so. Basically from my point of view, the agile strategy of running your business or running the project is more or less thinking in a designer way, I would say. I don't want to use term design thinking because it's already taken, but the design approach towards the developing new project, and new stuff. Because it is taking a step, analyzing what happened and improving what you are doing to take another step. And I think that agile is a quite popular world toward businesses now. And I think it's a good thing because maybe it teaches our clients, or people in general, that developing new products or new stuff is an iterative process. And it is a process then during which we have to say, okay, this is good enough, we can proceed. This is the quality we are happy with. We can go and implement it into our production.
Voytek Holysz: So basically it's the same process, but in the case of developing a physical product, especially one with electronics, it's the agile method, but it doesn't mean that it's as quick as when developing software. Because sometimes it's impossible to have a one week sprint for developing a feature or testing a feature.
Anita Rogoża: It is impossible because we are constrained by, for example, waiting until the prototypes are made. The physical ones, we had to order them or print them in the house, assemble them, and then test them. So this is something that also elongates the whole process.
Voytek Holysz: Or availability of components.
Anita Rogoża: Or availability of components.
Voytek Holysz: That's okay.
Anita Rogoża: Huge issue now.
Voytek Holysz: So in a discussion with Rafał, the other Rafał, we talked about the importance, but also sometimes confusion that goes with preparing visual concepts for a client, especially when we have clients who come to us to fix a situation where they have received a visual concept from another company or person, that turned out to be unusable in the manufacturing process and in further development. So it means that somewhere outside the world of industrial design, a visual concept also somehow is seen as something that is in a way ready 100% to go on to be made, isn't it right?
Anita Rogoża: It isn't, at best, it is the correct technology. So it is a concept that has looks and probably won't change much during the mechanical design process.
Voytek Holysz: And in the worst case?
Anita Rogoża: And the worst case, we have to change it. And these are the cases we had in the past. We had a few projects like that, these projects were designed in a way that it was impossible to, for example, injection mold them. They were planned to be manufactured in a way. So this is a big no no, so bad to do.
Voytek Holysz: They were designed, but they weren't designed with the thought of engineering and manufacturing. Maybe that's a good differentiator between design in itself and industrial design.
Anita Rogoża: Mm. I would say that probably is, because a good industrial designer or a good industrial design company should have strong pole legs, like standing on a foot of humanities and thinking about looks, ergonomics and emotions, because that's very important during buying stuff and choosing stuff to surround yourself with.
Voytek Holysz: Especially with consumer product.
Anita Rogoża: Especially consumer product. And the other black should be engineering.
Voytek Holysz: Not humane not.
Anita Rogoża: Not humane, not a robot like a designer. So that's the clash that for some is hard, for some it's fascinating. And it's really important to combine those two words.
Voytek Holysz: Well, I guess that's the advantage of working in a team. Because you can have people who specialize, one is the robot and the other one is the artist.
Anita Rogoża: That's a soft artist, it is. And I think that's why I really like working in a team, because being a freelancer can bring those issues up.
Voytek Holysz: Well, you are more on the human leg right?
Anita Rogoża: Yeah exactly.
Voytek Holysz: But do this working in a team where you have other designers or engineers who are on the other balanced side? When designing a product, do you share some parts of design or do you learn from them, do you become a better robot yourself?
Anita Rogoża: I think both. But most of the times we are sharing work, sharing the workload I would say, because everybody are different and each person in the team has a different sets of skills that are great to make use of them in some parts, I wouldn't have so much fun during the DFM and then others, but some of them would be really miserable doing like helping the client with I don't know, picking the right color or preparing the strategy for the product with big question, what do you want to tell with your product, humankind.
Voytek Holysz: Just to be clear, we really love engineers. You're not robots, you're people.
Anita Rogoża: You're people.
Voytek Holysz: The last term on our list is a 3D model. So before working in the industrial design industry, it sounds weird.
Anita Rogoża: Industrial industry.
Voytek Holysz: Industrial industry. I work in a different creative industry, and it was in media, and getting 3d designs or 3D objects for the need of, for example, an animated video. Even then it was clear to me that people have very different definitions of what a 3D model is. Because if you speak to an engineer about a 3D model, usually it's something way, way, way more complicated than what a motion artist requires. But just within our scope of work in industrial design, a 3D model still can mean many things.
Anita Rogoża: True. And I think that it is a term similar to prototyping because different 3D models have a different purpose. For example, at the beginning when we have our conceptual phase, those 3D models are more of a representation of the future idea that can be developed.
Voytek Holysz: So you can't take them to a manufacturer and tell them.
Anita Rogoża: No, I regret to inform you that now you cannot. And they're mainly serving a purpose of communicating that our idea, and communicating how we vision execution of different functions or qualities of the product that the client asks us to. And that more soft, I would say type of a model.
Voytek Holysz: That's just a presentation.
Anita Rogoża: Just a presentation and that's it. And during the later phases, like mechanical design, we are building the correct CAD model that can be used for further talking with the subcontractors.
Voytek Holysz: That's the presentation part, the presentation type of 3D model, that lets the client, for example, pick a direction for the design. Or maybe to be sure if it communicates the right way that they want to. But still, when you take that design, that project into further development, you go into the nuts and bolts and the surface tensions and different types of things that are not at all in the first type of model.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah because during the conceptual phase, you are mainly judging the looks of something. And during the mechanical phase, you are judging and improving the insights, for example, and stuff that holds all of that together.
Voytek Holysz: So there weren't a lot of those terms, but still having confusion with any of them can be a real pain. Because as we look at them, they're basically some of the most important and basic terms used when developing a new product. Introducing it to the market or even working on a concept. And knowing what kind of 3D model you use, you need know what to do, what with it, or what is industrial design or what does it mean that we're going to work in agile methodology, or when you know that you are going to end up with a prototype, it's important to know what sort of prototype, what kind of prototype. So there aren't a lot of those confusing terms. At least now it seems so, but they seem to be the most important ones.
Anita Rogoża: True. And I think that each project starts with the educational phase. Regarding education, educating our clients maybe. And to maybe build the common language that everybody will understand and everybody will be on the same page.
Voytek Holysz: That's why we have the mind industrial design process right?
Anita Rogoża: True, that helps a lot.
Voytek Holysz: Which we can hear about in another video, but this is something we introduce at the very beginning of the corporation, and it helps educate the client. The ones that have little to no experience with the process. Well, I hope we manage to clear some terms up and I hope no more will appear and this will solve all the industrial design problems in the world.
Anita Rogoża: No more questions asked. Everybody will be educated.
Voytek Holysz: Thanks.
Anita Rogoża: Thank you.
Anita Rogoża is a researcher & designer at Mindsailors. Her priority is on making functional designs that are both user and environment friendly.
Wojciech Hołysz is the COO of Mindsailors, with 15 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.
IDology #12 - How to communicate in a product design project
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