8th Grade Dialogue

1)     What do you most enjoy about being an industrial designer?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, M.Ed., IDSA Learning Design and Research

I get to create interesting amazing new stuff! I get to dream big huge thoughts and propose these ideas to people and companies that I admire.

Sometimes I even get the chance to try to make them become a reality!

One of the great things about being a designer is the range of interesting people you work with and for. You’ll be designing for different people with different needs and you'll find yourself working with other types of designers (like graphic designers, interaction designers, etc.), engineers, researchers, and all kinds of business people to solve various problems.

The other great thing about being a designer is the variety of projects you work on, like form-giving projects (objects), user-research projects, packaging projects, GUI (graphical user interface) projects, short and simple projects, and long and complex projects.

As an industrial designer, I love being able to actively think, learn, collaborate, and then apply my design skills and what I know to anything anyone chooses to throw at me (or I choose to pursue)!

As an educator and researcher, I very much enjoy being able to use my design skills and knowledge in unique ways to gain new insights and understandings.

Designers are taught to be creative problem-solvers and figure out what others would struggle with. We create/facilitate innovative solutions… after many hours of processing and visualizing tons of information to make sense of it all. The term renaissance designer came up a lot when I was in college.

The outcome, a comprehensive and well thought out end product, user experience, or service offering.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

I enjoy being creative and waking up every morning knowing that I have the best job in the world.

Plus seeing people play with a product that I helped design and knowing that the product is impacting their life in a positive way.

2)     What's most challenging about an industrial designer's job?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

The discipline of the industrial design is not well known or respected in the world, which means you constantly have to educate people about what you do and why they should hire you.

There is a lot that is challenging about being an industrial designer, but the thing that can be the most challenging is getting people to support the idea you know is right.

As a designer you should have an opinion about which possible solution is best, and sometimes you will have a hard time convincing others it's the one to pursue.

Sooner or later you realize you have to look at the problem from other people's perspective. The end-user may see the problem differently than you. The engineer may see the problem differently than you. The marketing person may see it another way altogether. Your challenge is to see the problem from all perspectives and find a solution that addresses everyone’s needs fairly and best.

The discipline of industrial design is generally not well understood... which in my opinion, results in an abundance of opportunity!

The value of our contributions speak for itself once others have experienced the beneficial results of the design process.

We are responsible for channeling solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. For me, the user/consumer/learner is the ultimate determiner.

Our job is to represent the hearts and minds within sometimes conflicting belief systems. The true challenge is finding a place where all stakeholders can win.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

The hardest part of my job is figuring out the true insights during research and if the product I design addresses those insights. Basically, finding the opportunity in the market.

3)     What kind of tools, software, and equipment do you use?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

Designers use computers in their work a lot, especially dedicated computer software for creating mathematical models or 3 dimensional objects that you can then send to a 3-D printer to create and to engineers to turn into molds to produce in the millions.

Computers using software such as: Alias, Autocad, Solidworks, Adobe creative suite, Drupal, and other web development tools. Many designers make their own 3-D models. So they work with shop tools at least in the early parts of their careers to trial and see what their ideas will look like.

Your most important tool is your brain - you have to solve problems in new ways. Your secret weapon is your ability to communicating visually by hand in drawings, diagrams, models, and prototypes.

You'll be expected to learn various software tools too, like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, and in college you'll learn CAD (computer aided design) tools like Solidworks or Rhino.

To make models and prototypes you find yourself using foamcore board, clay, wood, metal, and plastics. You will end-up on workshop equipment to shape those materials into the forms you desire.

The use of computers and fore-mentioned design tools are requisite capacities of a highly sought after industrial designer.

My own experiences as an up and coming industrial design were different than most.

I knew from the age of 13 that I wanted to become a designer. I was fortunate enough to have a design teacher who allowed me to spend as much time as possible in her classroom. We explored all of the core design elements and principles.

I was hooked forevermore. No turning back.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

Designers use the model shop and computers in their work.

4)     What skills or training does someone need to be an industrial designer?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

A Degree in Industrial Design, which you can obtain from over 60 colleges in the USA.

For general information please visit: http://idsa.org/education

In regards to colleges, please visit: http://idsa.org/content/content1/choosing-design-school)

For a list of schools, please visit: http://idsa.org/list-id-schools

Industrial designers are usually art or technically oriented high school students who go to college specifically for a design programs, or they transfer into design programs from other majors.

In these programs you are trained to think creatively and critically, you are trained to solve problems. You are trained in drawing and communication skills, and you get training in CAD and other software programs.

Basically, good college design programs give you what you need to start your career. Then you never stop learning!

Yes! An undergraduate degree in industrial design is a must!

I would recommend some amount of time in the field before going for a graduate degree. Figure out what is important to you, the focus in design you would like to peruse. Then consider a complementary focus with a graduate degree.

Given my multiple passion/s, earning a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction Design has been an amazing and extremely beneficial process. One that I would not exchange for any other.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

I would say yes, it is very important to become educated! A degree in Industrial Design is a must.

I the tools I use include: Solidworks, Adobe Creative Suite, PowerPoint, Microsoft Outlook, Sketchbook Pro, Photoview 360, and Model Shop for models and prototypes.

5)     How much would a person expect to make after 2 years employment in the field?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

Designers are not high earners, but they do have a good potential to grow through their careers. Expect to start anywhere between about $25,000 and 35,000. After 2 years, the growth would not be substantial.

Post college graduation, what you earn depends on how good you are and how much potential your employer thinks you have.

You can make a good living as a designer if you apply yourself; with a college degree in design and after a couple of years working.

Professionally you would be making somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $70,000 a year.

My 20+ years of experience in the software (interface) design industry suggests compensation can prove to be higher than traditional industrial design.

It is not about the money. It more has to do with your passion and what is important to you. Not necessarily the money associated with the discipline.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

How much you earn as an industrial designer depends on where you live. Attached is a 2006 IDSA Compensation Study that will give you an idea of the breakdown of prices you should make as an Industrial Designer.

6)     How did you start industrial design work, and what career moves did it take to get into that position?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

I learned about industrial design through this Society (IDSA) when I was 21 in South Africa. To get here (the states) I worked in South Africa, London, Eindhoven in the Netherlands for Philips Electronics, Hong Kong, Atlanta, and now here in Washington DC.

Almost all industrial designers are educated as designers in college. Some go to major universities; some go to small art colleges.

You basically start your career in a design position and then work toward positions of more and more influence and responsibility.

I earned my degree of product and environmental design from the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design. Prior, I had spent one semester at San Jose State University where I met many key players who have determined much of what we experience today within the discipline.

I began my career as an industrial designer with an internship at Ampex Corporation. It was an amazing experience to be part of a team of designers who were responsible for creating a dedicated vehicle for broadcasting live media for the BBC. Best of all, I became part of a team of talented designers, a community I learned from on multiple levels.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

I started in college to study Graphic Design and then sophomore year I changed to Industrial Designer. I worked at Models Plus the summer of my junior year as a model maker. After graduating, I worked at Motorola and went to graduate school in Industrial Design. Now I am working at Radio Flyer as a toy designer.

7)     Describe a typical day of work for an industrial designer.

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Wow! That is a tough one. There is hardly a typical day, but there is a process that you cycle through when designing a product that takes between say 4 weeks and 3 months. This process creates a great rhythm to a year and goes a bit like this: Discovery, Research, Concepts, Refinement, and Implementation.

During Discovery your task is to understand the problem and to understand the people who have this particular problem. Then you would identify what parameters are required to effectively solve the problem. The outcome of this phase would be a clear set of criteria that a solution must meet in order to be successful.

During Research you would be searching for all the factors which could affect how you solve the problem, understanding the context of use, and the factors that would influence the manufacture of a solution. The outcome of this phase would be insights that provide us with a breakthrough in thinking about how to solve the problem.

In the Concept phase, which would last typically a few weeks, you would be sketching and building little models out of foam core and other materials to test ideas. Concepts are thought through until you arrive at the solution that meets all the requirements to solve the problem. The outcome of this phase would be a complete idea that illustrates the solution to the problem. Preferably with a rough working model that would demonstrate how it would perform its function.

During the Refinement stage you would be working with engineers and technical people to make sure that your idea is producible on a mass production basis and that it meets the cost requirements of the project. The outcome of this phase is a set of drawings defining how the product will be made and a fully working appearance model (meaning it would look exactly as it would appear in production).

The Implementation phase is where you take a back seat to the production staff and let them get on with the process. The production staff converts your design into tooling drawings and drives sample runs to test the product and ensure that it meets the defined quality standards that the team had established in previous stages.

Your main task during this phase is to protect the integrity of the original design intention. To protect the creep from what you defined, to something that engineering may feel would be easier to make or would cost less time to implement. Sometimes you would help the production staff to earn more profit, at the expense of the products integrity and quality as you defined it and agreed to. The outcome of this phase is a production item that the world goes WOW! to!

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

A typical day depends a lot on what you are designing and what you have to learn about the users you are designing for. Generally speaking, those days are spent doing field research learning about the users’ needs and desires.

Some days you are drawing ideas and using CAD programs to make 3D forms. Some days you are working with engineers and marketing people on design details.

Some days you are in meetings sharing your ideas and making presentations to management.

And some days you are traveling to manufacturing facilities figuring out how to solve production design issues.

YES, every day is different!

I’ve come to believe, anyone who chooses to become an industrial designer thrives on change. With that comes never-ending adjustments and re-directs on a daily if not hourly basis.

Many of the determiners have to do with project flow. That said, part has to do with being in touch with who you are as a designer by reflecting on our own practice to address the question: what can we do to improve and become better/more prepared designers?

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer


Good question. An industrial designer bounces around a lot. Sometimes you can spend the entire day researching a topic. You can go to stores and investigate what is on the market, sometimes you look online and look at reviews or YouTube clips to research what people are doing. Sometimes you do ethnography research and visit people’s homes and see how they use the product you are designing. Research is a huge part of an industrial designer because you are constantly trying to figure out what has been done and how you can make it better.

There is another side of design which is building prototypes and getting your hands dirty. During this stage, industrial designers can really learn a lot. More times than not, you will come up with unsuccessful products. But, these unsuccessful products will lead you down the right track because you can learn a lot from the experiences. I have been practicing industrial design for the past 7 years and I honestly can tell you that every day is a new day with new challenges. There is not one day that is like the other. There are so many different Industrial design stages that it is an incredible experience.

8)     What are the specialties within the field?

Clive Roux, CEO of IDSA

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research

The different specialties can be defined along the lines of industries or design competences. For instance: Designing Automobiles, Consumer electronics, Sports Equipment, Aircraft, or Medical Equipment.

Or other specialties in competences like: Modelmaking, Research, Rendering, and Problem Solving - what is called Design thinking, Interface Design, or Engineering.

Industrial designers design  things like cars, bikes, furniture, tools and equipment, computers, medical devices, housewares, and toys - all the stuff you see in stores; all the stuff people use at home and work every day; things that most people think just occur somehow.

Some industrial designers work with fashion designers to design high-performance clothing. Some design soft-goods like athletic shoes, protective sportswear, backpacks, or wearable electronics.

Some industrial designers like working in the environments we live in and they work with architects, urban planners, or landscape architects.

Some industrial designers prefer to work 2 dimensionally and focus on the graphics you see in websites, computer apps, magazines, books, packaging, signs etc. They become graphic designers, communication designers, and Interaction designers.

Some industrial designers like designing service experiences for other people. For example, the way you experience a ride in a theme park, or the way you experience a hospital emergency room, or the way an on-line store helps you compare options, rate favorites, make purchases and check-out. These designers become service designers or user experience (UX) designers. 

Bottom-line, you can do a lot of different things with a good design education.

Within my work as an industrial designer, I represent a specialty.

My career has been all about attending to users, learners, and stakeholders needs – in attempt to find a balance within the realities of financial, societal, and environmental considerations.

My practice revolves around attending to problem sets and critical questions to study/resolve grimy issues, which at sometimes seem unsolvable at first.

I am not saying I have all the answers. More that I’m more than willing, along with many others across the nation, to jump in and actively participate in figuring out what makes sense.

In other words, design is an adventure that takes on multiple forms throughout one’s career in terms of depth, breath, volume, and impact.

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

You can look at this in two ways. First, you can divide specialties into product specialties such as Furniture Designer, Toy Designer, Automotive Designer, etc. But, you can also look at it in this sense: Industrial Design Researcher, Industrial Designer, Industrial Design Management, Model Maker, etc.

9)     Where can I get a job as an industrial designer - companies, locations?

Scott Stropkay, Partner at Essential Design

Doris Wells-Papanek, Learning Design and Research


Almost all companies who make things or provide services hire designers, either as full-time staff in their headquarters or as consultants.

Designers work for a range of different companies on projects. You know what companies make athletic shoes, or cars, or electronics, so in essence you know where these designers work.

Consulting companies (the companies who design lots of things for different companies) tend to locate in cities where companies like to put their headquarters. Consultants are everywhere, but the majority of them are in cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, Chicago, etc.

All companies need a designer to participate at some at some level. Sometime they realize that need and sometimes not.

Where you target is dependent on your own internal drive.

The rest evolves from there!

Ross Bartels, Industrial Designer at Radio Flyer

There are many jobs in Industrial Design; however, you need to have a portfolio ready as well as a resume. You also need to really work at getting an industrial design job. It is very competitive and you really need to make yourself stick out! There are many places to find ID jobs, but the best is through IDSA and using your networks. The more people you know and the more exposure you can get, the better off you are in getting a job.