In this month's article on industrial design, the goal is to help you plan an activity to engage your students in a design learning experience that will immerse them in many of the primary issues with which designers work on a daily basis. At the same time, the exercise suggested here may make a direct contribution to the larger academic environment of your school. It may provide you with the opportunity to develop a cooperative learning experience, in conjunction with some of your other teaching colleagues, as an interdisciplinary experiment.
Often, when we talk about industrial designers or the industrial design profession in general, our minds conjure up mental images of products from the scale of cell phones and PDAs to automobiles and farm machinery. It is true that many contemporary industrial designers work on mass-produced products within the wide spectrum of scale noted. At the same time, it must also be observed that within this range are devices that simply entertain, such as X-Boxes and DVD players, as well as products on which peoples' lives may well depend, such as dialysis units and MRI machines. Obviously the opportunities for practicing industrial design are extremely broad and touch on the lives of people in every age group and demographic cluster.
In the early history of industrial design, beginning in the 1930s, designers from many related professions gravitated to product design. They came from such diverse areas as aeronautical engineering, theatre design, graphic design, department store display design, architecture, production ceramic ware, metal smithing, and other crafts. While each new practitioner brought a unique background and skill set, they all discovered early on that there were some common issues that had to be addressed to be a successful product designer. These included: participating, in a cooperative manner, with a team of people in developing a product, addressing an audience of users, and working in a restricted time frame while designing within the constraints of a budget and the limitations of the manufacturing processes available to the client. As the profession began to mature, other issues, including human factors, safety, branding, and appropriateness to a market niche, became critical elements that went well beyond simply designing something that functioned and was attractive in appearance.
As you reflect on the historical characteristics of professional diversity typical of the early practitioners of industrial design and begin building on opportunities that you may have in your school and community, consider the potential to have your class engage in stage set design for a theatre production. As noted earlier, some of the original people who gravitated to industrial design in the 1930s came from theatre design and display design.
One area of contemporary industrial design that is not often discussed in publications, but is highly visible to virtually every consumer of our nation, is exhibit design. Exhibit design can range in scale and complexity from corrugated paper board display units that feature some specially promoted product found at the end of aisles in supermarkets and big box stores, to model rooms in furniture stores, to major exhibits in large trade shows. Other examples include museum displays, some of which are static, while others are developed as interactive experiences for the museum visitor. In their book, The Experience Economy, the authors, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, suggest that "Work is theatre and every business is a stage," and they present intriguing examples of the nature of our appetite for opportunities to have an "experience" in many of our everyday encounters in the commercial world.
As you consider the suggestion of involving your students in a theatre set design project, evaluate some of the various design education options noted below that are available.
* In product design, the designer must work to satisfy both the client (the manufacturer of the product) and the purchaser (who is usually the end user of the product) in order to be successful. …