The government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook offers a user friendly definition for industrial designers. “Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day. Industrial designers focus on the user experience in creating style and function for a particular gadget or appliance.”
Although this is a useful definition, it fails to convey the intricate world of industrial designers who are magicians at blending form and function to create a world of useful things.
While designers might very well be considered part of the mystique of how advanced technology can create aesthetics out of form and functionality, let’s take a closer look behind the scenes to understand why they are such an indispensable profession in any industrial business.
What Does A Designer Do?
Design itself is a wide, elusive phrase. Someone who describes their job as a designer leaves listeners baffled. While an architect knows about the form and functions of buildings and a developer knows how to create useful software through a programming language like say Ruby on Rails, it is not clear what an industrial designer does.
The reason for this ambiguity is not due to any lack of rigor or discipline in the field of industrial design, but because the term “design” itself is actually an umbrella for a wide range of specialties. An industrial designer might design the front of a car, a rugged onboard computer for use in a rumbling army tank, or an ergonomic chair, but this type of skill is not similar to how a print designer might design the layout of a magazine page or a technical designer might design a website page or a mobile application.
In fact, the field of industrial design has become so specialized that new job titles are emerging that are even more ambiguous than the term designer itself–terms like UX Designers and UI Designers.
A UX Designer
A UX Designer is interested in the user’s experience. How does a product feel viscerally and intellectually from the user’s perspective? A UX designer has to make sure the product is logical and has a certain comprehensive feel to it. In fact, it has to be so logical that the word “intuition” is often used to describe the user’s experience. Just by looking at how a product appears to be, the user can figure out how to use it without reading an instruction manual. Or if the machine is complicated enough to require an instruction manual, it should be easy enough to understand by simply translating the words and images in the description to the actual object.
So how does a UX designer figure out the logical process to build into a machine or application? Through observing how someone is using the object: noticing the user’s fluency, stumbling points, and bewilderment. Then the design is refined over and over again, until the final iteration creates a “user-friendly” experience. Even something as basic as industrial metal needs a designer to blend form and functionality.
Or, if designing an industrial PC or HMI displays, the designer has to figure out how they can be modular and scalable for the particular industry the devices will be used in.
So, the goal of a UX designer is to speed up the process of on-boarding a new user. When UX designers talk to each other, it makes no sense to anyone listening in. Here, for example, are common vocabulary phases:
• Define interaction models
• User task flows
• UI specifications
• Communicate scenarios
• End-to-end experiences
• Interaction models
• Incorporate a visual identity
• Maintain design wireframes
• Use mockups
• Apply necessary specifications
They use tools like inVision, Fireworks, Illustrator, sketches, and Photoshop to communicate their vision of design and their deliverables might include sitemaps, storyboards or wireframes of screens.
What is a UI Designer?
A UI Designer is a User Interface Designer. He or she is focused on the “look and feel” of a product, the aesthetics of how it’s laid out. In an industrial computer, for example, it’s how the screen is laid out; in software, it’s how the user interacts with a page. While the UX designer has created a logical path to follow, the UI designer has to make this path visually obvious to the user. If a UX designer might feel that the user of a certain machine has to first start with an analytics dashboard, a UI designer will front load it to the top of the machine.
Thus, while a UX designer creates the logic, a UI designer makes the logic visible. If it’s a control panel in an airplane, the UI designer has to make it look like other control panels that the pilot is familiar with. If the object is a knob to twist, it should not look like a slider, even though both would work as far as the functionality of the machine. A UI designer is responsible for creating cohesion, style guides, design languages, and whatever other visual elements are necessary to inform the end user on what something is and how it should be used.