The Birth of Industrial Design

Industrial design is a design method that is proper to manufactured commodities produced through techniques of mass production. Its key characteristic is that design is separated from manufacture.

Paris universal exposition 1900

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What does Industrial design refer to?

“Industrial design” refers to the design sector concerned with the manufacture of general industrial products that include automobiles, household electrical appliances, and information equipment, as well as furniture, fixtures and fittings, household goods and suchlike, together with industrial and commercial equipment, and so forth.

Before industrial design

For several millennia before the onset of industrialisation, designs, technical expertise, and manufacturing were often done by individual craftsmen. They determined the form of a product according to their manual skill, the requirements of their clients, experience accumulated through their experimentation, and knowledge passed on to them through training or apprenticeship.

The Blacksmith by Charles Beauregar

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The division of labour that underlies the practice of industrial design did have precedents in the pre-industrial era. As long as reproduction remained craft-based, the form and artistic quality of the product remained in the hands of the individual craftsman and tended to decline as the scale of production increased.

Birth of industrial design

Joseph Claude Sinel, 1889 -1975

The first attributed use of the term “industrial design” in 1919 is credited to Joseph Claude Sinel, a self-proclaimed “industrial designer.” However, many argue that the discipline began at least a decade before. Christopher Dresser is generally considered the first independent industrial designer. Then there is the Practical Draughtsman’s Book of Industrial Design, printed in 1853. Together, these data points anchor the beginning of design as a profession between 1850 and 1900.

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Industrial design phases

The sketching phase

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  • Sketching is a quick and easy way to explore many ideas. In order to be able to sketch competently and communicate form on flat sheets of paper.
  • Drafting is the production of engineering blueprints. This used to be done by hand with pencil and paper. Typically, orthographic (right, left, top, and isometric) views are created.
  • Prototyping is the act of producing models that look exactly like the finished product will.
  • Manufacturability: when mass-production facilities began pumping out plastic products by the truckload, designers would need to be familiar with technologies like blow-molding, rotational-molding, and injection-molding in order to optimize the designs for production.

The future of industrial design

Industrial Design is becoming more complex and has a much wider definition than it did in the past. On one end of the spectrum, design is returning to its roots where craft, materials, and product quality are the primary focus. For example, designers at Apple start with a block of aluminium and experiment with what to do with it, the same way Charles Eames did when he experimented with laminated plywood 70 years ago. On the other end of the spectrum, design is being transformed by technology where ID will continue to be tasked with creating our digital experience, The scope and reach of design will grow in the future too.

The bedroom of the future

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Industrial designers (and the world) must soon figure out what it means to be sustainable and this must become a mantra of the profession in the future. People will always need things, and industrial designers will always be asked to create them in as great a quantity as possible to “feed the machine”.

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