2 answers

What advice would you give a student that is majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Studio Arts with the goal of being an Industrial Designer?

Updated Washington, Washington

I have a passion for innovation. I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Studio Arts. I am combining the two because it is my goal to be an Industrial Designer. Mechanical Engineering is teaching me how and why things work the way they do. Studio Arts is my creative outlet and it also allows me advance my artistic skills. I would like advice.

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2 answers

G. Mark’s Answer


Well, in the first place, you've hit on a dynamite combination. Throughout my own career in engineering and science, I've found that any experience in other fields has often come in handy. In your case, Industrial Designers, I have found, have a much easier time coping with engineers and engineering organizations and general development of products if they have engineering experience themselves. One of the things I teach is Design Thinking, and it's basically the idea that any problem-solver should gather as much information as possible about the client / customer environment, job and problems before setting upon an implementation.

Another thing I've found is that when an industrial designer shows a design to the engineering team, and someone calls the solution, "sexy", that means you've got an elegant, impressive and cool idea. The worst thing to happen is when a designer is not in tune with the constraints -- or advantages -- of various technologies. This means lost opportunities or generally goofed-up design processes. In Design Thinking, we would like the implementers to "speak the same language" as the client whose problem you're solving. For Design Thinkers, this often entails long and detailed investigation and research when trying to understand their POV. If you start with engineering as a side, you're not only starting out with a huge advantage in that regard, but you've also hit on what I think is the wave of the future. And that's ergonomic technology. The kind of sweet stuff where a customer can sit down with your product and instinctively appreciate how it works or what it does or both. That's when you hit that sweet spot where a thing you make does just what it's supposed to do. Engineering should be and look organic. And cool designs are usually like that.

Ellen’s Answer

Updated Woodbridge, Virginia

Hi Lakeya

I'm hoping someone with industrial design experience would answer this, but it doesn't look like anyone has yet, so I'll do my best, as I would if one of my art students came to me with such a question.

I think your combination of interests is wonderful, and it sounds like you have a good sense of where you are going with your education and your future career. Engineering and Art is a great combination, which not everyone can do! Congrats, that is an important step in your future. I hope you have told your mechanical engineering professors about your interests in art and a future career as an industrial designer. They may be more focused on the engineering aspects of your future, but I'm hoping they will be very interested and might have some advice or contacts for you. I would encourage you to find some internships with industrial designers or companies during your summers. You make take a look on line to see if there are any professional organizations for industrial designers you could join.

You might also want to check out the Museum of Modern Art (New York) website; they have a design collection (all created by industrial designers) that is really wonderful. Also, why not keep a running list of industrial design projects you really like--furniture, cell phone designs, car designs, and so on. (This is what I would suggest to anyone thinking of a career in the arts; notice what you like in your potential art field).

In the meantime, keep your grades up and work on your art portfolio. Take as many 3-D art and craft classes as you can--sculpture, ceramics, fiber and so on. Be sure to include some sketches or preliminary designs in your portfolio, so future employers can see how you work; how you think, how you problem solve, how you find solutions and so on.

Until a real industrial designer comes along, I hope some of this has been helpful, or maybe it has reinforced what you've been thinking about. Best wishes.