Professional & Academic Perspectives of Industrial Design
Professor Craig M. Vogel is currently the Associate Dean of the School of Fine Arts and a Professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He previously served as Co-chair of the Visual Communications Department for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the current Chair of the Board of the 2,900-member Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), where he serves as Chief Advisory Officer and a member of the planning and executive committees. He also is a member of the Board of Directors for the WORLDESIGN Foundation, where he has served since 1997.
Professor Vogel has written and co-written many papers pertaining to the field of industrial design, and he has developed courses for CMU in Integrated Product Development and Design History.
How did you discover you had a talent for design?
I did not find out until I was looking for graduate schools. I had always been interested in drawing, model making and building things. When I saw the examples of projects in an exhibition of work from an industrial design program, I knew it was a field I would be interested in.
If you had to define yourself vocationally in one sentence what would it be?
I am interested in a number of subjects and like to express my ideas visually through construction of images, objects and spaces.
What has been your key (or keys) to success?
I try to keep learning and working with other people that compliment my talent and abilities. I try to listen to others and look for ways to make everyone part of a solution to a design problem.
What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?
Teaching at a University I get to work with and teach talented students. I also enjoy working with faculty from other disciplines. I teach a course and am involved in research on the design of products with faculty from engineering and business.
What was your greatest success and biggest setback?
My greatest success to date was helping to plan an international design program looking at the environmental impact of industrial design. We had over fifty students, teachers and professional designers from around the world working together in teams for two weeks to investigate what we could do to design products that would be more environmentally friendly. I had a major disappointment when I was working in Chicago and I worked on the design of a computer terminal and the company decided not to produce it.
What are your favorite projects that you’ve completed in your career and why?
I am currently working on project with an automobile manufacturer. The design of trucks and cars is one of the most challenging and complex forms of industrial design. I enjoy exhibit design and three years ago I designed an exhibit about art, design and technology in the city of Pittsburgh from 1950 to the present. It was great to see people come to the exhibit and watch them enjoy learning about the history of Pittsburgh. For instance did you know that the Heinz Ketchup Bottle was designed in Pittsburgh. Andy Warhol is from Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh is a major center for the invention and design of robots. I am also interested in how designers can help people who are physically challenged. This area of design has been given the name Universal Design, and I have been involved with a number of projects that have worked with children and adults with disabilities. A group of students I advised from Carnegie Mellon University won a design award for their work on a project in Pittsburgh retirement home.
Would you do anything differently if you could re-live your career up to this point again?
I am happy with the way my career has evolved. Although, I have often wondered how different my career would have been if I had gone to undergraduate school for industrial design and then got a masters degree in psychology instead of the other way around.
Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
I have been inspired by a number of designers, architects teachers and others. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin because in addition to their roles in the founding of our country they were also designers and inventors. They were the first American Industrial Designers. I admire the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Gehry, Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford. I am indebted to a number of teachers and mentors in particular Rowena Reed Kostellow and Jay Doblin.
What are some common myths about industrial designers?
The first myth/ problem is that industrial design is a form of engineering. The term industrial design is confusing. Industrial designers design products for companies and consumers. They do not design industrial layouts and factories.
The second myth is that you need to be an excellent artist to apply to design schools. While drawing and making things are important many of students may not have had time to take art classes in high school, or may not have had an a lot of art classes to choose from. If you are interested in products, how they are made, the materials that are used and how they can be improved then you can still be a industrial designer. A portfolio is important and helpful, if you are eager to learn then you can still succeed if you are willing to work hard.
A third myth is that designers are not paid as well as professionals in other fields. That used to be true ten years ago; today, designers earn a very good living and the field of industrial design is growing.
The fourth myth is that industrial design is not a good field for women. Since half the people in the world are women, half the industrial designers should be women. It is an excellent field for women and men.
You have been an active and prominent member of professional organizations, such as the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and WORLDESIGN Foundation. How has this helped your career?
Design organizations are an important part of the field. I have been involved with IDSA for a variety of reasons. It helps me to develop a professional network. Design organizations bring practicing designers together with teachers and students by holding conferences and seminars. IDSA has an agreement with BusinessWeek magazine to print the results of the IDSA Industrial Design Excellence Awards every year to their readers around the world. I was part of negotiating that agreement. It helps more people to learn about the successful products that are being designed around the world and sold in the United States.
You’ve written quite a few papers about the field of industrial design. Why do you make this kind of effort? How do you gather the information?
Writing about design and designers is an important part of the role of a design professor in a university. It helps me to be a better teacher and clarify my ideas. I can also share my ideas with other teachers and professionals and hopefully help what they are doing. I am very interested in design history and feel it is important to inform others about the history of products. I wrote a chapter for a book that will be a part of an exhibit on the history of aluminum. It was interesting to do the research and rewarding to be part of a publication that will be read by many people.
What do you consider to be the most important result of these efforts?
Writing about design is important for a number of reasons. Everyone needs to gain a better understanding of how designers work and develop new products. People will contact me about what I write and tell me they like my ideas and it helped them which makes me feel like my ideas are valuable. Sometimes they disagree with me and I have to look more carefully at my ideas and clarify how I communicate my thoughts, and sometimes I need to broaden the way that I am thinking about an issue.
When you get on the web look up the site: idsa.org. A lot examples of what I write about can be found at the website. You can also contact IDSA and other websites that are hot linked to the IDSA web site for additional insights.
What do industrial designers do? What are their job titles and what kinds of companies do they work for?
Industrial designers are primarily responsible for the look, feel and material choices for products. Industrial designers work for NASA, Nike, Ford, Disney, Apple, Microsoft, Whirlpool, Xerox, Motorola just to name a few. They design everything from toothbrushes, snow boards and toys to medical equipment and commercial jet airline interiors. They work with people from other fields that include psychologists, engineers, and marketeers.
There are two major options for designers. They can work for independent consulting firms that are hired by companies. The largest firms and the greatest number of design consulting firms can be found in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and Los Angeles. There are a number of other cities with design firms that include Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Phoenix, Denver and Columbus.
The other type of design opportunity is to work for a company as what is called an in-house designer. All the automobile companies hire industrial designers. IBM, Microsoft, Reebok, Converse, Fischer Price, and Motorola hire designers to work for them. Industrial designers start as entry level designers, and there are number of terms used. Designers with more than five years experience are called senior designers; designers can become design managers; large companies usually have a director of design and/or a vice president of design; designers can own their own firms and are usually called principles of the firm.
Describe a typical day of work for an industrial designer.
A designer does a number of things during the course of the day, or the duration of a project. These tasks could include generating sketches of a product idea using free hand drawing techniques or computers. Building rough models of what the product might look like. Presenting ideas to clients or potential customers that might buy the finished product. Learning about all the technology that goes into the product. Conducting research on how a customer might use the product. Going out on field trips to observe how customers use existing products. Sending files to manufacturers to produce the product. Going to material suppliers and manufacturers to inspect how the product production and assembly is working. Conducting follow up studies to see if a new product is working as expected.
How do industrial designers use computers? What is the most popular software used by them?
Computers are used to conceive initial ideas and can be produced on low end software like Illustrator or on high end software like Alias. When products are developed in more detail designers use three dimensional software which include Solid Works, Alias, Vellum and Pro E. Detailed models of these 3D images can be made using a variety of rapid prototyping tools. Wax deposition and Stereolithography are two types of rapid prototyping that are commonly used. Files are sent to a machine that produces one version of the product or part that looks just like the final mass produced part or product.
What are the different specialties within the field of industrial design?
Here a few of the specialties: Furniture design, toy design, sports equipment, transportation, medical equipment, housewares, computers and peripherals, communication ,tools and heavy equipment (tractors, cranes). A complete list of specialties can be found on the IDSA website.
How important is it to create and maintain relationships within the field of industrial design? What’s the best way to do it?
Contacts are essential for keeping up to date on emerging trends and career development. This can be accomplished by attending professional organizations and attending professional seminars, and conferences and using the web are the best ways to build a network.
Is it important to collaborate with colleagues in the field? How have your professional collaborations benefited your career?
Many of my projects and jobs have come through contacts and collaborations with colleagues. It is important to stay in touch with others to keep you up to date. Since design is not as well known as other fields getting together with other designers give you a chance to talk about design with others that share your passion.
Tell us about your education, with emphasis on your industrial design education?
I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a masters in industrial design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn New York. I took a year of undergraduate courses in design before I started the graduate program. I took courses in drawing, model making and product design studios.
What did you like and dislike about your design related education?
I would like to have learned more about what designers need to know to work the other fields that help design products.
How does a prospective industrial design student assess their skill and aptitude for this field?
There are three things I suggest that you do: The first is to attend Portfolio Days held at Art Schools and Universities around the country every Fall. You can interview with several schools at each event. They are well publicized. Contact the art and design school nearest you and they should be able to tell you.
The second is to contact the schools you are interested in and ask what they are looking for in students that apply to the industrial design program. Some schools start with a common first year program and then you start the industrial design program in the second year. I suggest you go to the top three schools you are interested and have a personal interview and review of your work.
The third option is to attend a summer program while you are in high school. Several schools and universities offer these programs and it is an excellent way for you to find if this is a field for you. Carnegie Mellon University has one and you can find out by contacting our School of Design or the office of admissions.
What are the five best things that a student applying to get into your program should do?
Make sure you set up a personal interview at Carnegie Mellon University. Bring a portfolio with a selection of your best work and show as much variety as you can. Do not bring everything you have ever done. Bring sketch books and photos of projects that you may have done outside of school.
What are the five worst things that a student applying to get into your program can do?
Just send slides of your work. Not fully research the school before you apply. Bring too much work for a portfolio review. Fail to know enough about the field to tell someone in an interview why you feel this is the career for you.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the five most respected and prestigious industrial design schools/departments in the world that really make a difference to students who graduate from these schools?
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design review schools to assure minimum competency. I have a natural bias since I teach at a design school. There are no lists of design schools that are universally accepted. The answers to the following questions are more important to help each student to make their best choice.
What factors should you consider when choosing your school?
Where is the school located. Is it in a city, or country setting? What part of the country? Some students like to be in city, some do not; some students like to leave home, some like to stay close.
How many full time teachers are there on the faculty? How long have the faculty been there? A good program has at least three full time faculty and should have been together for a few years. Ask to talk to current students in the program. Ask them how they like and if it has it lived up to there expectations.
Does the school help you get your first job? A good program should have some kind of program to help you get internships and your entry level job.
What price range can you afford and how much debt do you want to have when you graduate. This is usually a family decision.
Was your art related education worth it for you? Why?
It made me see the world in a completely different way. It made me realize that the skills and abilities that I thought were for my personal interests and hobbies could be used to have an impact on the world.
If someone has the art talent already, should they go to design school and why?
Talent is not enough to be successful. A design school teaches you how to use your talent to work with others to structure your approach and create effective and successful products.
What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in industrial design?
Design is not just a job; it is a way of life. Everything you do is affected by design. As a designer, you are more aware of that than people who buy and use products. Everything you do and use can have an impact on the way you design. Design is a passion for making things better; you can not be neutral about your job, work 9-5 and forget about it. Make sure you want to work as part of team; very few designers work alone. Make sure you want to help solve problems and not just please yourself.
What are all they types of degrees one can get for industrial design?
Most students get a BFA in Industrial Design; there are a few schools that offer BSA. There are schools that offer two year degree programs; most employers look for graduates with a four year degree.
When is it a good idea to go after a graduate degree in art?
There are several schools that offer a masters degree in industrial design. A masters degree can help redirect your career after you have been in the field for a while. If your degree is in another subject, you can apply to get your masters in industrial design, which is what I did. If you are interested in teaching, you need a masters degree. If you have an undergraduate degree in design, you can look to get a degree in another field. Psychology and business are two fields that offer master degrees that provide a good compliment to industrial design.
When is an art school design program best and when is a college program in design best?
Students can be successful coming from either type of school. If you are interested in a number of subjects and want to compliment your design degree with courses in other fields, you should apply to design program at a university. If you want more of focus on art courses and studios, you should apply to art schools. Universities normally attract students with balanced SAT or ACT scores. Students who tend to score higher on verbal than math may find that an art school is a better option.
What should design students try to get out of their education?
You should look for a balance of skills that allow you to perceive what a new product should look like (visualization), understand how some will use it (human factors, ergonomics), understand what materials and processes will be best and how to present your ideas visually and verbally to others.
Who are the accrediting bodies for education in industrial design? How important is their stamp of approval?
As I mentioned the National Association of Schools of Art and Design is the one accrediting body for reviewing schools of design. They do a good job and have industrial teachers reviewing schools with ID programs. NASAD assures an acceptable base line of quality. Within the next four years all schools of ID in the United States will have been reviewed. I still recommend asking the schools the questions I listed above.
Who are three of the most renowned industrial designers in the world right now? How and why did they get to the top? What are people at the top of this profession paid?
There are famous designers and famous firms. Tucker Vemeister is a famous designer who works for Razor Fish. Harmut Esslinger, the owner of Frog Design, is another famous designer. Phillipe Starck is another french designer who is very popular. Design firms that are renowned are Fitch, HLB Chicago, Smart Design, Design Continuum, Altitude, IDEO, and Frog. They all have websites, many of which are hot linked to IDSA. I suggest that you look at the IDEA winners featured on the IDSA website. You should also look at the Cooper Hewitt Museum website for information on their exhibit on contemporary design.
What are the hottest design careers for the new decade?
Interaction design, sports equipment, transportation, communication products and computers from desk top to portables.
What are the best ways to find a job in industrial design?
Network through IDSA and its various channels of communication.
How available are internships in this field?
Internships are available. Some schools help students to get internships, some schools do not. Talk to faculty and the juniors and seniors in your school; they can tell you were they have had their internships and provide contacts for you.
How is the job market for industrial designers?
The job market is excellent and the field is continuing to expand.
Is there any other advice you can give to prospective and graduating students looking to work in the field of industrial design?
Prepare early by researching design firms in your junior year and contacting them for interviews early in your senior year. Internships are a good way to learn about the field and can often lead to your first job.
Can you give us a super-condensed history of industrial design?
There are a number of museums that have excellent collections of the history of industrial design. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has a good permanent collection. The Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York is the National Museum of Design for the Smithsonian and always has design exhibits. There are museums in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles that have good permanent exhibits and traveling exhibits about industrial design.
Industrial became a recognized field in the United States during the 1920’s. The roots of industrial design can be traced to the industrial revolution in Europe and the United States in the 18th and 19th century. When the production of products switched from crafts to mass manufacturing, many products become dangerous, ugly and scary. New inventions often started as a crude collection of mechanical parts with little thought about how people would use them. By the end of the 19th century, artists were hired to improve the look of products. Early electric products were improved in Germany when an electric company, AEG, hired Peter Behrens, an artist, to design the look of electric tea kettles and lamps. The work of Peter Behrens is considered one the best examples of early industrial design. Peter Behrens not only improved the look of the products, he designed them so they were easier to manufacture and were part of a system of products. He also improved the way the products and the way they were used. There are three areas that are the basis of industrial design: aesthetics, the look of a product, ergonomics or human factors which deals with the use of the product and manufacturing and materials which affect how the product is made.
During the 1920’s American manufacturers realized that products produced in the United States were not as well made, or as attractive as European products, particularly French, German and English products. Designers were hired to improve American products. Some early American designers immigrated from Europe. The most famous is Raymond Loewy; others came from different fields to help start the profession. Henry Dreyfuss was a set designer; Charles Eames was originally trained as an architect, and his wife Ray Eames was originally a painter. During the 1930’s and 40’s, designers influenced the look and use of all types of products including cars, radios and washing machines. This period is often referred to as the Golden Age of Industrial Design, because there were so many existing and emerging products for designers to work on. The term used for the style of 1930’s was streamlining, and it was applied to everything from large locomotives to pencil sharpeners. Industrial Designers had a significant impact on the 1939 New York World Fair. Designers not only designed the products that were on exhibit, they also designed the pavilions. The most famous pavilion was the GM “World of Tomorrow,” designed by Norman Bel Geddes.
After World War II industrial design was a mainstay of American industry. The 1955 Chevy is a great example of a design from that era. By 1970 every major company around the world used industrial design to improve existing products and develop new ones. Japanese companies like SONY, Toyota and Honda used industrial design to make their products competitive in the global economy. There are a number of good design history books to read; I recommend starting with the “Industrial Design” by John Heskett.
How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?
The Internet has allowed companies to communicate what they do around the world in an instant. It has allowed more people to learn about design. Many products designed today connect to the Internet. The Internet has created a new field of design. It is called Interaction Design, and many industrial design students are working in this area designing websites.
What are some of the trends that you see in the world of industrial design which could help students plan for the future?
Students need to know that talent is part of what is needed to make products successful. It is just as important to know how to work on teams with people from other fields and how to present your ideas clearly and convincingly. Computer technology continues to improve allowing designers to create more complex products faster than ever. Design is a part of the fast paced world of business and designers have to feel comfortable and excited about working at that pace.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The industrial design images featured in this article are from the portofolio of Mark P. McJunkin, student of Professor Craig Vogel, 1994 Carnegie Mellon Industrial Design Honor graduate, and present co-owner of ProductM.