classroomdorm roomrepresentcrash coursecheat sheet
Text Field

Don’t Hang Out with Industrial Design Students
By Sam Montague

Well, don’t hang out with them all the time. It's the start of the semester, and soon you'll be engrossed in a world of blue foam, Bondo, and marker fumes. You will be eating, sleeping, working, and partying with your fellow designers 24/7. (Maybe not sleeping with them exactly, but you get the idea.) It will be very easy to get caught up in the narrow focus of design education and to not look past it. But the great thing about the world is that there are a ton of smart, interesting, and engaging people who are not industrial designers—haven't even heard of one. And if you are going to work with and design for the rest of this world, you need to go out and meet some of them.

If you are going to work with and design for the rest of this world, you need to go out and meet some of them.

Start with your campus

Hang out with some engineers to learn how stuff works. Find out what technologies are on the horizon, and where their disciplines are heading. Talk to physicists, geologists, and biologists—they'll provide you with insights into how the world works. Biologists can also talk to you about natural organisms, piquing your interest in biomorphic forms, biomimetic strategies, and everything else literally under the sun. Talk to anthropologists about how people, cultures, and civilizations work, and then tap climatologists and environmental studies students to learn how complex and rich "green design" really is.

Observe how these different disciplines problem solve and develop new ideas. Architects, communication designers, painters, and photographers are extremely interesting (and have good parties), but their experience and points of view might be a bit close to home. Instead, have lunch with the person down the hall who is majoring in philosophy. Who knows—you may discover that all this interaction with other disciplines becomes your own personal "allegory of the cave." Talk to business, marketing, and finance majors, since you'll be working with them a lot in the future. (You have no idea, actually.) Find a friend who is a writer or literary major, and learn how they discuss ideas and communicate stories.

Then get off campus

Travel to another country or take a road trip across your own. Work at a retail store during winter break to experience consumer shopping at its most vulgar intense. As you help customers, note what questions they have about the merchandise and observe how they make purchasing decisions. What about competitive products? What about the box? How does the stock room figure in the retail equation? What about the checkout process?

Play sports. Lots of them. Building prototypes and doing endless color studies is great for your design chops, but your body has other needs. Use the gym to build or repair, but then get out and have some fun away from the studio. Play soccer, Frisbee, rock climb, paddle a canoe, ski, snowboard, ride your bike, or run. It doesn't matter. Just make sure it's physical and outdoors. You've got to clear your head eagerly and often in order to have enough fitness to do inspired work when you're back at the studio. And the best part about sports? You play lots of them with other people. Who know other stuff.

Put it all together

In all these interactions with people outside your discipline, you will inevitably share ideas that will stimulate your creative thinking—and theirs. And the big bonus? Those non-industrial designers may want to hang out with you because they'll finally understand what industrial design is all about: Understanding and designing for people.

Sam Montague teaches in the Industrial Design Program at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.