According to IDSA "Industrial designers not only focus on the appearance of a product, but also on how it functions, is manufactured and ultimately the value and experience it provides for users." But when I look on social media, this is not what I see representing industrial design. What I see is largely speculative work in the form of beautiful sketches, renderings, and sometimes models that present an idealized version of specific moments in the process.
I am just as guilty—maybe more so—of this creep toward idealization. Back in 2017 I decided to post a non-project related concept sketch a day for an entire year. I took notice of how a fun sketch of a product took up the same visual real estate as a photo of a production product on my phone. Often the sketch would get double or triple the amount of likes while only taking 45 minutes to create while the photo of the production product might have taken 12 – 24 months of that designer's time. I realized I wasn't exactly helping the cause.
Images clockwise from upper left: Jason Mayden for Super Heroic, Peter Ragonetti for Earos, Don Lehman for Starry, John Sahs for Nissan, Chris Addamick for Martin Bratturd, Natalie Candrian for Alps & Meters
This brought me back to 2008 when I interviewed at frog design. I didn't bring a PowerPoint or many sketches. What I brought was a duffel bag full of production products and factory prototypes. One of the creative directors who interviewed me, Howard Nuk (Howard went on to be VP of design at Ammunition and Samsung and is one of the founders of the PALM reboot) looked at my table full of products, smiled and said, "real designers ship". I never forgot that simple summation of what our focus is as industrial designers.
Howard and I shared the same mentor at frog, Executive Creative Director Paul Bradley, who sadly passed away much too young. Paul would often say "there are no innovative ideas, only innovative products". I interpreted the meaning behind both Paul and Howard's comments as the primary focus for industrial designers should be getting ideas to production. If we have to do a fancy sketch or hot render to get us one step closer to production or get us the project then so be it, but let's keep our eye on the prize.
We want to make things for people to use and enjoy.
Images clockwise from upper left: Dom Montante and David Green for Umbra, Zane Hoekstra for Nutrilite, Gabe Grant for Hemper Co, Walmen Dumaliang for Ember, Ricky Biddle with Eliott Copier and Stefaan Van Den Broecke for Sharpie, Joshua Hoffeld for Shot Tracker
With this in mind I started the #realdesignersship hashtag and @real_designers_ship account on Instagram. #realdesignersship is not meant to be a put down or even a challenge—it can take a long time to ship your first product. I'm hoping that it will be seen as a goal and an aspiration. It is a sign that you have unlocked a new level, that you have achieved something that deserves to be celebrated.
Images clockwise from upper left: Sam Hagger for Cole & Mason, James Connors for Kitchenaid, Farberware and Reo while at Lifetime Brands, Gabriel Jose Puerto for Purdy, Tim Swiss for Zeiss, Michael DiTullo and Ken Chae for Polk, Quan Li for Cook Duo
I'm not expecting designers to stop posting hot sketches and renderings. I plan to keep posting them as well. This isn't meant to be an admonishment of having fun with speculative work, flexing some skills, exploring new product types, or showing off some process deliverables. The purpose of #realdesignersship is to offer a balance to the conversation and a sightline to a destination. So keep having fun and keep posting. When something you worked on does make it through the process all the way to production, be sure to post and tag it with #realdesignersship!
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This inspired me to post some shipped product :) Thanks for being so supportive to this community Michael
Thanks for checking it out, Ryan. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for tagging!
Thanks for this. It's about we as designers stand up and go beyond the superficiality of a nice sketch (that said, I do love a great sketch as much as anyone...) I'm not sure focusing on "real designers ship" is the best way forward. From my 15+ years of experience as a designer (and yes, several millions of products shipped) for me the main point is the process and thinking behind and the process of solving a problem which is most important. Whether your products end up shipping six or six million are due to a multitude of factors. Yes, I worked on really innovative ideas, which we turned into innovative products, yet were complete commercial failures. We as designers have to stop thinking we're creating great products alone, we're not the only ones who come up with the great ideas and in the end we're only as good as our team and client. I wish we could go away from the myth of the designer as an artist working in solitude, and focus on the great team work that lies behind a good product.
"real designers ship" is a thought terminating cliche.
Something that "terminates thought" is the antithesis of design.
If you only design products, or even mere concepts, with the intent of shipping in your specific medium, you'll never solve problems that are intrinsic to the super structure you are working in.
Do we really need a niftier all glass smart phone? Or do we need a phone that won't break after you drop it once while fumbling to open your apartment door?
Which product will ship? Clearly the all glass sex machine that we've been consuming the past 12 years.
We need the phone that won't break after you drop it once... but we don't need you to write about it in the comments, we need you to ship it! :-)
So good. It's great to acknowledge real products, since a lot of social media is representing idealized people, places and experiences. As someone who's been doing this awhile, I (and my team) look for new hires with experience with getting designs into production.
Glad you liked the article and the initiative, Ken. Hiring is something I thought about including. Ive been in situations where there have been two good candidates but what made one stand out was that they shipped product. It is something we don't always have control over, but having the experience defiantly helps shape thinking. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
I'm glad you liked the article and initiative, Ken. I've been in situations where there were two evenly stacked candidates in line for a job and we selected the person that had shipped product. It isn't something we have total control over, but the experience definitely shapes thinking. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
SO refreshing. I used to be so frustrated because I was focusing so much time on work trying to bring my projects to life, while still feeling like I needed to keep up on the Instagram hustle. I then had the realization after looking at all of my favorite, and some of the most successful designers out there, that most of them had very little or no IG presence and that although it would be nice to be able to spend more time focusing on a social media presence, I would rather make kickass design that people can enjoy.
Good for you! I will post production stuff with that hashtag in the future as it becomes available. Thanks!
Thank you, Eric. Feel free to tag past products as well! We've been shipping since the industrial revolution :-)