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!
For more than 20 years Michael has been designing iconic products and brand experiences for some of the best brands in the world including Nike, Google, Motorola, Honda, and Hasbro. Located in Portland, Oregon, his studio focuses on industry leading halo projects across autonomous automotive, consumer electronics, travel, mobile devices, wearables, toys and conceptual Hollywood entertainment projects.