From Industrial Design to User Experience Design, a long strange path

The decision to study Industrial Design in college was a simple one for me, as it combined many of the skills that I already enjoyed growing up as an artist, model builder, and addressed my fascination with cool gadgetry.  I’d already finished a 2 year program in Film Production, and wanted to build out my design skills. If nothing else, a degree in Industrial Design would open many doors, perhaps ones that I hadn’t considered when I started the program.

Little did I know how big one of those doors would be. By the time I’d graduated with a BFA in Industrial Design from Kendall College of Art & Design, the software industry had exploded. Suddenly there were opportunities for people with my skills – product design, human factors, ergonomics, graphic design with digital tools. It was a time when there were few programs dedicated to cranking out user experience software designers.

I was already steeped in state of the art UI Design at the time, having worked for a local Engineering and Architectural computer consultancy. We provided hardware and CAD/CNC software for a variety of companies, most of which supported West Michigan’s automotive, office furniture, and architectural industries. In an area that had few computer technology companies, I’d quickly become a subject matter expert. As I look back this path almost appears to be ‘by design’.

Today there are many more university programs dedicated to producing designers specifically for the software industry. I’ve often wondered, were I facing the same decision, going into college today, would I still find Industrial Design more appealing? The answer, after careful consideration, is always yes I would lean more towards Industrial Design. But that’s a choice I would make knowing that I personally enjoy product design – as in design of objects, forms, and experiences – as opposed to designing for a 2 dimensional screen.

As it has turned out, my ID background has served me well, and over the years I’ve enjoyed a number of roles that did land me in the product design space. With software UI Design becoming more of a commodity, I’m finding myself looking outside the field, considering the other possible doors for someone with my range of skills.

It’s all part of the ride.

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