Where art meets science

Jan. 25, 2007
Industrial designers and mechanical engineers can sometimes struggle working together in the field of product design.

Mark Biasotti
Product Manager
SolidWorks Corp.
Concord, Mass.

The inherent conflict stems from the unique perspectives each professional brings to product development.

Industrial designers focus on making sure that a product exceeds customer's expectations in function and form while striving to create a truly innovative and unique design. They concentrate on how a consumer will interact with the product, how to build brand loyalty, and elicit an emotional response by imbuing style, novelty, and ingenuity into a product. Mechanical engineers pay heed to equally important concerns: Will a product break? Will it function as intended? Can we manufacture it efficiently and cost effectively?

Having worked as an industrial designer for over 20 years, I have had my share of tug-of-wars with engineers. With experience, however, I have come to realize that it does not have to be that way, especially when both professionals focus on shared interests instead of their positions.

The goal of every industrial designer is to realize the culmination of the creative spark, the original idea, manifested as a salable product. Mechanical engineers have the same ultimate goal — delivering a successful product. Use of a common design platform is one way to foster a greater sense of collaboration. It lets both camps speak the same "language."

Historically, industrial designers have utilized a variety of media to develop a product concept including markers, sculpted clay, hand drawings, and 2D illustration software. Engineers often must convert an industrial designer's nonelectronic or 2D electronic data into a CAD model. When conflict erupts, it typically happens at this point, and stems from a failure to communicate. That is why industrial designers should get up to speed on modern 3D design tools. By embracing 3D CAD, industrial designers can better communicate design concepts and add value to their products.

The complex relationship between industrial designers and mechanical engineers represents the interface where art meets science. Mechanical engineers, with their greater sense for time-to-market issues, product manufacturability, and the steps needed to transform an idea into reality, are important, collaborative partners whom industrial designers must accept, respect, and value. Working from a common design platform can help transform a potentially combative relationship into a rewarding, collaborative partnership.

Before joining SolidWorks (solidworks.com), Mark Biasotti worked for 16 years as an industrial designer at IDEO, a leading design consultancy.

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