Industrial Design: How to Avoid Plastic Pimples on Cosmetic Parts

March 6, 2008
Remember the old idea of “concurrent engineering?”

Although a fad years ago, the method has become part of how we operate today. You can credit concurrent engineering and its emphasis on thinking about manufacturing up front for ideas such as balancing the cost of a mold and where to gate a part.

For instance, we recently helped work on a computer- housing design for a manufacturer of telecommunications products. The company was on a tight budget and had tried to streamline processes as much as possible. So designers were absent during initial tooling discussions for manufacturing. The upshot: A front bezel on the housing, an important cosmetic component, had a gate mark in the form of a large plastic pimple. Of course, 20-20 hindsight showed that including design from the beginning would have avoided the whole mess.

It’s also wise to get design talking with manufacturing from the start to deal with color and finish issues. Products might get painted, molded in color, textured, anodized, plated, vacuum metallized, powder coated, or silk screened, to name a few techniques. Good design anticipates costs and risks associated with each method.

But good design goes beyond anticipation of manufacturing issues. Say, for example, you are going to paint an assembly intended as a consumer product. When the device is handheld or will see fair amounts of physical interaction on a daily basis, consider molding the part in a color close to that of the painted finish. Brand evaluation often suffers when products fail to meet consumer expectations. Ever dropped a cell phone, scratching the metallic paint to find a different color plastic underneath? This makes the phone look cheap, to say the least. Better to anticipate wear and tear.

—Tim Nugent

Tim Nugent is the Design Director at Pulse Global LLC in Santa Ana, Calif. ( The firm focuses on industrial design for medical devices, industrial equipment, consumer electronics, and other products and has worked for everything including startups to Fortune 100 companies. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Tim at tim. [email protected].

Before redesign, the front of the housing had a gate mark in the form of a large plastic pimple.

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