Industrial Design: Shapes Can Say a Lot

June 5, 2008
During concept development, a design team should list potential visual-design cues that match with the intended design.

Tim Nugent

For example, for medical devices these might include elements connoting “safety,” “cleanliness,” and “ease of operation.” These then become important elements of concept sketches.

For example, tapering lines that meet at the front of a vehicle suggest, “Go this way fast.” It’s no coincidence that sketches of performance cars often use these kinds of lines to connote speed.

Visual elements can make even bulky products look sleek. A good example: minivans. Most have what are called break lines or belt-line gestures. For instance, a line might run the length of the vehicle slightly above the front and rear-wheel wells. This draws the eye along the length of the vehicle while distracting from its height. The use of different colors or materials in each area can also help break up a large object.

Usually, designers create many concept drawings for a project. For example, new computer housings or MP3 players might entail 75 to 100 sketches. The best of these are evaluated, refined, and presented to the customer for selection.

In a recent project, designers created basic, simple, and clean concept sketches for an OEM appliance that acts as a custom server for Voice Over Internet Protocol.

This first sketch (top) included a plastic bezel. The no-frills design had lines intended to move the viewer’s gaze across the product’s front. (A marketing requirement was to catch buyers’ attention from across a trade-show floor.)

Another concept sketch (not shown) used a stainless perforated sheet-metal piece for the airflow. This gave the product a richness, and a slightly mirrored finish to the interface area.

Lastly, because the server would eventually get rack-mounted, the concept (below) incorporated handles that did not look like handles, but rather flowed naturally into the design (bottom). These would be electroplated in a satin-silver finish for a modern effect.

The included LCD screen wasn’t even a consideration in the initial design criteria. But designers used creative leeway to include it. The concept made it into the next phase of development.

Tim Nugent is the Design Director at Pulse Global LLC ( The firm focuses on industrial design for medical devices, industrial equipment, consumer electronics, and other products. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Tim at [email protected].

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