Written by Alicia Stewart, Industrial Designer at Enginuity
User Experience (UX) design has become quite prevalent in the world of product development. Despite its recent popularity there is still much confusion as to what it actually is. So, where is all the confusion coming from? And where does it actually fall among the many terms attempting to define specific design fields? Better yet, how does UX design work within engineering?
As an industrial designer, I wanted to lay out how I see the UX design role within industrial design, and how UX design; as a subset of industrial design, is key when working together with engineering design processes to create sought-after products.
The Confusion and What it Actually is
Technology is one of the main culprits of the confusion surrounding UX design.
As technology expands, so does the umbrella overarching the terms and tools that define each design profession. We now have an endless list of design categories such as Industrial design, user interface (UI) design, graphic design, visual design, product design, web design, fashion design, animation design, and the list goes on… Adding to the confusion of course, is that many of these terms overlap, are considered interchangeable, or become sandwiched together because they are so interconnected – For example I’m sure you have heard the term UX/UI, or have heard product design and industrial design coined to the same occupation. To further this confusion, often these branches can be both a specialized field and/or a subset of another form of design. This is the case for UX design in relation to industrial (or product) design.
What is UX Design?
Because UI design focuses on the interface between the digital world and the user, and UX and UI tend to get lumped together, people assume that UX is primarily focused on digital experiences as well. This is not always the case.
By principal UX design is embedded into every product, be it digital or physical. Take a look around you, if you think about it, everything outside the natural world is designed. Now-a-days even much of the food we eat has been ‘designed’ or modified to promote an experience, or a perceptual set that provokes a consumer to want or need this particular item. These characteristics are intentional traces of design. These desirable features, subconscious or not, come from a design that was founded on understanding the user. This practice is often referred to as “User Centered Design”, and is essentially the defining trait of UX design.
If you boil it down to a basic statement; UX design is the process of determining a users’ needs and wants, and applying that as an input into a product in order to optimize the users’ experience. In a well-rounded design, this logic doesn’t stop at the product. It begins with how it looks on the shelf in a store and ends with the products’ end of life.
How it fits within Industrial Design
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘this sounds an awful lot like industrial design’, well it is! Or at least it is an important part of it. The key differences to note however are that UX design is specific to the user, with the goal of making something usable, enjoyable, and accessible. Industrial design focuses on the product, the goal here is to create products that are durable, viable in the market, and fit within a company’s mission statement and goals.
Now obviously a product cannot be viable in a market, nor help a company achieve a goal if it is not usable, enjoyable, and accessible; which is why UX is a vital component of industrial design. In a fully thought-out product, the Industrial design logic would be applied as early in the concept design stage and the person or people using the product and follow its journey through manufacturing, to the shelf, and onward to the product’s end of life.
How they both nest into Engineering Design
The next piece of the product development puzzle, is engineering design.
Engineers are the people who make sure the product actually functions as it is intended. Within a product development team, the industrial designers and engineers tend to work closely together bouncing their logic back and forth. Ultimately the goal is the same, but each step of the products life is looked at from a different perspective.
Industrial design advocates for the user and the client. Engineering looks at the same product, manufacturing, materials, and environment of use, with the same goal of creating a durable, usable, market ready product, but they advocate for the technical functionality and “fitness for purpose”. The Engineers do the calculations, simulations, configuring, and part analysis, that ensures this product has optimal functionality.
The most successful products integrate usability and functionality so seamlessly that it becomes one in the same to a user’s eye. This type of product is typically only achieved when both the engineers and industrial designers are involved at an early stage. An openness and a respect for each other’s profession and perspective is needed to allow the designer to push for an ideal use cycle, and the engineer to pull back to what is actually possible and ideal for the product. This means the outcome is a beautiful balance of the two.
Additionally; this dynamic push-pull environment, where both parties are constantly expanding their understanding, and challenging one another to find innovative solutions is what ultimately heightens the potential of the product at hand, the clients’ satisfaction, as well as the success of the design firm.
To sum up, UX design speaks for the user. While it is an important profession of its own, it is also a critical subset of industrial Design.
Industrial design strives to fit the UX principals into what works in the larger picture of the products’ life cycle and partners the engineering design process.
Engineering design assesses the same product life cycle but from a technical standpoint and strives for functionality.
By confronting a problem from an interdisciplinary approach; with all pieces of the puzzle working together, you create a world of potential and possibility for innovation.
This results in creative outcomes that have a greater opportunity for success.
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