Whether you’re a graduating student who has earned a degree in Industrial Design looking to step into the workforce or a practicing Industrial Designer thinking of a career change, chances are one of your classmates or coworkers has moved into UX Design over the last few years. You hear they’re getting paid well and loving their jobs, and you begin to wonder—should I become a UX Designer?
This is a question we’ll explore in a 3 part series exploring the evolving landscape of UX design, and if you are curious, a path to get you started on your journey into the field. There are many rewarding reasons for Industrial Designers to transition into UX Design besides the monetary incentive, and I hope this article can bring you some clarity on why your background in ID could make you a great UX Designer should you choose to make the switch.
I am an Industrial Designer who pivoted into UX Design a few years ago. During my time working in the physical space, I’ve encountered a number of challenges that are likely familiar to most Industrial Designers. One story that still haunts me every now and then was the time when the engineers on my team figured out a more cost-effective and scalable way to model the product after we confirmed the tooling with the manufacturer. And, you guessed it, it was too late to implement the change. Although this incident didn’t impact the product launch, it lost our team an opportunity to generate a higher marginal cost for the product and to create a more sustainable product framework.
As I expressed my disappointment of this incident to my peers in design, I was introduced to UX Design, where I learned it was a discipline that would allow me to make changes to my design to continuously improve the product even after the product is launched. The flexibility of implementing design iterations as well as the accountability of making the products better for the users ultimately became the reasons that incentivized me to become a UX Designer.
IMAGE SOURCE: Alejandro Rioja
Not gonna lie, I experienced a fair amount of imposter syndrome even 2 years after I made the transition—I was not as fast as my peers when it comes to churning out wireframes, I didn’t have the same level of sensitivity to the common patterns in UX Design compared to my colleagues who studied UX Design, and I was always catching up with the new few features in varying softwares.
As I gained more experience working in the field, I’ve come to the realization that there are many overlaps between the responsibilities an Industrial Designer has vs. the ones of a UX Designer. And Industrial Designers bring a unique set of skills to the field of UX design that can be incredibly valuable, including:
Designing through scalability
Since the cost of the materials is oftentimes a deciding factor in product approval and tooling is an expensive part of the product development cycle, Industrial Designers have to approach their design decision through the lens of scalability and element reusability such that their design can be reused or repurposed in the future. To do this well, it requires designers to approach their design through system design thinking, which is a skill that’s extremely valued and desired in UX Design. Designing with a scalable design framework can increase the efficiency of the product development and ensure a consistent user experience.
To bring a physical product to life, especially if the product falls under the category of consumer electronics, designers must work closely with their cross-functional partners to ensure the feasibility, desirability and viability of the product. When working as a UX Designer on a digital product in an in-house setting (sometimes this applies to agencies as well), cross-functional collaboration is the key to ensure the success of a product, as it allows designers to sync up with their cross-functional partners to avoid the misalignment among the user needs, tech feasibility and business values of the product.
Designing for affordance
When designing for a physical product or a product that involves physical components, it’s critical to have a high level of sensitivity to the affordance of the product. An app that’s hard to navigate on a device because of the placement of its call-to-actions is usually a lack of consideration of how the users might interact with the digital components through the physical housing. This is where a lot of opportunities lies for Industrial Designers to bring human factors into interaction design to create designs that are intuitive and usable across all devices and user types.
The UX Design field has been maturing aggressively over the last few years and is more competitive than ever. While it may still seem uncertain and even daunting for some Industrial Designers to decide whether or not they want to stay in their ID lane or make a career pivot, the opportunities that lie ahead within the design industry are looking more exciting than ever.
Many emerging trends are suggesting that the future of design is going to be more interdisciplinary, especially at the intersection of physical and digital product design—from the increased leverages of AR/VR in different fields (including social platforms, retail, healthcare, gaming and urban planning), to increased demands on more seamless and blended experiences between physical and digital touchpoints (such as meal deliveries, car sharing services, airlines and more).
IMAGE SOURCE: Christine Sandu (Unsplash)
What these trends translate into is higher expectations of hardware and software design communicating with each other closely. Although physical-digital experiences are maturing in certain fields, such as wearable technology like Fitbit and certain gaming products like Switch, there are still gaps in others. This presents a lot of great opportunities for Industrial Designers to take on in order to bridge the two disciplines, whether they choose to stay in ID or move into UX.
There are many reasons that could motivate an Industrial Designer to move into UX Design, but there are just as many reasons for an Industrial Designer to stay in the field and bring their unique set of skills to the collaboration between ID and UX. In the next series, I will be joined by the panelists whom I spoke with at the 2022 International Design Conference on the topic of “Should You Pivot to UX?!”, where we share different career pathways and product opportunities for industrial designers and UX designers.
As a 15+ year veteran of UX Design I can corroborate much of what Danielle is saying here, including having worked with multiple world-class UXers who made the transition from other design domains like ID. I pivoted from print/graphic design to UX myself early in my career.
I’m not saying anyone can do UX design. The profession is challenging but also very specific. My point is the term “UX” is referring specifically to (usually) digital design only and the name should reflect that. UX is waaaaay to broad of a job title. Every object ever designed on earth involves “user experience”, the concept wasn’t born with an iPhone screen. This profession should be called “Digital Interface User Experience”. Quite frankly it seems arrogant to think one design profession (UX) encompasses all user user interaction needs and designs…. Almost every designer is a UX designer. Be more specific.
Industrial Design = Noun.
I also transitioned from ID to UX during the very beginning phase of the pandemic. Career growth in the ID space can take a while. It’s also a relatively exhausting career as you are dealing with back and forth between the design team and manufacturers. I enjoy the UX space very much but it took a while to get used to, the pace of this industry is also moving extremely fast so I often feel the pressure to continue to educate myself (doing certificates) as I continue to climb the tech design ladder. It is hard to break into UX with an ID degree without much tech experience, hope this changes soon.
I’d love to see the term “UX Designer” go away in the near future. It’s far to generic in my opinion. Every designer is an experience designer, unless the thing you’ve designed is not meant to be seen, touched or heard by anyone….. It seems UX usually refers specifically to “digital screen” use and should be updated as such. The person who made the control panel on a 1950 John Deere tractor was also a “UX” designer.
I couldn’t agree more. Every product that involves human interaction involves a user experience. I suppose seen through a graphic design lens it makes some sense. Prior to digital screens, graphic design was rarely interactive and so the user experience was limited to viewing the graphics. Digital screens changed all that. It is still 2D graphics based but now interaction creates a user experience. But seen through an ID lens, “user experience” is our bread and butter. I mean, what is the main difference between ID and engineering if it isn’t a focus on the user experience?
I went from a Senior Designer position, to Professor of Industrial Design, then gave up physical designs for interaction design and UX 30 years ago. Danielle has it right. The skills transfer easily and make for better experience outcomes.
I’ve always considered myself an industrial designer working in the UX design sphere. During my time in school not too long ago a lot of what I learned in industrial design is directly applied to UX design. and when I took a UX design certification course a lot of what I learned there is 99% the same as what I learned in my industrial design program. I don’t see much difference in what a IDer and a UI/UXer is other than the world they work in; physical vs digital. and as products continue to be a hybrid of physical and digital I think ID and UX design will be one in the same.
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