By Rona Arato
Industrial Design is both as old as humanity and as new as the 20th century. Humanity has always looked for ways to feed, clothe and protect itself. When the first caveman carved a stone into a spear, he engaged in design. Hunting, gathering and cooking propelled geographically diverse societies to produce similar tools, many of them in classic formats still in use today.
Fast forward to the 20th century. The industrial revolution, which turned agrarian societies into largely urban-based populations, produced a virtually unlimited demand for consumer goods. New manufacturing methods developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s meant that products could be mass-produced. New materials, manufacturing methods and extended distribution routes allowed people to enjoy products from distant places which, in turn, lead to an explosion of global markets. Enter the modern Industrial Designer – a marriage between artisan, engineer and production consultant. Industrial Designers are trained professionals who design for mass-production. In other words, where an artisan hand-fashions one vase, an Industrial Designer figures out how to mould hundreds or thousands for widespread distribution.
Before Industrial Design emerged as a separate, recognized profession, architects and artisans carried out most of society’s design functions. Architects built buildings and artisans fashioned the furniture and implements that went inside. Engineers, working with the architects, ensured that structures remained standing – the best of them, like the Pyramids – for centuries.
Today Industrial Designers and engineers work together. Engineers focus on structural considerations while Industrial Designers are concerned with aesthetics and the needs of end-users. By specifying economical and effective manufacturing processes, Industrial Designers help manufacturers maintain competitive pricing. The result is cost-effective products that perform well, are visually pleasing, safe and comfortable to use.
While Europeans have long valued well-designed products, North America, with its emphasis on price and disposability has been slower to pick up the banner. That attitude, however, is changing, as an increasingly sophisticated populace appreciates the value and cachet of owning well designed products. From hand-fashioned arrows to computer generated automobiles, designers have always moved society forward. Modern Industrial Design continues that tradition, using technological advances to improve our lives. Design began at the dawn of history. Industrial Design, as a profession, was born in the 20th century. As the profession reaches maturity in the new millennium, the opportunities and possibilities are boundless.