From Industrial Design to UX

Why I decided to switch from atoms to pixels and how an Industrial Design background is a great idea for UXers.

2 years ago I was graduating from University to become an Industrial Designer, hoping to land a job in which I could showcase my communication skills and build a lot of prototypes with 3D printing, robots and more technological stuff.

One of my first prototypes. Yeah it´s a raspberry.

Unfortunately to me, the place where I live (Colima, MX) does not have a lot of industry and manufacturing jobs (and truth be told, IKEA was not waiting for me to graduate so they could hire me and move to Sweden), therefore industrial design is mostly dedicated to furniture design and materials for advertising. Although I designed a couple of projects back in University with this approach, one of my objectives was to demonstrate that Industrial Design could be applied to a wide range of activities and problems.

Up to date, I am working as a UX/Product Designer for a great company. Does this mean that I didn´t choose wisely my University education and perhaps I should have studied Graphic Design or Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)? Almost, but not quite.

Why I decided to move in another direction

First of all, one of the main issues of being an industrial designer is that sooner or later the products that you design or help to build will end up in landfills. What is more, given the fact that I was looking for designing and developing tech products, lifecycles are even shorter. As Victor Papanek said in his book Design for the real world: “There are professions more harmful than Industrial Design, but only a few of them”.

My point isn´t to discredit the importance of Industrial Design as a profession, on the contrary, it is a crucial discipline nowadays, as long it is focused on solving real problems and not being used as a means of artistic expression.

Building a product to use another, can be considered Upcycling? Bad Industrial Design.

UX: area of opportunity

Working for more than 2 years in the IT industry allowed me to understand the great room for improvement in User Experience for digital products. If we talk about physical products, for example, If a person sits on a chair and she feels it uncomfortable, chances are that she will blame the chair and sit on another one. 
With digital products, a different phenomenon might occur. Some people may feel frustrated (especially non-millenials) when not knowing how to deal with an interface or digital application. Probably they would blame the product too, but their uncertainty whether “it was the product or me” is way bigger.

Not your fault, Chris.

That is why I decided to focus on applying User Centered Design practices to digital interfaces, in order to be able to collaborate with forward-looking companies in delivering meaningful products for people.

Better Salary💵

And as a third factor, we all know that people working in the IT industry can have great salaries. To be honest, I didn't mind embracing new challenges with more money in my pocket😉.

The perks of being a UXer with ID background

Human Factors: 10/10

One of the most important disciplines that an Industrial Designer has to master (If graduating is an objective) is Ergonomics, which roughly studies the behavior of people and their surroundings when performing tasks, taking into account factors such as environment, psychology, semiotics, anthropometrics, to name a few. All of these disciplines are equally important in UX. Actually, Industrial Design is part of the UX spectrum, but we can leave that for another story.

The “Prototype” word

Being aware of the importance of prototyping, how and why doing it is key in UX. As an Industrial Design student, building mockups to figure out mechanisms or simply to perceive the tridimensional aspect of an idea was part of my daily learning. However, the more complex the prototype, the more expensive. This is how I managed to develop an insight of what to measure and how to measure it in a non-risky way.
Later I realized that this approach already had a name: MVPs.

Final thoughts

If you happen to be a Graphic or Industrial Design student, or even If you are already working as a designer, don’t forget that design is a vast threshold and is in constant change. The way we designed 50 years ago doesn't have to be the same than nowadays (Thanks so much Munari, but is about time to turn the page). Just because you don’t do exactly what your teachers let you do back in school doesn't mean that you are not exercising your profession, or that you cannot apply such knowledge in a different area, with different problems.

Post-final note: This is my first story in Medium (actually the second, because I write in both English and Spanish). I would like to have Neil Gaiman’s storytelling skills, but I had to press the publish button before achieving that. If this was somewhat helpful to you, claps will be highly appreciated.