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Materials and manufacturing processes remains an essential component of industrial design education. But for many students and young designers, they are still unsure of their comfort with these complex issues and how they affect their designs.

The first phase

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Young designers are often a source of fresh new forms, trends and ideas

The first phase was a period of blind naiveté. As a young designer anything was possible and the details of how my concept would make its way into reality was a secondary concern (if at all). Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons employing young designers can be so refreshing and energizing to a studio as they can be the source of fresh new forms, trends and ideas unfettered by any bias or understanding for the realities of materials, manufacturing or the laws of physics.

But for me, I sensed that this disconnection between concept and reality also represented a significant amount of risk—for my design, the client and the end user. I felt like I was working without a net, with no underlying understanding of how to convert the art of my concepts into designs that solved more problems than they created. For some designers, I think that’s where they wished to remain, fearing that to know too much about the realities of materials and manufacturing would somehow “break the spell” and suddenly all their crazy, beautiful expressive forms would somehow become plain boxes with tons of draft and huge fillets.


The second phase

I became terrified that everything I designed had some fatal flaw or would cost too much to produce

The second phase of this evolving relationship developed with my mounting awareness of all the rules of manufacturing — what you had to do versus could not do, what drove costs up and how to reduce those costs, materials selection guidelines, assembly techniques, and all the spectacular failures that can and do occur in manufacturing. I became terrified that everything I designed had some fatal flaw or would cost too much to produce or, worse yet, couldn’t be produced at all. I think this might be the worst fear for any young designer: to find themselves caged in by all these rules and restrictions, no long capable of developing designs without a manufacturer or engineer pointing out how ill-conceived it was or that it would be too expensive to produce or not structurally sound.

The third phase

This final phase is an on-going relationship with materials and manufacturing. It extends beyond understanding those rules to embracing them. With the ability and confidence to apply that knowledge, my own criticisms can be suspended to experiment and ideate, knowing I can address those issues when needed. By owning this technical experience, this periodic materials-and-processes review takes place within my own design process.

Obviously, developing this expertise takes time and there are always new materials and manufacturing technologies to learn about. But with this sensitivity, form and concept development, as well as manufacturing and assembly methodology, can take place within the same cyclical concept-critique-refine loop. So when it’s time to do a review with an engineer or manufacturer, I’ve already considered many of the issues that will most likely be discussed and have already accounted for them in the design. And if not, I’ll at least understand what they’re talking about.

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