A typical day for an industrial designer might begin with responding to emails from engineers across the world who help manufacture products for companies.
They may get a new project and do research by playing with different toys similar to the ones they are designing. They go to brainstorming sessions with marketing and design advisers to review different design ideas. Then they sketch out concepts, keep some, scrap some and sketch some more.
The industrial design major at BYU allows students to interact with people’s lives in a direct way through product design and development.
“Industrial design is a major where you balance the function of an object as well as its meaning to somebody,” said Richard Fry, industrial design professor. “Scientists and engineers will invent technologies and solve problems. Designers will take that technology and make it relevant to our lives.”
The program started in 1965 when the dean of the College of Fine Arts wanted to expand job opportunities for graduates. Over the years, the program went through a series of transitions and transformations, switching between different schools and changing class requirements.
“Industrial design is a great place for people who are halfway between art and engineering,” Fry said.
Cecily Sumsion, 20, found a niche in the industrial design program.
“I’m a person who likes to use my hands and play with things more than sit and read and write notes,” she said.
In a program that has no textbooks, students have to get used to working without structure, said industrial design professor Paul Skaggs.
“You have to be able to go into that mess and play in it and muck about, and pull things out and try to organize things,” he said.
The program teaches students about aesthetics, problem solving, creativity and product development.
This semester, sophomores in the program were asked to redesign the Ping-Pong paddle to teach students to focus on form and function.
Some students are also working on redesigning shampoo bottles. Sumsion said projects like these help her notice the good and bad designs around her.
“I was cutting an apple the other day,” she said, “and I was thinking about the knife I was holding thinking, if this handle were different would it be easier to use or safer to use?”
Skaggs said students have to assess three abilities if they are interested in the program.
They need to be creative thinkers.
“Can you generate ideas, do you love to make things?” Skaggs asked.
They need to be visual thinkers.
“Are you a doodler? Can you communicate ideas visually?” he said.
They need to be flexible thinkers.
“Do you have a lot of tolerance for ambiguity?” he said.
The freshman foundation courses are an introduction to the program to help students answer those questions. They teach beginning students about form, composition and sketching to help students decide if this is the major for them.
The freshman foundation classes are offered fall and winter, with 20 applicants accepted each semester.
Students submit a portfolio at the beginning of their sophomore year and the professors choose 15 students to admit to the professional program. Acceptance is determined by GPA in the freshman courses, professionalism and their portfolio.
The program is taught by four faculty members. Small class sizes and three-hour studio classes give students more opportunities to have one-on-one consultations with professors.
Each successive year builds on the skills learned in the freshman foundation. The sophomore core, junior application and senior exploration courses teach students about context, thinking about the product’s audience, and designing products with purpose.
Program professors have worked to bring industrial design professionals to BYU.
Once a semester students are assigned a project sponsored by an outside company, such as Tupperware, Motorola and HP, to redesign a real product.
“They [company industrial designers] have definite expertise in the project and it’s the students’ opportunity to go out and do their research, generate ideas, get feedback, have their ideas shot down and start from square one,” Fry said.
They have also worked to expose students to the design community.
Every year, juniors go on a field trip to visit design firms. Next semester students will go to Chicago, and will visit two or three firms a day for five days.
By the end of the trip they will have a better idea of what companies are looking for in job applicants. It is a great opportunity for students to prepare for internships, Fry said.
Students can work at industrial design consultancies or corporations. Consultancies tackle a range of products, conceptualizing products for a broad range of companies, but then the company takes over and implements the design concepts.
In corporations, designers will become experts in understanding their consumers, manufacturing process and products. They may have only one or two types of products, but they will become very familiar with them, Fry said.
The industrial design program has sent graduates to corporations such as General Motors, Ford, Trek bicycles and Ogio.
At the end of the day, the industrial designer will present ideas to senior designers. And maybe one day those ideas will be on a store shelf.