STEM/STEAM Careers: Industrial Design (plus list of project ideas)

STEM/STEAM Careers: Industrial Design (plus list of project ideas)

image © Joao De Almeida

I am, indeed, obsessed with Industrial Design.

I am not referring to “industrial” design where one uses galvanized steel light fixtures, and conduit for curtain rods (though I like that too). I am speaking of Industrial Design: the field.

But what is it exactly? The IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) definition reads:

Industrial Design (ID) is the professional service of creating products and systems that optimize function, value and appearance for the mutual benefit of user and manufacturer.

In other words? Making things. Making products (or systems) that have been thought through on many levels such as:

Does the product (or system) work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

Industrial design draws elements from artistic creativity and from engineering, especially mechanical engineering. Often art and engineering are kept apart, but in this instance the two thinking traditions are dovetailed to find the best solution to a given problem.

Project ideas for your student:

Design something that has never been designed before. Don’t be afraid to get silly. For example:

  1. a toothbrush for a favorite doll or action figure
  2. shoes for a turtle
  3. a lego cleaner-upper
  4. a crayon and coloring book carry-all for car trips

Or for the older student:

  1. a holster for a cell phone in case you have no pockets
  2. a way to secure a pen to a notebook
  3. a snack bag that does not feel kiddish (too young). I mean, a baggie full of Goldfish is so Elementary School.

You can also try designing something that improves upon a product that already exists:

  1. Always hated how a cereal bag splits open and flings cereal around the kitchen at 6 in the morning?
    Design a modification to the bag or clip
  2. Or you can modify a product to help with accessibility
    e.g., redesign/modify an everyday object for those with limited use of their hands

Keep in mind some of the important questions of Industrial Design as you work:

Does the product work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

As Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine puts it:

. . . the key to a truly successful product design lies in designer’s ability to combine both beautiful design and functionality

Suggestions for Materials:

sketch paper

a freshly-sharpened pencil

clay or Play-doh to brainstorm the 3-D form

other building supplies can be added as needed (tape, cardboard, scissors).

Use our Invention Journal to take it to the next level:



Want more? Some good videos about the industry:

Massachusetts College of Art and Design:


This one is about designing the MacBook:


This from NASA:

Twitter accounts:

Happy Designing.

Footnote: A degree in Industrial Design is one of my fantasy honorary degrees. Can I have one, please @PrattInstitute? Let me know, OK? Thanks.

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