I read all of Anson Cheung's posts so you don't have to berate yourself for lagging behind! - Part 1
If you're a designer who uses LinkedIn actively, you should know Anson Cheung. He started his career with an internship at NASA (yes, NASA!), became an industrial designer in Bould Design, made his way to the top, and became a partner there! Now he writes his own blog design.things and gives designers advice on social media.
While it's great to see his posts daily on your feed to keep yourself inspired at all times, there will always be some posts you miss... And think of all the advice you could've learned! So, I decided to compile all of his posts (in the last 6 months) and organize them by categories, so you don't have to.
In this part of the compilation, you'll see his advice on understanding your value as a designer, as well as some great general advice. Since Anson posts nearly every day, it would be a shame to leave some parts out for sake of writing short - so I'll write multiple parts to ensure no knowledge is left behind.
First things first, you have to understand your value as a designer.
In his recent Offsite Keynote speech, one of the topics he talked about was knowing your value. "You can design anything IF you are confident in and can convey the value of what you do," says Anson. We, as designers, are often overlooked and undervalued in many aspects - and this behavior eventually reflects on us, whereas design is one of the biggest responsible of human evolution. Design was making spearheads from stone 500.000 years ago and now it evolved into telling a story through tangible forms. And oftentimes, the story we're telling should be aimed to make someone else's life easier!
The true value of industrial design is the ability to integrate across disciplines to create impactful, user-centric solutions to hard problems.
A single mentor can change the course of your life and career.
If this was a year ago, I wouldn't agree with this statement as strongly as I'm today. When I was still a student in Offsite Cohort 2, they assigned a mentor to everyone. Mine was (and still is) Bernardo, and it's safe to say I owe him a lot.
As a new designer, I was pretty much as unaware of my surroundings as a newly hatched sea turtle. I didn't know what was expected from me in the long run, how to make a portfolio, what to say in interviews... Bernardo walked me through many possible scenarios and his own experiences - he had many different outcome stories from any experience I had yet to have.
You understand your value, find yourself a mentor -what's next? Anson gives some great tips on starting as a designer.
1. Study form development
By now, we understood design is all about listening and telling visual stories. But who listens to an ugly-looking story? No one! When you have little to no experience in design as a professional, it's possible to jump to conclusions and present unfinished work. Because you desperately want your portfolio to be filled with examples as quickly as possible! But... how to get used to developing forms?
Practice with abstract exercises to develop sensibilities
Marius Kindler shows a great example of developing forms from abstract shapes. He says "Fill every spot on a sketchbook page with random abstract outlines and organic shapes. Transform them into products by adding details, splits, and colors. Something like this can be the outcome." This exercise pushes your brain to design details and makes you think outside the box - while trying to stay inside one!
Study famous designers and designs - analyze, copy, learn
I can't recommend this enough! I'm sure I talked a lot about this and I'm even considering writing a separate article about this! An overwhelming majority of designs on this earth are just improved versions of their predecessors. If you're not James Dyson, the project you're working on has been done endless times before and there's nothing wrong with getting a little support from them - because their designers most likely did the same thing as well!
Internalize basic rules
Even though we love the design due to its flexible nature, it's no secret that there are some unwritten rules. Remember Gestalt? Well, the sooner you get used to internalizing basic rules the better.
Of course, anyone can design as they like without any rules in mind but almost every designer you look up to uses them, and as scary as it might sound - sticking to the rules when you are supposed to be free - you eventually will use them without even noticing.
2. Go deep on usability and human factors
Rules don't only apply to aesthetics... Anson reminds us once again that designers are not just decorators, but problem solvers. We are deeply linked to ongoing problems and the ones that might occur if we don't prevent them.
Learn basic user research methodologies
Yes, we are problem solvers but how to solve problems if we don't know where to find them? IDEO's DesignKit is one of the greatest sources for industrial designers. What makes it stand out among many other resources is DesignKit is specifically made for IDers, by IDers whereas the majority of design research resource is now made by and for UI/UX designers - absolutely no problem at all if you primarily use them as a guide but you might miss one or two things that only is about ID and can't be found on UI/UX resources.
Learn to prototype and test fast, iterate
You most likely will (as in nearly ALWAYS) design for humans or something that will eventually need a human encounter to mean something. What that means is, you will never know what to expect with the end product if you never give it a chance to exist in its natural habitat: with humans.
Most of the time, if you're not in the absolute final stage, you don't even need to make a perfect functional prototype. You just have to make your point across, even better if you're supporting it with storytelling.
Some books to read:
The measure of Man and Woman - Henry Dreyfuss Assoc.
Universal Principles of Design - William Lidwell
3. Master design communication tools
Think of a time that you were actively trying to learn a new language: and you reach a point where you begin to understand the language but cannot communicate. You lack experience in that language, practice, grammar, daily version of the language... and self-confidence. Now think about design: even if you have the greatest idea, how can this idea be celebrated if you don't know how to express it correctly? Of course, mastering one skill would open doors for more niche areas in design but it's no secret that every designer is expected to perform at some level of mastery of the essential skill of designing.
Sketching (hand, digital, whatever is fast and fluid)
So, very lucky of us, even if you suck at sketching you can undo your strokes with two finger tap on the screen. Don't have a tablet? thumbnail sketches are perfectly fine if done right.
Kelly (Knack Studio, the image above) is a great designer and sketcher, who also gives excellent lectures in Offsite courses and gives some great tips about thumbnail sketches: they are used to express an idea, so if your basic two-stroke sketch functions as expected... congratulations, that's almost all you need! She also advice that thumbnail sketches shouldn't be edited or deleted in the initial ideating process.
But, is this the only way of communicating with sketches?
No, of course not!
When you decide on your design and want to give it further details like part lines, buttons, charging ports etc, you refine the design with a much more detailed sketch.
In the sketches I did for my last project (image above), I used A6 papers and gel pens. This allowed me to not edit any details and pushed me to sketch more to achieve a result that satisfies me the most. When you don't have the abundance of brushes you can find on a tablet, you are compelled to generate different textures in your sketches - which is a great way to explore your creativity.
After you REALLY get done with the concept: here comes the fun part, digital rendering. While this step is absolutely not essential, I think it's a great ego boost, I mean who doesn't love a polished digital rendering with crisp lines?
Freedom sketch gives sure is missing in this part of the design. You sketch some exceptional surfaces, and you have an endless creative vision in your mind that is waiting to bloom in the visualization process but at the end of the day, if you're not very good at modeling, you're letting your lacking skills take over the design. That's why modeling is extremely essential in the designing process, poor modeling skills not only affect great concept sketches but will also force you to design matching your modeling skills and causing your creativity to devolve.
There are a handful of names pronounced the most in product modeling: Rhino, Fusion360, and Solidworks. They all have some features that make them stand out among others but at the end of the day, you know what's best for you and your needs.
Learn more about Rhino vs Fusion 360.
Visualization & Presentation
Do I mention how important this is at every chance I got? Yes. Will I talk about it once again? Also yes. Because learning visualization and presentation changed my career for good and might change yours too.
Let me show you why.
Last Resort is a powerbank that can be charged with dynamo.
Even when every new launch features a better battery life compared to its predecessor, increasing ways to engage with the devices outrun the battery life very often. With the increasing usage of smart devices, powerbanks became one of the essential things to carry around. Smartphone battery capacity goes down drastically in this routine over time, making powerbanks more and more needed. According to Forbes, the average household in the US now has 20.2 smart devices, meaning at least a quarter of them requires charging regularly. Having to charge many smart devices can often result in overlooking powerbanks and leaving users out of charge in urban life.
Last Resort powerbank tries to solve this problem by giving users one more alternative when they find themselves in an unwanted situation. The users can detach the hand crank arm and reattach it to start charging the powerbank as a "last resort", giving them peace of mind knowing they won't be really out of charge ever while carrying Last Resort.
I suggested two examples of presentations for my latest project. Even though the first presentation is exaggerated to be horrible, it's easier to see the stark difference between them.
The render above is dry and not engaging: has flat lighting that doesn't compliment the product shape or material, the camera angle is too basic and there is hardly a composition nor a story to let me understand the function or the usage.
The second render is much more engaging, shows two versions of the product, and the lighting is custom-made for the product's shape and material.
How did I achieve more engaging results? By simply observing similar products and how they are being presented.
And observing presentation doesn't end here, in this article Cornelius explains why Apple and Nike is the pioneer in storytelling. Let's explore this further with this viral example:
Could they market with absurd stats and numbers to prove their point? Yes, but the general consumer does not care about fancy numbers unless they are tech savvies. Instead, Apple introduces the new iPod with what can the consumer win if they buy this with a witty quote.
4. Know how to make things
As designers, we should be very aware of the product we're designing. Deeply involved with the logic behind it and obsessed with its mechanism, and how do we learn more? Taking the product apart. When I was designing Revi Webcam, I knew what was inside a webcam by looking at some disassembling videos on youtube but the ones I saw were not enough so I bought a used webcam for 3$ to take apart.
I will not lie and say I couldn't have done without it but it helped me a lot and became yet another input in my database of "how it's done". Take things apart. Think about what makes them tick, and how parts are made. Try to put it back together.
Get hands-on: make stuff out of different materials.
If you only design with one material and nothing else, you limit yourself and your creativity. As much as we have to consume different types of media to keep our minds open, we also should produce what would require us to explore materials.
I was a rigid consumer electronics designer with no intentions to design any furniture up until a couple of months ago but after I saw a local design contest with a "smart furniture" theme, I decided to give it a try. And let me tell you now, I LOVE designing furniture and using wood! You know what they say: "You miss %100 of the shots you don't take." So who knows, you might have a superpower hidden somewhere!
Exploring different materials and categories not only would unleash your creativity but also help you learn how that material gets produced, assembled, and engaged. If you know many details about many materials, you will eventually know where to use each of them correctly.
Some books to read:
Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals - Rob Thompson
Materials for Design - Chris Lefteri
Get a sense of context and where you are in history
History repeats itself. Maybe not entirely but sure do in little details. Even if it didn't, understanding why things are like this at the moment and giving them a reason will help you create awareness.
Not related to ID strictly but my favorite story about cause-effect relationship in history is the invention of the famous erotic symbol in the 40-50s: "line stockings"
This article sums up the story perfectly:
"By the late 1930s, political tensions between America and Japan were on the rise. 1937 brought a nationwide boycott of all Japanese products -- this included the ever-so-popular silk stocking. American women were now forced to turn away from silk hosiery and wear nylon instead.
World War II increased the demand for nylon. Women were asked to ration and donate their hosiery for the war effort, as the material was used to create tools such as parachutes, airplane chords, and tents. The product was taken off the market completely and desperate women all over sought out creative alternatives. Women began to paint seams on the back of their legs or use self-tanners and "liquid stockings" to create the illusion that they were wearing hosiery.
After the war, nylon stockings made their return and DuPont struggled to meet the product's demand. In 1945, the end of the war, Macy's sold out of their entire stock of 50,000 pairs of nylons in just 6 hours!"
See where design has been and think about where it's going. History is often about recurring events and the patterns they create.
Some books to read:
Industrial Design A-Z - Charlotte and Peter Fiell
5. Develop familiarity with tangential fields
The beauty (and the curse, if I may) of industrial design is that we should consume everything to stay relatable as a designer. Maybe 10 years ago no one would expect an IDer to know a dime about UI/UX because it was simply not necessary but now it's a huge plus because now the consumer cannot be thought separately with their smart devices. So an IDer doesn't have to be a master UI/UX designer but should always look out for opportunities to engage it if there's a possibility.
And even for the final of the design process, visualization, and presentation, it's not like we can evolve magically on our own - isolated from any other media. In order to excel in this part, you can look at influential photographers to understand how they use light and create compositions.
Look at graphic designers, graphic design trends throughout history, consume different countries' designs. Observe the most celebrated posters, and see how they design the layout.
Study business and marketing, as I mentioned before, because if you're telling stories with your designs and renders, you should be able to back them with your presentation.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one"
Make sure to follow Anson's Linkedin to see great advice daily, but for the advice you've missed so far, I'm here to cover that up. I'll write about his advice on preparing a portfolio, choosing the right workplace, and many more in my next articles.
Until then, take care and thanks for reading!