In the playing field of product design, form and function are often seen by some as rivals. But according to Chris Collins, when mechanical engineers and industrial designers communicate early on and understand each other's intent, they can create a product that is both mechanically and aesthetically appealing.
How has industrial design changed over the last decade? The tools have changed. Ten or twelve years ago, designers' tools were similar to mechanical engineers'. Now, everything is digital, even hand sketches. Because we have offices worldwide, we have to be able to communicate quickly.
Are your design projects more challenging now than a decade ago? The projects now are more challenging, not because of the complexity of design, but because the industry is moving so fast that we have a shorter development cycle in which to get a lot more high-end features and functionality into our products.
What are the current tools for industrial designers? We use Alias Studio Tools, which allow us to go into the program without really knowing what we want to do at the beginning. It gives us the ability to sculpt in 3D, to do renderings, and to do animations. And while a picture is worth a thousand words, an animation is worth a lot more.
Why is industrial design so important in product design? When you look at a product, you should be able to tell what that product is designed for. You shouldn't have to read a spec sheet to find the right product for you. Industrial design also sets a product apart from its competition. The face of the company brand is shown through the product design.
Form vs. function. Does it have to be a trade-off? It's a give and take. There are trade-offs, but less than before. Look at emerging technologies—the constraints are getting less and less. Working with known technologies and fitting them into our products is a big challenge to us now.
Any examples of successful and not so successful designs? Apple computers. You can tell industrial design is respected there. They opened up a lot of doors for us because we were able to point to them as an example of what to do. Apple has an approach that is half a step ahead of the consumer. An unsuccessful design is one that needs to be explained. We want to have products that don't need any market explanation. It's about design semantics and the design has a character and soul that tell a story.
Any tips for design engineers who may not have an industrial design background or training? Design engineers can make better decisions about what to change if they understand the industrial designers' intent. So early communication and understanding is important.