Learn the Language of Industrial Design Online

November 5, 2007

3 Min Read
Learn the Language of Industrial Design Online

If you want to get ahead in your career as a design engineer, it may be time to learn a new language. And not just any language. As helpful as it is to know Spanish, German or Chinese nowadays, one language all engineers should study is a somewhat obscure tongue called “industrial design.”

Designers have more say-so than ever when it comes to influencing technology choices, particularly in consumer products. “You can see that influence in products like the iPod,” says Chris Lefteri, a design consultant, author and expert on the application of materials in design. And for that reason, Lefteri argues it's increasingly important for engineers to understand the language of design.

A new website called www.materialexperience.com could foster some of that understanding, at least when it comes to materials selection. Designed by Lefteri for ExxonMobil, the site portrays the company's Santoprene thermoplastic vulcanizates in terms an industrial designer would find familiar. “Designers don't just choose materials based on performance. They're looking at the aesthetic and emotional properties of materials, too — how they make people feel,” Lefteri says.

The new site reflects that mindset. Rather than explicitly providing information on Santoprene's compression set, durometer values or coefficient of friction, the site instead talks about the materials in design-friendly terms such as grip, stretch, texture and color. “We translate the technical information into language that's relevant to design,” says Lefteri.

Even the site's physical metaphor is designed to mirror the way designers work. The site's content is set up as a series of sample cards that designers can store to an online sketchbook. “The concept is based on the idea that designers collect samples as reference points to use later on,” says Lefteri.

That translation between the languages of engineering and industrial design hasn't always been easy for technology companies. “It's something we've struggled with,” says Carol Fitzpatrick, Santoprene's global marketing manager for consumer applications. “We've in the past tended to talk about our materials in terms of the engineering properties, which is not how designers talk about our materials.”

Santoprene's new site will, later this year, include features that allow designers and engineers to collaborate on material selection. For now, though, the site does not have much technical content aimed at engineers.

But it's worth checking out, anyway. Think of it as a language lesson. In no time at all, you'll be talking about how Santoprene's tensile properties make you feel.

Santoprene has launched a new website that explains elastomer properties and applications to designers.

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