Critics are saying how industrial designers have it good nowadays, with the general public becoming more accepting of the ways of design -- thanks to the efforts of Steve Jobs and Apple. But I do not concur. In fact, I think industrial design is dead. Yes, you can go to school for industrial design. Yes, you will do traditionally industrial designer-y curricula. But no, you will not be hired as an industrial designer. Well, not anymore, I think.
I've come to this conclusion lately after looking around, and reading a small excerpt from a book titled "The Art of Atari" by Tim Lapetino.
It's a pretty hefty book that outlines the design, brand, and art of the legendary game company Atari. Although majority of the book talks about the art for the game manual, cover, and promotional works, there's a section discussing the role of industrial design in the company. It talks of the defectors of the electronic company Ampex, and how they created the company known as Atari. The section I found fascinating, and the reason to why I started thinking that industrial design as a profession is obsolete, was the huge role the design team had inside the company.
I'm gonna be truthful. industrial design doesn't really get the credit it deserves. When someone asks you what you do for a living, if you say "Industrial Design", first, they want to know what exactly that is, and after we tell them, they quickly lose interest. The same is true for everything else. Walk into a bookstore, and you see shelves of graphic design, architecture, fashion design, and interior design. But no industrial design. Seeing a book that talk about industrial design in a very open and tame way was quite exciting.
In the book, the author talked about the role design had on the Atari brand. This was evident in the meticulously designed logo and the graphic style that bound everything together. The industrial designers did more than design cabinets and consoles, they also illustrated and done graphics. I've got to mention that the concept art around that period had a similar aura to ID sketches. I wonder which came first? (this'll probably be a topic for the future once I've found a credible source)
But I've digressed far enough. What I am trying to say is that Industrial design in its pure form doesn't exist anymore. It's either industrial design + X or it's evolved into something almost entirely different. For example, designers that specialize in anthropometrics and ergonomics become ethnographic designers, or those that enjoy the human-object interaction side become UI/UX designers. And on the other hand, as an example, industrial designers with a background in biology may do something like biomimicry. Or those that are more environmentally-conscious become sustainable product designers.
In other words, it's difficult to become a successful jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none-type designer. One must either specialize in a single aspect of industrial design or attain a certain mastery of industrial design-plus-other disciplines. It's rare for a pure industrial designer to be hired in this rapidly evolving business climate. Because very soon, even UI/UX designers will be obsolete and run into the same exact problem.
This is what I've felt during the 4 years as an undergrad, and I've failed to decide which path to go. In the end, I've become the one type of designer that is the least palatable as a hire: a jack-of-all-trades. But I don't actually regret my decision to choose this path. In fact, I love being someone that's knowledgeable in varieties of skills. I get my joy in life by learning new things, and teaching it to others. I guess this is a testament to how much I adore teaching.
But of course, this is simply my observation. Please take it with a grain of salt.