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5 ways industrial design principles can inform digital practices

Lily Kolle User Experience Consultant

Lily Kolle studying at University

At Precedent, our team comes from a diverse set of backgrounds. Not only are we an international team in offices all over the globe, but we also come from a variety of industries before we found our respective paths to digital. Before I came to Precedent I was living in the US working as an Industrial Designer / User Experience designer at Intel. We designed concept laptops and the experiences users might have with laptops in the future, and this job was my gateway to digital consulting.

Last month at Ignite Sydney [digital] I shared 5 principles that I learned from Industrial Design that I use every day at work which can be applied to anything you do. Here I’ll explain how those 5 lessons can help us create meaningful ideas and deliver them intelligently.

1. Don’t skip the principles
Lesson number one is don’t skip the principles. Principles are very close to my heart because without them I am often lost and find it very difficult to design something innovative. Principles are the tool that you reference when brainstorming solutions; they describe the solution without implying the answer.

So let’s say you’re redesigning a website that currently uses a quiz to discern a user’s eligibility. The principle is that users need to self-determine their eligibility. One possible solution is to use a quiz to help them accomplish that. When defining the underlying principles we open ourselves up to brainstorm new and possibly more effective solutions.

It may seem obvious but, amidst the whirlwind of a complex project, without principles it’s easy to miss opportunities to be innovative by relying on those pre-existing solutions, like the quiz.

2. Sketching improves your ideas
Ever notice that once you begin to build something you find it’s much more complex than you expected? Perhaps you find that with experience you get better at anticipating those complexities ahead of time, and therefore get better at planning. For example, your first assembly of some IKEA furniture; you may have been surprised at how long it takes to build something so apparently simple. Practicing sketching works the same way; the more you practice the more sketching helps you think through a project before you start building.

When I was new at Industrial Design sketching I would draw products with no thickness, screws or part lines, these products would have been impossible to produce! But as I gained experience in how products are made, my sketching became a more useful planning tool. Use sketching at work to plan presentations, test ideas, and of course design websites. It’s not only a communication tool but a thinking tool as well.

3. Your first 30 ideas are crap
Let me preface this one by saying that 30 is the number of sketches I was expected to do each week in design school; it’s a fairly arbitrary number. The point is that your first batch of ideas are just as obvious to any other similar group of people. Keep this in mind when creating a pitch or presentation because your first round of ideas are probably pretty similar to another person’s first round of ideas. To make your ideas stand out you need to spend a few extra rounds of ideation pushing your pitch a little further than those first brand impressions. I’m sure clients often see variations on the same general concepts from competing pitch teams but the agency that wins is the one that took the idea to the next level.

4. Make it real
It can be really frustrating when you have a concept in your head and no one else seems to ‘get it’. When someone feels strongly about an idea, it’s probably got merit, but they may not have found the right way to communicate it yet. Companies should encourage their employees to peruse those kinds of ideas. Google lets their employees spend 20% of their work week on their own projects and this fuels some really innovative projects. So when we have a vision for our client the best way is to make a prototype and share it. When things are tangible they’re a lot harder to disbelieve.

5. Tell your story
When presenting to a client or delivering a research report we can often get stuck just ticking the boxes of what needs to be included. I always ask when I’m reviewing my co-workers work how they would explain the ideas they’re excited about or frustrated about to their partner or friend at the end of the day; how would you explain it over a beer? No matter who we talk to a story is always going to illustrate the point faster than a long dry document. Structure reports around the points you’re trying to communicate rather than the deliverables you’re ticking off a list.

Watch my talk at Ignite Sydney [digital], Life Lessons from Industrial Design for more examples of the principles above.