integrated industrial design technique


This is the Original Article.  Modified version published on  


an Article by Michael Davis


I want to talk about finding a starting point and making something out of nothing a reality: the beginning steps of industrial design product development and applying to that detail layer upon detail layer.  

For you, (a designer, engineer, entrepreneur, inventor, manager, CEO), wishing to build your idea in a way that is of course successful, it probably cannot be made that way until a number of disciplines are merged into a singular effort.  That effort combines engineering and design techniques to achieve the end result.  If you are an engineer, you may wonder what it is about industrial design that gives it that "cool" sense that everything seems right somehow (even if you know otherwise), and the product looks and works like something either needed by you or it becomes something that you must have.  How is that done?  It is simpler in many ways than you might imagine.

One of my favorite books about design was not even written by a designer, but by a bicycle mechanic and printer, a man who had no engineering degree, but, in my opinion made the most significant inventive contribution of the 20th Century, 98 years ago.  How We Invented the Airplane, by Orville Wright describes the event and the inventors.  What is so special about the book and what the Wrights did?  The answer is in the simplicity of method.  Consider that design methodology for the last hundred years has largely been based on the process the Wrights used to design the airplane.  That process, has been refined and revised and highly specialized by engineering schools and industrial design schools to the extent that it is no longer a simple process to design.  What this article does is find the original pragmatic process that was buried under 100 years of technological development.

The process is simple:

Establish the parameters of the problem.

Research the variations existing.

Develop a hypothesis for development in the most accurate way possible.

Build and test the hypothesis until a solution is derived.

Build a prototype of the solution

Filter the solution through a further refinement process

Manufacture the solution.

You are saying to yourself. This is nothing new.  We do this every day in the new product development process.   Agreed. However, now let me take the same 7 steps and add in clarification relating to industrial design technique, using the same process, with a special interpretation.

Establish the parameters of the problem. Look at the design from the users side, asking what the customer needs, how will the user interact with the product, what specifically is the reason for this development activity, why does the customer need this new product?  In this case, the project selected for this article is a bicycle niche market helmetTaking advantage of mass customization manufacturing, the niche in this case is a high-end shell cover and special face shield with optical prescriptions, sold with the helmet core and strap assembly.  Very high end products with two customized aspects, the image print on the shell and the lens prescription.

What is the current design as understood today?  Be sure to dig deep and compile a good picture of what the current product groups are and what the competition is like.  Are they missing anything important that you could offer in your design?



Research the variations existing.   This phase is where the design begins to form, with the designer confirming problem statement in the form of computer models.  Single part models are useful here, sometimes combining many parts into a single part to improve speed of development.  It is always a good idea when designing with solid modelers to build a test model with a combination of most of the key design elements built in.  The image above is a generic combination of some of the ideas I am trying to test, and has provided a basis for climbing up the learning curve to create the required forms.  This model will provide a base model structure for creating a variety of designs. Variety and quantity are the watchwords.  Develop as many variations as possible based on the definition provided above. Concept Preliminaries is the ID title for this step and the designer might make dozens of variations and test designs.  A lot of this phase involves attacking various important detail areas of the design.  In this case, lens form, helmet configurations, aerodynamic evaluation, helmet retention, etc.

The concepts shown above are a few examples of variation evaluation and problem interpretation that can be used for concept development, showing key features to be used. The computer and Solid Modeling and Rendering software allows these to be developed in large diverse quantities.  Early concept development is a quantitative process




The image shown here is a graphic representation of the need for quantity and variety in concept development.  Normally there would be dozens and dozens of these variations developed to help the designer find the optimal design concept.  Repetition, revision detail variations of good ideas while tapping blue sky thinking for an increasingly diverging concept set.

Develop a hypothesis for development in the most accurate way possible.  With the discoveries made from problem analysis and concept development, further refine the solutions until most of the alternatives are sifted down to three basic concepts.  The idea is to create three designs from the piles of information developed during the research and concept phase 2.  From the dozens of available concepts reduce the selection to a few viable working designs.  Three is a good quantity, but can vary depending on available resources time and funds. 

Sometimes marketing will fund tooling or working prototypes for all the concept refinement phase in order to allow for market focus evaluations.  There may be dozens of concept variations.  Note that the  concepts below are essentially derived from one base model, as single part models and assembly combinations utilizing varying features within each part.  This is what I call variations on a theme.

Alternatively, form variations at the base model level is a design process I call diverging base concepts, built as unique designs from bottom up assemblies.  Just as the variation on a theme provides infinite variety to specific concept species or genus variation of product; so does diverging base conceptual development provide infinite variety in the number of concept phyla or product kingdoms (i.e., genetic analogy).

Graphic decal and venting design concepts


Build and test the hypothesis until a solution is derived.  Refine the best of the three concepts to one simple solution that is accepted by all the team members.  This solution must be refined and complete with no details left unattended.  This would include graphic treatments as well (shown) below.

This image shows the revised solution via one of the selected and completed concepts.  Note that I have integrated full rendering, reflections, backgrounds, etc in order to enhance the final selected design.  With today’s modeling software, this can be an image done in a few hours that used to take a few days.



These images show the assembly broken down as STL files for
fabrication via SLA or CNC.

Build a prototype of the solution.This is the prototype model stage where the design is released for CNC or Rapid prototype fabrication.  Once the machine made models are received, the parts are assembled and tested as well as possible without manufacture.  Tested in terms of design intent and engineering functionality.  Design intent is tested with the help of a model maker to make the part look and feel like the real thing.  Engineering intent is pre-built into the product by means of components, mechanisms; electronics already designed in using the solid modeling layout process.  Depending on the complexity of the product this step can be achieved by one individual or by a team of professional product developers.

Filter the solution through a further refinement process, intending to build in reliability of functionality of the solution. (Once the prototype is built, the long refinement process is begun.  This phase takes a lot of discipline if there are team members—discipline to maintain design intent and discipline to not make unnecessary revisions and changes without cause.

Manufacture the solution.  The final accepted design is handed-off to manufacturing for tooling development and mass production.  Whoops.  What about engineering.  If you are part of an integrated design team, engineering testing and design was inclusive with the industrial design.  If not, the design can be `production designed' as a preliminary to tooling.  This should not be a difficult process as using an integrated design tool like Solid Edge, Inventor or SolidWorks.  The engineering has already been done and is in the computer solid model.  We now pass it through a higher level of hard model development called production design engineering.

So what just happened? In a nutshell, we developed a product.  The example above was put together in just a few days for the purposes of this article, however a real development process may take many weeks or months because each time you add a team player, the speed of development is reduced by at a very large proportional ratio.  Typical product development team members include, marketing, mechanical, and electronic engineering, and manufacturing engineering, industrial design, management (the more management levels there are, the slower the development process).  Of course a good entrepreneur with two or three support people can achieve the same result but often much more quickly.  Using the old adage he who travels alone travels fastest with the added corollary, he that travels fastest may overshoot the mark.


There are many schools of application of the product development process, but it is important to say that time devoted to design intent is rewarded by accuracy of solution in both the way the product is perceived by the customer and the quality of the mechanical and electronic solution.  Repetition and continuous review with the flexibility to change and improve—up to a certain point is critical to exercising the creative and innovative processes. There is a critical point of resolution that needs to be well understood by the managers as to when a product is ready for market—just right but not overcooked.  Though I was able to provide the design above in just a few hours, the likely real process of development would take months to insure correct market response.

I covered only the design development process in this article and left out many details and alternatives that could not fit in this article.  There are additional steps not shown involving marketing focus evaluations with actual customers. That process alone can easily double the time to development.


Michael Davis is an industrial design consultant and product developer working as Headstuf Product Development in San Bernardino, California. He also will review software and test it’s effectiveness or applicability for integrating industrial design and mechanical design solutions. Website: http://www.headstuf.com, email: mdavis@headstuf.com.





All designs modeled in SolidWorks 2001 Release 5 over a 3 week period, July 25-June 16, 2001.  Add-In products included PhotoWorks and SolidWorks Animator.  All renderings made with PhotoWorks; animation made with SolidWorks Animator. 
Images were processed using Microsoft FrontPage and CorelDraw, Corel PhotoPaint

Book References:
How we invented the airplane: an illustrated history/ by Orville Wright; Dover Press,  1953, Fred C. Kelly from Orville Wright writings (court depositions), 1920.

SolidWorks 2001 What's New,  February, 2001, SolidWorks Corporation

Image Backdrops:
Tarantula Nebula, Hubble Space Telescope, NASA 99-12G
Hubble Space Telescope Galaxy image on concept model courtesy of NASA, A. Fruchter and ERO Team HST WFPC2