The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Industrial Designers: Thursday

This post continues our week long series, whereby I will publish one of the seven habits on each day of the week.
Sorry it’s a little later today as I had a few important things to sort out first. Here is the link to Wednesday’s post if you missed it.
Aerial screw by Leonardo Da Vinci
4) A Renaissance outlook in life and unique specialist interests
The most effective industrial designers draw inspiration from many sources outside of design. These designers are in many ways are very much like Leonardo Da Vinci, one of our first “Renaissance man”. They have an open mind, diverse interests, and always willing to try new things and methods. And yet they have very specialist skills such as 3D CAD design or cycling or even looking after kids.
Not only are these people great to have a conversation with, they have the uncanny ability to think outside of the box and come up with great unique solutions. It is their varied interests in things that allow them to do so and gives them an edge over other designers. Basically if you only look at other designer’s work for solutions to your design problems you might risk creating variations of the same work. These days, as design industry gets more competitive, we just cannot afford to come up with similar design solutions.
I do realize that this is some what similar to what Tim Brown, from IDEO, calls as “T” Shaped type people:

We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well.
Source: Fast Company

But my focus here is slightly different and more towards designers. It is not really about doing other jobs, per say, but the ability to explore other interests and draw inspiration from it. In addition to variety, a designer that has a narrow specialist interests in, for example, sailing can also bring a lot to the discussion table. Thus from my point of view specialist interests does not necessary need to be related to design, in fact it should not be related to design, but can be useful in coming up with design solutions.
Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done, and surprisingly many designers are not as varied as they think. Many designers I have interviewed, strangely continue to design in their spare time. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but they risk being one sided and having design thoughts stuck in a never ending spiral. In reality, it does require genuine interest in learning new things, as well as overcoming the fear of stepping off the beaten path and trying different things. An easy test on the interview table is making a calculated off-handed suggestion of an interviewee’s work that is opposite to his design solution to see if that designer takes it constructively.
As a designer, there is already so much to do and so little time in a day, so how can we try on new things? The easiest way is to offer to take on occasional non-design related tasks, another good way it to read voraciously, read anything and everything.
I do hope you enjoyed Thursday’s entry; do head on over to the next habit which is up here.

  • DT

    October 4, 2007 at 9:25 pm Reply

    Hi Gordon,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving the information of the origin of the “T-shaped man”.
    I think systems engineer is very similar to industrial design today as designers tend to move towards working on ideas that are part of a bigger picture or system perhaps.
    Also T-shaped people can find a lot of applications in any profession not only in design. Professional managers and CEOs are also such people.
    Please keep in touch?

  • Gordon R. Vaughan

    October 4, 2007 at 1:02 am Reply

    I don’t know if he originated it, but despite assertions elsewhere, the concept of a “T-Shaped Man” goes back at least to Robert Machol []. I first encountered it in the introduction to his System Engineering Handbook (1965 ed., p. 1-11), where he declares,
    “The system engineer must be a generalist as distinguished from a specialist … The ideal system engineer is a ‘T-shaped man,’ broad, but deep in one field; the depth is provided by scholarly experience- a Ph.D. or equivalent- and the breadth by extended interests and abilities. He will frequently find that he must become a ‘6-month expert’ in a new field”
    Of course, systems engineering is different from industrial design, but they’re both about the synthesis of disparate requirements, technologies and constituencies. I’ve always been fascinated by this notion of being T-shaped, since it runs so counter to current preference for analytical specialists.
    Such specialists are necessary, but they generally don’t (or maybe even can’t) talk to people outside their field. The designer or system engineer must link all these together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
    We need a lot more T-shaped people nowadays, though the educational system is not really set up to produce them.

  • DT

    September 1, 2007 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Hi Asgeir,
    Not sure about your second post, but with your first I think you are quite correct.
    Not only a curiosity with one thing but curious about everything. Alot of people are curious, but lack variety and depth. Not only that they do not use it to draw inspiration back to their work. Thus I quite like the idea of a “Renaissance outlook” or “Renaissance Designer” as opposed to “Curious Designer or outlook”. It feels a lot more all encompassing and perhaps grand?

  • Asgeir Hoem

    September 1, 2007 at 2:45 pm Reply can get far.
    (Strange how you begin a sentence and forget to finish it)
    @Asgeir, I cant even find the reference you are talking about? Did you post this by mistake?

  • Asgeir Hoem

    September 1, 2007 at 2:43 pm Reply

    I believe they keyword here is curiosity. With a curious attitude towards everything in general, not only through specific hobbies and leisure time activities.

  • Snoskred

    August 31, 2007 at 11:55 am Reply

    Hi, I’m reading you via the Australian Blogs Community at Bumpzee, on the RSS feed. Just dropping by to welcome you to the Australian Blogs Community, and to let you know I have just updated the Australian Blogs Community HTML links list file to include your blog, if you want to put it on your blog you can get a copy of it here – – A to Z – Z to A (The down-under version!)
    The list is updated weekly to include new blogs.
    In case you didn’t know, anytime you post the first 250 characters go out on the RSS feed, so I’ll be reading more from you soon. 🙂 and I’ve updated my sidebar to the new list, so I’m linking to you now. I also mention you on Sunday in my weekly wrap up post. 😉
    Once again, Welcome to the Australian Blogs Community!
    Snoskred –

  • DT

    August 31, 2007 at 6:22 am Reply

    @Drew, that’s great! Especially that driving German cars fast thing. Thanks for your comments.

    @Kenneth, I am very happy that you have found my posts useful. This is the objective of this blog and the reason why I run it. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

  • Kenneth

    August 31, 2007 at 2:05 am Reply

    Thanks for the inspiring posts. As a design student, I have learnt a lot from them.

  • Drew Kora

    August 30, 2007 at 9:44 pm Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. It’s so important to have other hobbies…things to draw inspiration from. If you draw inspiration only from other designers you’ll just end up copying their work. I also think you then run the risk of creating work that’s cool and appreciated by other designers, but not really useful or applicable to the real world.
    Personally, my design-related hobbies include architecture, drawing, painting, and photography. A broader, none design-related set of hobbies includes cycling, home remodeling projects, cooking, driving german cars fast…

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