Modeling for Industrial Design

Each industry/outlet for 3D modeling has different requirements that go into it. Many of these requirements cross-polinate, but it’s important to anticipate the needs you will have when building a model for different uses. This next series will concentrate on the needs of individual industries as they pertain to 3d modeling.

Industrial Design

Industrial design lies at the crossroads between art and engineering – where it’s not enough to just solve the problem, but to solve it in beautiful and creative ways. It’s not just “making something pretty” either – there’s a lot of engineering know-how that is required to make sure that the part not only looks good, but can be manufactured as efficiently as possible and be able to perform to its given task.

Wikipedia defines Industrial Design as “the use of both applied art and applied science to improve the aesthetics, design, ergonomics, functionality, and/or usability of a product, and it may also be used to improve the product’s marketability and even production. ”

Currently and in the past, Industrial Designers have typically designed for mass production. This means that whatever they design, they have to be sure that it will be able to be made in the hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands.


Make cool stuff, get paid for it

The skill sets that Industrial Designers end up obtaining are very useful for other industries as well as industrial design. To be a professional designer, you must learn:

– How to research and come up with multiple ideas and approaches to solving problems. Designers know that your first idea isn’t always your best one, and there are many different approaches to solving the same problem. It’s the Industrial Designer’s responsibility to come up with as many confident ideas as they can to satisfy the needs of the product and the user.

How to communicate many ideas quickly and effectively. This means that you need to become visually and verbally proficient at communicating your thoughts and ideas to others. The majority of effective designers rely heavily on their hand sketching skills, however some have used 3d models in conjunction with 2D sketching to great effect – so it also comes down to what will give you the most bang for the buck in terms of time vs. clarity. The point of this skill is to be able to explain your ideas to everyone else on your team and any potential clients as quickly and effectively as possible.

How to build and test your ideas. In the old days, this meant a lot of time in a model shop, sanding, cutting, and gluing prototypes together. While this is still practiced today, a lot of the work has been shifted to being done in CAD first. Even into the early 2000s, a designer might sketch an idea and then build multiple physical prototypes before touching a 3D modeling program. However nowadays it is not uncommon for designers to choose to flesh out their ideas virtually, and minimize physical prototypes. This means that new ideas and concepts can be iterated much more rapidly at a much lower cost than before, and virtual simulation tools means that many physical challenges can be accounted for even before the first prototype is made. However, building and testing prototypes is still vital to figuring out whether or not your idea(s) will work, meaning it’s also vital that an Industrial Designer have at least some knowledge of hand tools and processes. Sometimes 3d printed models may need to be sanded and painted for photography, so even a basic understanding of simple tools and techniques will benefit you.

– How to design using CADNowadays, a designer can wear many hats. Depending on where you work, you might not only be making 3D models to prototype ideas, but also making 3D models to send to manufacturing companies to produce molds for production. Having a good understanding of CAD will not only help you test your ideas but also take them all the way to the final goal: real-world production.

How products are manufactured. To be a good industrial designer, you have to know how things are made. The most beautiful solution to a problem isn’t viable if it costs too much to make. Industrial Designers learn how to make their designs more efficient by learning about or even in some cases inventing new manufacturing processes.


Why everyone should learn at least some of these skills

If you read the above list, you might be thinking that some of these skills sound like they could be useful elsewhere – and they are. Industrial Designers can tackle problems as diverse as how an aircraft cockpit looks and feels, to how the touchscreen interface works on their phone.

The look, feel, and interface of your latest smartphone are all part of the industrial designer’s responsibility – a responsibility that is shared with a team of other artists, designers, and engineers, to create a cohesive final result.

What it breaks down to is designing for human interaction – which means that Industrial Designers have a very versatile skillset that can be applied to any  design challenge.

Meanwhile, the ability to communicate your ideas quickly and effectively using a multitude of mediums is useful in every career path, not to mention life in general!


Software Requirements

Modeling requirements for an industrial designer include but aren’t limited to;

– Precise control over surface continuity and object form.

–  The ability to go back in time and modify designs easily so as to update them as things are discovered during the design and prototyping process.

– The ability to quickly experiment with different form ideas.

– Programs that offer analysis tools, like determining the draft angles of a parts surfaces, so as to optimize for production.

modeling approaches

Commonly used Modeling Approaches

Typically, Industrial Designers use NURBS and B-Rep based modeling approaches. Recently, Industrial Designers have also started to use some subdivision modeling programs, or programs that work in a similar way to subdivision modeling tools.

They also use both parametric and direct modeling software. Industrial designers are especially concerned with the surface quality of their models – reflections are extremely important, so it is vital that they are able to precisely control how surfaces blend into each other so that there are no gaps, bumps, or other imperfections that may mar the surface. Remember, if it’s wrong in the model, it will be wrong on the next 5,000 parts you make.


Software to investigate

The most commonly used softwares are SolidWorks, Alias, and Rhino, though many of these software choices are up to the individual designer. As long as the model is able to be read in by the studio or client, and accommodates the needs of the production process, what software it was created in is largely irrelevant. The one major caveat to this is in parametric modeling, where it’s very important to keep the model’s build history. The most common software used by Industrial Designers for parametric modeling is SolidWorks.

SolidWorks: B-Rep/NURBS – Parametric Modeling

Inventor: B-Rep/NURBS – Parametric Modeling

Alias: NURBS – Direct Modeling

Rhino: NURBS – Direct Modeling

modo: Subdivision/Polygon – Direct Modeling

Maya: Subdivision/Polygon/NURBS – Direct Modeling

3DS Max: Subdivision/Polygon/NURBS – Direct/Parametric Modeling

Sketchup: Polygons – Direct Modeling

Fusion 360: NURBS/Solids/T-Splines – Direct/Parametric Modeling


In the next article, we will explore what it takes to be a video game modeler, and how those skills can help you as a designer as well.

4 thoughts on “Modeling for Industrial Design

  1. Sibi Chakravarthy M Reply

    I’m an Industrial/Product designer. I’m impressed by your article. Thanks for taking time to write this article..

  2. Hala Reply

    I am a Product designer and this article was even impressive to me too! Way to go.

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