Shotgun vs Rifle Approaches to Product Design

The Product Nerd: How an end user thinks and feels about your product is always a critical element in design. This (albeit edited) wonderful discussion of industrial designers gets into shotgun vs rifle approaches to product design.

Shotgun vs Rifle Approaches to Product Design

by Rain Noe

As an industrial designer you have to know, or at least try to guess, how an end user will think or feel about your product designs. But it’s also important to know what your fellow designers are thinking and doing. Whether you will be competing with them, co-creating alongside them, or unwittingly collaborating with them to elevate the industrial design profession as a whole, having a good grasp of the views of other designers provides context for the work you’re doing, keeps you well-informed and can be helpful when you need to make tough decisions.

Ideally you’d be regularly exposed to conversations with other industrial designers. We’ve got something nearly as good, which is the Core77 Discussion Boards. They’re packed with information and opinions from practicing industrial designers, but we admit that the boards are so dense, they can be overwhelming. So in this series, we’re going to start mining them for interesting discussions, editing them for clarity and presenting them in a format that resembles an easier-to-digest roundtable discussion.

We’ll start off with this occasionally heated discussion, which was initially about generative design–but rapidly began to reveal the concerns of working designers vis-à-vis technology, creation, good business, meaning in design and more. To provide some context, the discussion was kicked off by a non-industrial-designer, “SK,” who seemed to walk the fine line between trolling and debate; it was also initiated some years ago, so some of the references may appear dated, although the larger issues are very relevant today. 

(Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity, length, flow, and troll reduction).

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SK: Years ago, on the Core77 Discussion Boards I attempted to interest industrial designers in generative design, which now seems to have taken architecture by storm. Every single architecture school of any consequence is trying to teach it. But from industrial designers I noticed a lot of scoffing and virtually no interest in generative design. I wonder if this has since changed?

Keifer: Without igniting a huge flame war, this reminds me of most designers’ initial impressions of rapid prototyping. Both generative design and rapid prototyping technology seem to prompt a “Well, it lessens my importance as a professional, so it must not be positive” reaction.

I can certainly imagine that GD would be useful in design (as opposed to art). Assuming that I understand it correctly, it seems likely that various inputs (length, height, width, specific features, etc.) could be put together with standard template-like functions to create a product (most likely in less time/with less effort than a designer could give.) Of course, that wouldn’t work for extremely specific things.

Art, on the other hand, maybe not. I appreciate art because it took skill to make it, not necessarily because it “looks cool” or follows artistic algorithms. I saw a video about generative art, it didn’t do much for me. I’d appreciate it more if a person actually made it. But maybe that’s just me, and I’m not really one to think that mass-produced objects are as “artistic” as individual pieces, so that probably distances me from some people.

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