We’ve all been there. Looking at our project like a dog that hears an odd noise out the window. The paint is peeling, the concept is wrong, the timing is all over the board. There are a few mistakes that new industrial designers make all the time that can be mitigated with just a few small adjustments to their approach:

Common Mistakes

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Forgetting tasks

My first job in design back before my days at CCD was as a facility coordinator and product designer for a fake tree shop in Phoenix, Arizona. My duties included making sure that the orders for the week were designed, built and delivered. This meant that I’d meet with the design manager and the sales team to determine priorities and schedules first thing ever single Monday. We would write everything down on a big “to-do” board and I could quickly see what was done and what still needed to be done. At the end of every week, I had a huge tally of all the stuff I did and there was no room for error because it was all laid out in front of me to see.

Get yourself a notebook or whiteboard and always make sure to mark down all of the critical to-dos as well as the minor things that need to get done and then set due dates for all of it!

Over committing

The worst thing that you can do, albeit tempting, is to overpromise and under deliver.  New designers are very hungry to show just how smart they are by taking on all of the most insane lists of deliverables. Nothing is worse as a creative director than expecting deliverables from a designer only to find out that they drowned the night before in a stack of research and the only thing they have to show for it is a half-baked idea or two. Take on what you can chew, under promise and over deliver and you’ll set yourself up for some great relationships. Over time, start to test your limits by taking on more responsibilities, but only when you know you’re ready to do so.

Time management

This sort of goes back to the forgetting tasks thing. By setting up a system that allows you to accurately measure how long it takes you to do things, you can figure out quickly and quantitatively how long it will take to come up with concepts, create that model, or even give rough estimates on models. This will help you save your company money and time by alleviating all of those unknowns that chew through your budgets.

No thought process shown in portfolios

If there is one thing that I ask designers to do time and time again with their portfolios is to show their thought process. This is CRITICAL when showing your portfolio to prospective clients. There might be some wonky way that you think about problems that is totally fresh and awesome. Show those rough sketches. Show those doodles that are on the side of your page. If your sketches suck, work on them — but show the process. To arrive at the result without the thought leads me to believe that you were thoughtless in your approach. The people who review portfolios might be used to seeing the high-polish, super glossy renderings, but without the process, there’s no story and no sense to connect with the author of the work.

Too quick to cut material when making models

This is a simple adage that will probably live on forever: Measure twice, cut once. We don’t live in the imaginary world where natural resources are infinite and the materials in your shop cost money. Always keep this in mind when you’re about to cut down that plywood or aluminum. The materials you use wind up costing thousands of dollars every year when you mistakenly cut the wrong size, the wrong shape or even the wrong material. Use your head before you start to cut and you’ll be your companies hero of the day.


This final point that is so simple is to spend more time cleaning your desk or at least organizing the piles into a situation that is logical and referenceable. This isn’t for your benefit, it’s for others. As part of being able to communicate your ideas, you need these ideas to be laid out in a way that makes logical sense to others. After all, remember that your job as a designer is to solve the problem and communicate the solution. If you can do these things in a clear and repeatable process, you’ll have an easier and easier time in the future with the next problem that comes up.

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