Case study

Product designer and mechanical engineer — Tom Pearson

Tom graduated with a BSc in product design. Find out how he secured a role as a product designer at a mini printer manufacturer

How did you get your job?

After graduating, I worked in Preston but moved to London to jump start my career. After five years I realised that I wanted to work near my roots in Cumbria. I began searching for a new opportunity and discovered Able Systems. I applied online, made the move and that was that.

What's a typical day like?

My job involves taking a product from a thumbnail sketch, right the way into market launch. My working day is always varied, but it often consists of sketching out ideas, which I do on ProCreate with my iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil.

Alongside sketching, I also create CAD models, which we often render (in Keyshot), so we can visualise them internally. I design the overall look and feel of our products, including the user interface, but I also work on the smaller, more complicated components and mechanisms that the user might not see.

What do you enjoy about your job?

From a very young age I enjoyed sketching, and as I grew up I thought about how this would translate into a career. I eventually realised that product design was the best route.

The role I have now is varied and allows me to work with a product throughout the entire design process. Before I worked with Able, I was offered a job that involved working on a very specific part of the product development process, but turned it down because I knew I wouldn't find it as rewarding as what I do here.

What are the challenges?

Product design is very cost driven so learning to find the perfect balance between affordability and design can be tricky. Before putting pen to paper (or screen), there are many factors to consider. Fundamentally, consider the user experience and always refer back to the brief you've been given.

During the development, you'll work to a strict timeline but this helps you become sharper and more efficient.

Finally, designing something that looks good for an audience, spanning different demographics and industries, can initially be a challenge. It needs to look practical, professional and aesthetically pleasing across all markets and it takes time to understand how to do this.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Without my degree, I would have never been able to get this job. During my studies I was lucky to have seen the transition from old school techniques to more modern ones. For example, pen and paper to digital sketching and hand modelling out of foam to 3D printing. I left with a solid set of skills.

Degree programmes help you to use the 'T' shaped knowledge model, so you gain a broad understanding of a subject and apply information gathered from many disciplines to your own specialised area.

Essentially, my degree taught me everything I needed for A and B surface design (A being what it looks like and how the user interacts with it; B being the guts and inner workings) alongside good design principles and problem solving.

How has your role developed?

After I graduated, I began my career as a junior designer doing mostly conceptual work. This has evolved into creating small, simple products, that weren't that technically challenging and then onto bigger, more complex products.

Now I am designing products that go onto the market and it feels incredibly rewarding. I love what I do and want to keep designing and sketching until I launch my own product - that magic idea hasn't landed yet, but it will do one day.

How do I get into product design?

The ability to draw is essential. You might not be an artist, but you need to have the ability to translate what is in your head onto paper. It's a crucial skill for this industry and enables you to explain your product ideas to others. Not every sketch has to be a masterpiece but it needs to be understood by anyone who comes across it.

It's also important to have a genuine interest in the products around you, so begin taking things apart and putting them back together. Expose yourself to features and mechanisms that you might be able to apply to your own projects. People have been solving problems with their products for years, take some inspiration as a basis for yours.

Finally, try to keep up to date with technology and material developments, as well as major breakthroughs. Whether it's the environment or major tech, everything relates to your product design, audience needs and problem-solving decisions. The issue isn't finding the right information but sifting through it. Start by reading WIRED, Dezeen, This Week in Tech, ID Sketching and Weekly Sketch.

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