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Studying product design

product design studentLai Chiu Tang is on the verge of starting her career as a product designer. Here she describes her course and the media frenzy surrounding her final year project.

What stage are you up to in your career?

I’ve just graduated from Brunel university with a degree in Industrial Design and Technology. I’ll be starting work as a product designer with Cambridge Consultants in September. It will be my first proper job in the design world (not including my placement year) and it’s all very exciting at the moment.

When did you decide to become an engineer?

Ever since my GCSEs at school I have always wanted a career in design. I originally wanted to study as a graphic designer but realised I wanted to have the skills to make things function, not just look good. This was the reason I decided to do Industrial Design at uni. I think that having the technical/engineering background has helped people take me more seriously and realise that I know more than just the exterior of a product.

What did the training involve?

My degree took four years and involved a work placement year as a graphic designer at Yell which was great fun. It was also fantastic to have a ‘break’ after two years of hard work at Uni and go on placement to meet and work with new and trendy designers before my final year of studying. The placement year made me realise that the technical involvement in product design is far more challenging and satisfying than simply graphic design. A large part of my final year was spent working on my ‘major project’, rememberTM, a contraceptive pill reminder. I gained a lot of media coverage with my design and I managed to receive and attend a variety of media interviews including TV, radio and newspaper coverage which was great fun!

Can you describe a typical working day?

The design courses at Brunel are very intensive. A typical day during my final year would usually consist of a one hour lecture in the morning, then a tutorial where groups of us discuss our ideas and designs. Then, either spending the rest of the day in the electronics labs or in the workshops on the machines trying to build a working prototype of one of your designs. Believe it or not, the workshops or labs were the best places to socialise. Although it doesn’t sound like the most glamorous day, all the work gave us much more reason to party hard on Fridays and weekends!

What's the best thing about your course?

The best thing about my course was that the girl/boy ratio was about three girls to every ten guys! On a more serious note, the best thing about my course was the diversity of the modules that were taught. You get to experience a bit of everything, from graphics to electronics. My course was very practical based and most of the projects lead to a fully working model being built. It might sound a bit Blue Peter, but it’s definitely much more fun than sitting at a desk reading a textbook!

Any downsides?

My course was intensive. Most weekdays between nine and five were spent at university working on projects either in the electronics labs or workshops. We were always set concurrent projects with each module that we studied, so we always had at least five projects to work on at the same time. Sometimes it was hard dividing the time between each project, which led to a few panics before deadlines.

Have you faced any challenges in getting to where you are now?

Many people don’t understand what design involves and a lot of friends and relatives think that it’s the easy option out of all the other degrees. It was very frustrating trying to explain to older relatives that following a career in design can be just as professional as becoming a lawyer or a doctor.

What personal qualities do you think are important for your role?

I think that being an industrial/product designer, you have to be able to take criticism well. You will have to be hard working and not afraid of a challenge. Sometimes you may not get recognition for the areas that you have designed and contributed to in a group project. It’s the combined effort of the team that is important.

What skills do you think you need?

Obviously being creative, a good problem solver, able to communicate easily with people and a good team player are important skills to possess for becoming a successful designer.

What single piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about following in your footsteps?

Just go for it! Studying design at Brunel has been the best four years of my life, although hard work and very stressful at the times, it has been well worth it!

What impact do engineers have on society?

If you look around you, everything that you see must have been designed and manufactured at some point. Without the design detailing and precision in engineering, that product may never have worked. It may not open properly, or close tight, or even switch on. Engineering makes things work as they were designed to.