Q+A with Nicole Parks: How Worrell’s Industrial Designers Design for Profit


Industrial Design is the process of creating a product and its relationship with the user. Industrial designers influence all aspects of the product lifestyle, from purchasing decision and brand recognition to intended use and safety. Although industrial designers may come from various backgrounds, they are always considered creative problem solvers­–making them essential to the development of a product. We sat down with Nicole Parks, Worrell’s Industrial Design Manager to discuss our innovative industrial design process and the value it provides for our clients.

What makes an industrial designer so unique?

One of the most important roles of an industrial designer is to impart empathy into the product by developing aspects that create emotional connections with the user. They are the users’ advocates throughout the development process, ensuring that their needs are thoughtfully considered and applied to the design. Designers integrate all aspects of form, fit and function–optimizing them to create the best possible user experience.

What is industrial design’s role in the product development cycle?

Our Director of Design, Serge Dubeau often refers to industrial designers as “product architects”–an accurate metaphor if you consider everything an architect balances when juggling cross-over with multiple teams when designing a building or structure. Industrial designers do the same for both products and devices. Worrell’s industrial design team is the only department that works directly with every other department. The team often accompanies research in fieldwork, brainstorms manufacturing with engineering, shares design language elements with UX and performs formative testing with human factors engineering (HFE).

In order to deliver innovative designs that are functional, manufacturable and affordable, it is critical that industrial designers work with and satisfy the needs of all of the major stakeholders across the product development cycle. The process defined as an industrial designer is identical to that of a Product Designer.

An industrial designer’s unique background allows them to balance the needs of the user and the realities of manufacturing and supply chain when designing solutions. For example:

  • A researcher is concerned with the environment of use, workflow and usability, but they can only report on what they observe. Industrial designers are responsible to interpret those insights and extrapolate upon when coming up with solutions.
  • An engineer is concerned about how a product is put together, how it works, and how it is manufactured. Industrial designers take these ergonomic, aesthetic, usability and material considerations to then iterate on system requirements in order to achieve the optimal design.
  • A brand’s marketing professional is concerned about penetrating into new industries and disrupting the current landscape. It is up to the industrial designer to continuously keep specific design principles in mind, ensuring the products relay the marketing requirements and brand identity to the end user through a universal design language and specific product features.

As you can see, industrial designers are always focused on how to best solve problems by balancing user empathy, mechanical design and client business goals to create a holistic design solution that lies at the appropriate intersection of these key drivers.

Why should my company commit budget to hiring Worrell’s industrial design team?

I hear this question a lot. There is a common misconception that “pretty sketches” are the sole output that we deliver. It’s no secret that industrial designers have the ability to make your product shine like a piece of art. Each surface, curve and angle are meticulously considered, debated and refined to achieve the desired aesthetic and brand attributes. While often times this is communicated through “pretty sketches,” most people are not aware that industrial designers can provide so much more for projects.

When working with us, a lot of our clients are pleasantly surprised to see how we value and emphasize collaboration. Some ID firms feel shutting out their clients and owning the process entirely is the best way forward. However, Worrell operates much differently. Our clients need to be our advocates internally and they have the legacy and expertise with the given technology, product, or user market and we want to leverage that to the fullest extent. Collaborating from the beginning, we rely on our clients’ knowledge to identify product opportunities.

I often like to share an experience we had with a legacy client who hired us to design a specific feature of their product. We were tasked with generating as many ideas as possible. Our efforts resulted in 73 different solutions in only a few weeks (it’s important to note that this client also had a full-time, talented team working on the same problem for years). Our team had a lot of the same ideas as the internal team, providing reassurance of the concepts. However, we did come up with just one, single new concept–one that they had not yet thought of. The client was thrilled and their return on their investment was immediately solidified.

As industrial designers, it’s important that we effectively communicate the full process, shift and pivot as quickly as innovation happens. It’s all about process and making sure that we are on the same path forward to ensure timelines are met, budget is respected, and opportunities for innovation are created.

What are the benefits my company will see from successful industrial design?

The quality I am most proud of and the one I look for most on my team is empathy. Empathy is critical for innovation, as well as the greatest value industrial designers bring to any project. Empathy is the process that carries users’ emotions, needs and desires through the product development cycle and leads to an effective solution. After research is conducted and user insights are identified, it is our job to synthesize their emotions into a design.

Empathy through design is a major ROI for our clients for several reasons:

Creates brand recognition.
Designers do this by building a design language, which is defined as the way a product can impart its identity, or exemplify the brand through form and visual elements, without a logo or written cue. It is part of the company’s relationship with its users and is key in communicating brand quality, reliability and trust, as seen in our client, Grayson-Stadler’s (GSI) suite of audiometry, tympanometry and hearing diagnostic products. Upon looking at the suite of products, it is easy to pick up on the elements within the universal design languags, such as soft surfaces, rounded edges, and neutral, cool-toned colors.

Safety and efficacy of the device
The products we design directly impact the quality of life for the end-user. Safety for the patient and medical staff is the foundation of all our designs. For example, in a recent project with Mayo Clinic, Worrell designed a device called the Neochord. This device enables cardiac surgeons to access the heart through the ribs and repair the damaged valve, leaving the ribcage intact. Because of the procedure’s vastly less-invasive method, patients’ hospital stays are reduced from eight days to two.

Increase user compliance
A big concern for a lot of our healthcare clients is patient or user compliance, which is when the product or device is being used in the way it is intended and safely and effectively achieves the desired objective. In the instance of pharma clients, compliance means that patients are taking the drugs prescribed in the manner necessary for their care. Design of a delivery mechanism, like an auto injector, has great impact on the patient’s ability to properly receive care.

Summing it Up

In a highly competitive global environment, design is the point of differentiation for your brand. According to a report entitled “What is the real value of design?” by the Design Management Institute, good design is also good business. Design-centric companies, like Herman-Miller, Nike, Starbucks, and, of course Apple, have grown over the last decade compared to their peers on the S&P 500. By monitoring the growth of 14 particularly design-driven companies, researchers found that companies that place emphasis on design grew 299 percent between 2003 and 2013. By contrast, over that same period, the S&P 500 grew just 75 percent.

There are clear benefits to collaborating and engaging with a talented industrial design team like Worrell’s. Industrial designers are a vital element of the product design process because they have insight into market trends and consumer preferences. While most people have an understanding of their own preferences and those of friends and family, an industrial designer brings together a creative design element with a much deeper understanding of brand, usability and aesthetic requirements.

How successfully designers are able to create designs that stand the test of time and are ergonomically suited to fit the user determines the success of a product in the market. Brands that leave industrial design to the end of the engineering lifecycle, or out completely, will struggle to find success in the market. Managing disparate inputs, industrial designers drive innovation that emerges at the convergence of collaboration.

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