Industrial Designer David Dombrowski
How has the intangible, digital world influenced the physical objects that you design?
David Dombrowski is an industrial designer with over 30 years experience, working with brands like Fisher Price, Schick, P&G, Philips, and others. Dombrowski currently heads Pfizer Consumer Healthcare’s Industrial Design and Innovation Group.
David is a member of the IDSA. Learn more at IDSA.org and on twitter at @IDSA. Once David’s article is published, the link will be added to this post.
Host: Hello and welcome. This is the first episode of the brand new podcast called One Thing Real Quick. This is a project that I've been working on for the past handful of weeks and I'm super excited to be sharing the interviews that I've been conducting and the many future interviews that I will be conducting as a part of this podcast project.
The idea behind One Thing Real Quick is that each week I bring a single question to a creative person resulting in a short and focused interview. Now, the definition of a creative person could include a designer or a musician, an illustrator, or a writer or anyone else that might use creativity at work. This is a weekly podcast, so each week will be one new interview, but this week because it's a launch I'm sharing four interviews, so this is the first episode, but today you'll get to hear the first four weeks of interviews that I've been conducting with creative people from a variety of backgrounds. Now, this first interview is a conversation that I had with industrial design leader, David Dombroski.
I met David in Atlanta a couple of years ago when we both presented at the International Design Conference for the IDSA, which is the Trade Organization for industrial designers. David brings 30 years of design experience to this conversation and so I wanted to know a little bit about how the changes over the past 30 years in the technology that we use as designers, how that change has impacted his work. My name is Evan MacDonald and you're listening to One Thing Real Quick with industrial designer David Dombroski.
Evan: David, welcome to the show. How's it going?
David: Great. Thanks for having me.
Evan: Of course. How was your holiday?
David: It was nice. Uh, went up to Boston, spent it with both our children, uh, palled around and shopped around Boston. Then went up to our northern, the northern area in Salem area, but it was really nice. Did a little traveling.
Evan: Good. David, tell us a little bit about what you do.
David: Certainly. Well, my name's David Dombroski. I am an industrial designer. I currently hold the position of director of industrial design and innovation for Pfizer consumer healthcare, which is the responsibility includes all of our packaging design for all, all of our, over the counter products that you as consumers buy at retail. Basically, uh, any, any pill powder or liquid that our scientists make your needs to go into something that gets into our consumer's hands.
They brought me on board here six years ago to begin this journey of industrial design as it applies to a, as we call it, structural packaging. Um, and I've, I've had a great history, uh, in life in regards to my, uh, uh, uh, my journey, uh, from Fisher price to Philips to Neuroco, uh, consultancy designer Group Four design in Connecticut, uh, Schick and Wilkinson Sword and Procter and gamble. Nice and clean. Now, currently I'm with, uh, with Pfizer doing that, doing the work here or packaging design.
Evan: Awesome. So if I go out to a cvs pharmacy, what are some of the things that I might find that, or products that you have worked on recently?
David: Centrum, a new Centrum packaging we did, which was a, uh, that's called vitamins. So that was a neat packaging opportunity we did, which diversified our, our product line and getting products into the hands of consumers differently. Another one was our Chapstick Duo, uh, which is our, our dual ended. We have eight to 12 different flavors and you can mix and match all day long. And so it's a fun product and we have many other products from Centrum to Advil to Nexium, ThermaCare and Caltrate.
Evan: Fantastic. David will jump right into the question.
David: Fire away.
Evan: Our world is becoming increasingly digital. And my question is how has that intangible digital world influenced the physical objects that you design?
David: I love this question because it's a, it's a conversation I have with many young designers all the time. In the old school world where it's always been clay and cardboard and foam and handcrafting the object, you know, when you, when you get, when you go from Pencil and paper and markers to, you know, to the, the three, the three dimensional prototype me, I don't want to say 3D printing. I mean it's actually old school modeling. Um, it was very interesting, a great way to talk about it is the automobile industry.
Cadillac came out with a very faceted, beautifully accented lines across, across the the quarter panels and down the side you really couldn't get or see those accents until you're into a computer and the digital world when you start working with solid modeling. And I'll solid modeling just brought to life those crisp well defined areas, uh, in our three dimensional objects and that that cascades down to every product design. I mean product a physical product and packaging and how we can, how we can visualize it. Uh, once we get things into the computer,
Evan: Do you still use some of those old methods, the clay and the phone cutting up foam core and building models with knives.
David: Glad you brought that up because one of the faults of the digital world is that you get too deep in it. You can zoom in and zoom out and see details and you lose scale very quickly. So once you get, and when you build a 3D prototype, that's great because it puts it to scale and you recognize, oh my proportions are way off. And then you, you don't go right back to the computer. You're actually started finessing that form with maybe adding clay to the 3D printed model or articulating it differently.
So you have to go in and out of both worlds. Um, I think the biggest problem is the scale aspect is recognizing the proportions and scale of the physical object that sits in front of you, uh, and working with it that way.
Evan: So it sounds like the digital tools bring in a lot of convenience and a lot of help in your process, but there's also they robbed the designer of accuracy in creating something because they're dealing with it in a digital space rather than molding it with their hands and seeing it in the, in the physical world. Is that correct?
David: It is correct. And I, and I'll, uh, I, I want to be cautious in here that, I mean, the digital world is greatly increased our speed and accuracy and ability to see details, a levels we couldn't see them before, especially in the, and when we were designing razors, the Quatro razor when we were dealing with very, minute details that we couldn't see if very hand build these models, we're able to get very close, very detailed, very, very detailed work to get into those models.
So that made it a lot better, but then actually printing them out. I articulate and number real life. I think it depends on the kind of design work you're doing when you're just physical, handheld, ergonomic human factors type forms. It's, it's very, very important to get scale. Correct.
Evan: I'm curious if you have any experiences, either personal experiences or maybe people that you've been working with or that have worked under you that have maybe relied too much on those digital tools and you've had the experience of finding something, you know, maybe the thing was way out of proportion when once you looked at it in the physical space or,
David: Yes, just recently working with a, uh, a junior designer here with me, uh, at Pfizer when the speed to which he was designing and creating these, uh, these concepts and ideas and I'd see him noodling details of a sketch that didn't need to be noodle that long. And I'm like, not that I wanted to say, hey, I need this a lot quicker, but I need these a lot quicker. I need more iteration. You're spending way too much on the minute shadowing or hardline you because you can because you can get so close to those details.
You know, back in the day, like he used to call it when I didn't have digital, the thickness of the line was the pencil I used or the marker I use, I had to use the right one to get the right and it was when it was down it was down eight underlaid underlaid. So, uh, and it went very quick and very repetitive. So it's certain stages of the design process you need to iterate, iterate fast. And sometimes the computer, I think younger designers in in college or jumping to the computer too fast, I mean it's what they grew up with. So it's a natural, they are quick. But yeah, they lose sight of the naturalists that can come from their hand and that pencil and that sketch, we are visual creators. That's how we communicate.
Uh, so that hand sketch is real important. The napkin sketch, it is so pure to form. You've got to maintain that ability to do that little quick little sketch in front of somebody.
Evan: Well it sounds to me like one thing getting at here is that different parts of the creative process thrive with different tools. So in your, in the iterating stage, the concept in stage, some maybe those more traditional tools like pencil clay, cutting things out of foam core is the right tool. And then once you get into digital you can really leverage, once you've passed that iteration stage, you can really leverage the power that comes from the digital tools.
David: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's progressive and iterative.
Evan: When I was in design school, a lot of the students were asking the teacher to spend time explaining how to use the software and I just would just about lose my mind, can we, can we focus on the principles? And I went to the teachers and I said, can we make all of design school completely analog? Just so all we're doing is learning the principles and we're not getting stuck in the weeds of how to use software. And uh, if people want to learn software, they can go spend some time on youtube and you don't have to spend all the money from your design education, you know, all your college tuition, rack up student loans, learning how to use Photoshop, you know?
David: Yeah, you're right. You're absolutely right. I think it's funny because I feel the same way a lot of times where I looked for, I looked for, uh, for people that are, have the ability to, to learn. Period. Yeah. I, and I look at your principles as you said. You know, I, I look for, yeah, this guy has got it. I like his thinking. I know where he's going, I can, you know, when you come to any job you're going to do it differently. But it's also, it's also going to have that baseline on those principles. So once you've got that baseline, that foundation, you can build anything and you've got to have the aptitude to learn. And I'll teach you all day long. That is my job. I will teach you, foster you, mentor you, and then it's up to you to pick the ball up and just run with it. Um, there are great designers are the ones that anticipate a lot as well and understand where to go with it. So…
Evan: Well, David, thank you for taking the time and for answering my question and uh, I wish you all the best as you continue to pump out packaging delivery systems over at Pfizer consumer health care division and a leading your team, you've also got a, uh, an article that's coming out soon. Is that correct?
David: I do. And thank you. Yeah, the Journal of packaging of a Brand Packaging. It was coming out with an article around the, uh, the moments of truth and the shopper's journey. Um, I'm waiting for that to go to get published as we speak. So it's going to be neat article that creates the journey map around how we think and behave as consumers when we go shopping to the shelf in retail.
Host: Well that's it for episode one. Thanks for listening. If you'd like more information about David Dombroski, check the show notes over at onethingrealquick.com. I've got some images and some links, including once the article comes out, I will put a link to the article, the article that David mentioned in the interview.
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Next week's episode, which is actually available today is a fantastic interview that I had with amateur yet very talented photographer, Annie Spratt. She helps manage the community over at unsplash.com which if you haven't heard of it is a photo site that's really stirring things up in the professional photography and the stock photography world. If you've subscribed to One Thing Real Quick, my guess is that the next episode, is already on your device waiting for you. If you haven't subscribed, go subscribe.
Thanks for listening to One Thing Real Quick. My name is Evan MacDonald.
Evan: David, one last thing before I let you go. Tell us what you're reading.
David: Well, it's funny you asked that question recently. I just joined a book club and it's a book called Beauty Foods, which was given to me to read. It's incredibly interesting, but I would say if I was to recommend a book that I picked up a few times and my wife is reading now, it's an autobiography from the Life is Good brothers, uh, that started that brand and it's an over the top book on optimism and the superpowers of optimism. So I would recommend that book to anybody and puts a smile on your face. It's a one hour plane ride books. So a quick and easy and fun.
Evan: Life is Good. That's that lifestyle brand they have like outdoor sort of stuff?
David: That's the one. It's really good. Yeah, it's really enjoyable and fun. And if you want to just kinda, give yourself a break, that's a quick fun book to transition into. Anything else?
Evan: Fantastic. Okay, great. Well David, thanks again for joining us today and uh, appreciated hearing your insights.
David: It's been, Evan has been my absolute pleasure and thanks again for having me.