What is an Industrial Designer?

Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day. They work in offices in a variety of industries. Although they design manufactured products, only about 29% of industrial designers are employed directly by manufacturers.

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What does an Industrial Designer do?

Industrial designers typically do the following:

  • Research who will use the product and the various ways it might be used
  • Sketch out ideas or create blueprints
  • Use computer software to develop virtual models of different designs
  • Examine materials and production costs to determine manufacturing requirements
  • Work with other specialists to evaluate whether their design concepts will fill the need at a reasonable cost
  • Evaluate product safety, appearance, and function to determine if a design is practical
  • Present designs and demonstrate prototypes to clients for approval.

Industrial designers generally focus on a particular product category. For example, some design medical equipment, while others work on consumer electronics products, such as computers or smart phones. Other designers develop ideas for new bicycles, furniture, housewares, or snowboards. They imagine how consumers might use a product and test different designs with consumers to see how each design looks and works.

Industrial designers often work with engineers, production experts, and marketing specialists to find out if their designs are feasible and to apply their colleagues’ professional expertise to their designs. For example, industrial designers may work with marketing specialists to develop plans to market new product designs to consumers.

Computers are a major tool for industrial designers. They use computer-aided design software (CAD) to sketch ideas because computers make it easy to make changes and show alternatives. If they work for manufacturers, they may also use computer-aided industrial design software (CAID) to create specific machine-readable instructions that tell other machines exactly how to build the product.

What does it take to be an Industrial Designer?

A bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering is usually required for most entry-level industrial design jobs. It is also important for industrial designers to have a professional portfolio with examples of their best design projects. Most design programs include the courses that industrial designers need in design: sketching, computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), industrial materials and processes, and manufacturing methods.

Many schools require successful completion of some basic art and design courses before entry into a bachelor's degree program. Applicants also may need to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

Many programs provide students with the opportunity to build a professional portfolio of their designs by collecting examples of their designs from classroom projects, internships, or other experiences. Students can use these examples of their work to demonstrate their design skills when applying for jobs and bidding on contracts for work.

An increasing number of designers are also getting a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to gain business skills. Business skills help designers understand how to fit their designs into a firm’s overall business plan.

Industrial designers typically demonstrate their knowledge and skill by promoting their best designs from previous projects. Work experience is another way to build a good reputation and establish expertise in an industrial design specialty.

Experienced designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design department head, or other supervisory positions. Some designers become teachers in design schools or in colleges and universities. Many teachers continue to consult privately or operate small design studios in addition to teaching. Some experienced designers open their own design firms.

What is the workplace of an Industrial Designer like?

Work spaces for industrial designers often include drafting tables for sketching designs, meeting rooms with whiteboards for brainstorming with colleagues, and computers and other office equipment for preparing designs and communicating with clients. Although they work primarily in offices, they may travel to testing facilities, design centers, client's exhibit sites, users' homes or workplaces, and places where the product is manufactured. Most industrial designers work full time, especially if they are employed by manufacturers, large corporations, or design firms.

Many industrial designers are self-employed or work for firms that hire them out to other organizations that need industrial design services. In these cases, industrial designers frequently adjust their workday to meet with clients in the evenings or on weekends. In addition, they may spend some of their time looking for new projects or competing with other designers for contracts.

How much does an Industrial Designer earn?

The median annual wage of industrial designers was $58,230 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $33,190, and the top 10% earned more than $94,270.

Learn more about being an Industrial Designer