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What is Industrial Design?
Industrial designers work to improve the function, value and aesthetics of products like iPods, cars, guitars, and even telephones. The industrial designers aren’t usually tasked with coming up with the overall design or something complex like a car, but they may be in charge of impacting the technical aspects of the overall design by considering the usability and aesthetics of the design. They use training and the collection and analysis of requirements from clients and manufacturers to create models and drawings on how to make the product easier to use, better to use, and better to look at. Usually a manufacturer or client will hire a professional industrial designer to work on a specific product. The client starts with a set of requirements and specifications for the product and then asks the industrial designer to help think about everything from how will customers feel when they look at the product to what can be added or taken away from the product to make it more user-friendly.
Industrial designers don’t just think about the physical design of the product, they also need to understand the visual, safety, and convenience needs of the consumer as well as the technical requirements the manufacturer needs to build and market the product at scale, and they need to make sure that their design recommendations comply with all legal and regulatory requirements.
The actual design process is different for different industrial designers but there is plenty of overlap. Almost all industrial designers understand the importance of doing research on the intended consumer, doing research on similar products already in the market, and prototyping or testing the product before delivering final recommendations. Almost all industrial designers will also sketch or model their designs and that is where different designers use different processes. Some designers prefer traditional pen and paper sketches on loose-leaf paper, but with the advancement of technology, more and more designers are beginning to utilize things like 3D modeling software, computer-aided design tools, and CAD programs. They also occasionally utilize CT scanning to ensure the model is ready to be taken to the manufacturer or client.
It is rare to find an industrial designer who owns and operates his own practice because industrial design is usually only a piece of what is a much larger and more complex design. Usually industrial designers work as part of a larger design team and most industrial designers are employed by large design firms and work in office buildings in close capacity with their teammates so that the entire team can collaborate easily on a single project.
Although most work in large design firms, industrial designers work in a variety of industries that can range from engineering and architecture companies to fashion and clothing design companies as well as car manufacturers, large technology companies, or even sports teams and media outlets. They also don’t work exclusively in front of a computer in a small cubicle. The importance of their work is in the detail and to discover that detail, industrial designers often travel to testing facilities, design centers, homes, or even work sites where the product is being manufactured. The job isn’t dangerous, because industrial designers aren’t usually on the front lines of the manufacturing, but they also aren’t cooped up in an office all day.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals interested in starting a career in industrial design would be wise to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering first, because that degree is almost always required for even the most entry-level of industrial design jobs. The reason for this is because the industrial design of a product is essential to the product’s usability and marketability and so design firms and clients or manufacturers are looking for talented industrial designers with sound understanding of design principals and solid skill and knowledge base of design techniques, computer-aided design software, and manufacturing methods.
Interested students would also be wise to choose a school that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. A school that has earned accreditation from that governing body looks better on a resume than a school that they haven’t heard of or don’t know anything about, no matter how good the education may be. Getting into an industrial design degree program might not be as easy as you think though. You can’t just announce your intention to be an industrial designer and expect the school to put you in the program. Most schools want to weed out the pretenders and so they ask interested students to have a basic background in art and design which usually comes from some introductory courses in the subject.
Some employers will expect their designers to earn a graduate education in either industrial design or business in order to move up the corporate ladder. These master’s degrees not only help employee learn more complex design strategies and techniques, but a master’s degree in business helps the employee understand the business and marketing aspect of things which can help when it comes time to make recommendations to the client about their product.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data from May of 2012, industrial designers are better paid than most employees who work as professional designers or work in the arts and design industry. The median annual wage for industrial designers was $59,610, more than $15,000 better than folks work in “arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations”. The lowest 10 percent of industrial designers earned less than $34,610, and the top 10 percent earned more than $94,250.
As of May of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 39,200 professional industrial designers employed across the country. They also estimated that the profession would grow slower than most professions from 2012-2022. The number of professional industrial designers is expected to swell to 40,900 by 2022 which is just a four percent increase and a numerical increase of just 1,700 industrial designers.