Industrial Designers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Industrial Designers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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. Industrial designers consider the function, aesthetics, production costs, and usability of products when developing new product concepts.

Duties of Industrial Designers

Industrial designers typically do the following:

  • Consult with clients to determine requirements for designs
  • Research the various ways a particular product might be used, and who will use it
  • Sketch out ideas or create renderings, which are images on paper or on a computer that provide a visual of design ideas
  • Use computer software to develop virtual models of different designs
  • Create physical prototypes of their designs
  • Examine materials and manufacturing requirements to determine production costs
  • Work with other specialists such as mechanical engineers and manufacturers to evaluate whether their design concepts will fill needs 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

Some industrial designers focus on a particular product category. For example, some design medical equipment or work on consumer electronics products, such as computers and smart phones. Other designers develop ideas for other products such as new bicycles, furniture, housewares, and snowboards. Self-employed designers have more flexibility in the product categories they work on. Designers who work for manufacturers help create the look and feel of a brand through their designs.

Other designers, sometimes called user interface designers or interaction designers, focus on the usability of a product, such as an electronic device, and ensure that the product is as simple and enjoyable to use as possible.

Industrial designers 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 market research analysts to find out if their designs are feasible. They apply the input from their colleagues' professional expertise to further develop their designs. For example, industrial designers may work with market research analysts to develop plans to market new product designs to consumers.

Computers are a major tool for industrial designers. Industrial designers use two-dimensional computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software to sketch ideas, because computers make it easy to make changes and show alternatives. Three-dimensional CAD software is increasingly being used by industrial designers as a tool to transform their two-dimensional designs into models with the help of three-dimensional printers. If they work for manufacturers, they also may use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) software to create specific machine-readable instructions that tell other machines exactly how to build the product.

Work Environment for Industrial Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Industrial designers hold about 39,700 jobs. The largest employers of industrial designers are as follows:

Manufacturing 31%
Self-employed workers 19
Specialized design services 12
Architectural, engineering, and related services 11
Wholesale trade 9

Work spaces for industrial designers often include work 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 industrial designers work primarily in offices, they may travel to testing facilities, design centers, clients' exhibit sites, users' homes or workplaces, and places where the product is manufactured.

Industrial Designer Work Schedules

Industrial designers who are self-employed or work for firms that hire them out to other organizations may need to adjust their workdays frequently in order 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 to Become an Industrial Designer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Industrial Designers near you!

A bachelor's degree is usually required for entry-level industrial design jobs. It is also important for industrial designers to have an electronic portfolio with examples of their best design projects.

Education for Industrial Designers

A bachelor's degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering is usually required for entry-level industrial design jobs. Most industrial design programs include courses in drawing, computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), and three-dimensional modeling, as well as courses in business, industrial materials and processes, and manufacturing methods.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 350 postsecondary colleges, universities, and independent institutes with programs in art and design. Many schools require successful completion of some basic art and design courses before granting 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.

Important Qualities for Industrial Designers

Analytical skills. Industrial designers use logic or reasoning skills to study consumers and recognize the need for new products.

Artistic ability. Industrial designers sketch their initial design ideas, which are used later to create prototypes. As such, designers must be able to express their design through illustration.

Computer skills. Industrial designers use computer-aided design software to develop their designs and create prototypes.

Creativity. Industrial designers must be innovative in their designs and the ways in which they integrate existing technologies into their new product.

Interpersonal skills. Industrial designers must develop cooperative working relationships with clients and colleagues who specialize in related disciplines.

Mechanical skills. Industrial designers must understand how products are engineered, at least for the types of products that they design.

Problem-solving skills. Industrial designers determine the need, size, and cost of a product; anticipate production issues; develop alternatives; evaluate options; and implement solutions.

Advancement for Industrial Designers

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.

Industrial Designer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for industrial designers is $67,790. 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 percent earned less than $37,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,690.

The median annual wages for industrial designers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services $79,030
Specialized design services 69,280
Manufacturing 64,260
Wholesale trade 59,870

Industrial designers who are self-employed or work for firms that hire them out to other organizations may need to adjust their workdays frequently in order 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.

Job Outlook for Industrial Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of industrial designers is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Consumer demand for innovative products and new product styles should sustain the demand for industrial designers.

Employment of industrial designers is likely to continue to grow in areas that require a high degree of technical ability and design sophistication. Products in these areas require detailed user specifications to be incorporated into the design process in order to meet consumer expectations and ensure the efficient and enjoyable use of the product.

However, employment in the manufacturing industry is projected to decline 2 percent over the next decade.

Job Prospects for Industrial Designers

Prospects should be best for job applicants with a strong background in two- and three-dimensional computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and computer-aided industrial design (CAID). The increasing trend toward the use of sustainable resources is likely to improve prospects for applicants with the knowledge to work with sustainable resources.

In addition, as more products become digitized and Internet-capable, applicants with experience in user interface (UI), user experience (UX), and interactive design (IxD) may have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for Industrial Designers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Commercial and industrial designers 39,700 41,600 5 2,000


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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