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 the 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 better 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 or 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.

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. They use two-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) 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 38,400 jobs. The industries that employ the most industrial designers are as follows:

Manufacturing 32%
Specialized design services 11
Architectural, engineering, and related services 8
Wholesale trade 8

About 1 in 4 are self-employed.

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

Most industrial designers work full time.

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

Industrial Designer Education

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 that industrial designers need in design: drawing, computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), and three-dimensional modeling. Most programs will also include courses in business, industrial materials and processes, and manufacturing methods that industrial designers need when developing their design.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 320 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 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.

Some designers have a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree which helps further develop a designer’s business skills. These skills help designers understand how to fit their designs to meet the cost limitations a firm may have for the production of a given product.

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 identify complex design problems such as 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. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers. 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 $64,620. 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 $37,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,070.

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

Architectural, engineering, and related services $68,970
Manufacturing 62,330
Specialized design services 61,460
Wholesale trade 57,970

Most industrial designers work full time.

Industrial designers who are self-employed or work for firms that hire them out to other organizations may need to frequently adjust their workdays 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 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations. Consumer demand for innovative products and new product styles will sustain the demand for industrial designers. Employment in the manufacturing industry is projected to experience a slight decline over the projection period contributing to the slower than the average growth for industrial designers overall.

Employment of industrial designers who design precision instruments and medical equipment is likely to continue to grow. Both areas require a high degree of technical ability and design sophistication. Products in these areas also require detailed specifications and precise equipment manufacturing because of the delicate uses of the finished product.

Industrial Designers Job Prospects

Prospects are best for job applicants with a strong background in two- and three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) 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.

Employment projections data for Industrial Designers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Commercial and industrial designers 38,400 39,200 2 800


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

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