Commercial and Industrial Designers
- Commercial and industrial designers usually work closely with
engineers, materials scientists, marketing and corporate strategy
staff, cost estimators, and accountants.
- About 1 out of 3 are self-employed.
- A bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or
engineering is required for entry-level positions; however,
many commercial and industrial designers choose to pursue a
master’s degree in either industrial design or business administration.
- Keen competition is expected for most jobs because many qualified
individuals are attracted to careers in this field; those with
strong backgrounds in engineering and computer-aided design,
as well as extensive business expertise, will have the best
Commercial and industrial designers combine the fields of art,
business, and engineering to design the products used every day
by businesses and consumers. These designers are responsible for
the style, function, quality, and safety of most manufactured
goods. Usually these designers will specialize in one particular
product category. Some specialties include automobiles and other
transportation vehicles, appliances, technology goods, medical
equipment, furniture, toys, tools and construction equipment,
The first steps in developing a new design, or altering an existing
one, are to determine the requirements of the client, the ultimate
function for which the design is intended, and its appeal to customers
or users. When creating a new design, designers often begin by
researching the product user or the context in which the product
will be used, and desired product characteristics, such as size,
shape, weight, color, materials used, cost, ease of use, fit,
and safety. Designers gather this information by meeting with
clients, conducting market research, reading design and consumer
publications, attending trade shows, and visiting potential users,
suppliers and manufacturers.
Designers then prepare conceptual sketches or diagrams—by hand
or with the aid of a computer—to illustrate the vision for the
design. After conducting research and consulting with a creative
director or other members of the product development team, designers
then create detailed sketches or renderings. Many designers use
computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create and better visualize
the final product. Computer models allow ease and flexibility
in exploring a greater number of design alternatives, thus reducing
design costs and cutting the time it takes to deliver a product
to market. Industrial designers who work for manufacturing firms
also use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) tools to create
designs and machine-readable instructions that communicate with
automated production tools. Often, designers will create physical
models out of clay, wood, and other materials to give clients
a better idea of what the finished product will look like.
Designers then present the designs and prototypes to their client
or managers and incorporate any changes and suggestions. Designers
also will work with engineers, accountants, and cost estimators
to determine if the product could be made safer, easier to assemble
or use, or cheaper to manufacture. Designers also may participate
in usability and safety tests with prototypes in order to make
further adjustments to the design before it goes to manufacturing.
Commercial and industrial designers also work with marketing
staff to develop plans to best market the new product or design
to consumers. Increasingly, designers are working with corporate
strategy staff to ensure that their designs fit into the company’s
business plan and strategic vision. This involves designing new
products that accurately reflect the company’s image and values.
It also involves identifying and designing products that best
fit consumers’ needs before a competitor markets a similar product.
Increasingly, designers must focus on creating innovative products
in addition to considering the style and technical aspects of
Working conditions and places of employment vary. Designers employed
by manufacturing establishments, large corporations, or design
firms generally work regular hours in well-lighted and comfortable
settings. Designers in smaller design consulting firms, or those
who freelance, may work on a contract, or job, basis. They frequently
adjust their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines,
meeting with the clients during evening or weekend hours when
necessary. Consultants and self-employed designers tend to work
longer hours and in smaller, more congested, environments. Additional
hours may be required in order to meet deadlines.
Designers may transact business in their own offices or studios
or in clients’ homes or offices. They also may travel to other
locations, such as testing facilities, design centers, clients’
exhibit sites, user’s homes or workplaces, and manufacturing facilities.
With the increased speed and sophistication of computers and advanced
communications networks, designers may form international design
teams, serve a geographically more dispersed clientele, research
design alternatives by using information on the Internet, and
purchase supplies electronically.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering
is required for most entry-level commercial and industrial design
positions. Many candidates in industrial design also pursue a
master’s degree in order to increase their employment opportunities.
Creativity and technical knowledge are crucial in this occupation.
People in this field also must have a strong sense of the esthetic—an
eye for color and detail and a sense of balance and proportion.
Designers must understand the technical aspects of how the product
functions. Despite the advancement of computer-aided design, sketching
ability remains an important advantage. A good portfolio—a collection
of examples of a person’s best work—often is the deciding factor
in getting a job.
Bachelor’s of fine arts or bachelor’s of science degrees in industrial
design are granted at many colleges and universities, and in private
art and design schools. Baccalaureate curriculum includes principles
of design, sketching, computer-aided design, industrial materials
and processes, manufacturing methods, and some coursework in engineering,
physical science, mathematics, psychology, and anthropology. Many
programs also include internships in design or manufacturing firms.
Commercial and industrial designers also may pursue a master’s
degree in industrial design. With the growing emphasis on strategic
design and how products fit into the overall business plan, an
increasing number of designers are pursing a master’s degree in
business administration in order to gain valuable business skills.
Also, a growing number of professionals in other industries, such
as marketing and information technology, are entering the industrial
design field by pursuing advanced degrees in design.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits
about 250 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and
design. Approximately 45 of these schools award a degree in industrial
design. Many schools require the successful completion of 1 year
of basic art and design courses before formal entry into a bachelor’s
degree program. Applicants also may be required to submit sketches
and other examples of their artistic ability.
Employers increasingly expect new designers to be familiar with
computer-aided design software as a design tool. Designers must
also be creative, imaginative, and persistent and must be able
to communicate their ideas in writing, visually, and verbally.
Because tastes in style can change quickly, designers need to
be well read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react
to changing trends. Problem-solving skills and the ability to
work independently and under pressure also are important traits.
People in this field need self-discipline to start projects on
their own, to budget their time, and to meet deadlines and production
As strategic design becomes more important, employers will seek
designers with project management skills and knowledge of accounting,
marketing, quality assurance, purchasing, and strategic planning.
Good business sense and sales ability also are important, especially
for those who freelance or run their own business.
Beginning commercial and industrial designers usually receive
on-the-job training and normally need 1 to 3 years of training
before they can advance to higher level positions. Experienced
designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design
department head, or other supervisory positions. Some designers
leave the occupation to become teachers in design schools or in
colleges and universities. Many faculty members continue to consult
privately or operate small design studios to complement their
classroom activities. Some experienced designers open their own
Commercial and industrial designers held about 49,000 jobs in
2004. About 1 out of 3 were self-employed. About 13 percent of
designers were employed in either engineering or specialized design
services firms. Manufacturing companies employed the rest of commercial
and industrial designers, with the largest number employed in
aerospace products and parts manufacturing.
Employment of commercial and industrial designers is expected
to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014.
Employment growth will arise from an expanding economy and from
an increase in consumer and business demand for new or upgraded
products. However, competition for jobs will be keen because many
talented individuals are attracted to the design field. The best
job opportunities will be in specialized design firms which are
used by manufacturers to design products or parts of products.
Designers with strong backgrounds in engineering and computer-aided
design, as well as extensive business expertise, may have the
Increasing demand for commercial and industrial designers will
stem from the continued emphasis on the quality and safety of
products, the increasing demand for new products that are easy
and comfortable to use, and the development of high-technology
products in consumer electronics, medicine, transportation, and
other fields. However, employment can be affected by fluctuations
in the economy. For example, during periods of economic downturns,
companies may cut research and development spending, including
new product development.
Increasingly, manufacturers have been outsourcing design work
to design services firms in order to cut costs and to find the
most qualified design talent. Additionally, some companies use
design firms located overseas, especially for design of high-technology
products. These overseas design firms are located closer to their
suppliers, which reduces the time it takes to design and sell
a product—an important consideration when technology is changing
quickly. Offshoring of design work, particularly for high-technology
products, could continue to have a negative impact on domestic
employment of commercial and industrial designers.
Despite the increase in design work performed overseas, most
design jobs—particularly jobs not related to high-technology product
design—will still remain in the U.S. because design is essential
to a firm’s success, and firms will want to retain control over
the design process. As the demand for design work becomes more
consumer-driven, designers also will need to closely monitor,
and react to, changing customer demands. Designers will increasingly
have to come up with innovative new products in order to stay
competitive. Domestic designers also will be required to work
with marketing and strategic planning staffs to design products
that will be more usable and appealing to consumers and that accurately
define a company’s image and brand.
Median annual earnings for commercial and industrial designers
were $52,310 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$39,130 and $68,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,080,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,250.
Workers in other art and design occupations include artists and
related workers; fashion designers; floral designers; graphic
designers; and interior designers. Some other occupations that
require computer-aided design skills are architects, except landscape
and naval; computer software engineers; desktop publishers; drafters;
and engineers. See the careers
database for more information on these careers.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general career information on commercial and industrial design,
- Industrial Designers Society of America, 45195 Business Court,
Suite 250, Dulles, VA 20166-6717. Internet: http://www.idsa.org/
For general information about art and design and a list of accredited
college-level programs, contact:
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,