Commercial & Industrial Designer
A commercial and industrial designer could...
|Research who might use a new portable electronic device, as well as what sports might be played while using it.||Use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) tools to create designs for new products.|
|Make design changes to a medicine bottle to ensure that adults can open it readily and children cannot.||Create a physical model of a new product so clients will have a better visual idea of the finished product.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Have you always loved art? Do you have a good eye for beauty, balance, and form? How would you like to see your designs show up in toy stores? Or in a sporting goods store? Or at a car dealer? Commercial and industrial designers create the shape and form of every type of manufactured good that you can think of—from toys, sporting goods, and medical equipment to high technology products, furniture, toothbrushes, and toasters. They design the form of new products that are as beautiful and pleasing to look at as they are functional.|
|Key Requirements||Creative, imaginative, self-disciplined, with an artistic eye, excellent fine motor skills, problem-solving abilities, and good communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Physics, algebra, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus (trigonometry), English; if available, applied technology, art, computer science, drafting|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level commercial and industrial design positions. Many designers also pursue a master's degree to increase their employment opportunities.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering is required for most entry-level commercial and industrial design jobs. Coursework includes principles of design, sketching, computer-aided design, industrial materials and processes, manufacturing methods, and some classes in engineering, physical science, mathematics, psychology, and anthropology. Many programs also include internships at design or manufacturing firms.
Many aspiring commercial and industrial designers earn a master's degree in industrial design. Some already have a bachelor's degree in the field, but an increasing number have degrees and experience in other areas, such as marketing, information technology, or engineering, and are hoping to transfer into a design occupation.
Also, because of the growing emphasis on strategic design and how products fit into a firm's overall business plan, an increasing number of designers are pursing a master's degree in business administration to gain business skills.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 250 post-secondary colleges, universities, and private institutes with programs in art and design. About 45 of these schools award a degree in industrial design; some offer a bachelor's of art, some a bachelor's of science. Many schools require the successful completion of 1 year of basic art and design courses before entry into a bachelor's degree program. Applicants also might be required to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.
Creativity and technical knowledge are crucial in this occupation. People in this field must have a strong sense of the aesthetic—an eye for color and detail and a sense of balance and proportion. Despite the advancement of computer-aided design, sketching ability remains an important advantage. Designers must also understand the technical aspects of how products function. Most employers also expect new designers to know computer-aided design software. The deciding factor in getting a job often is a good portfolio—examples of a person's best work.
Designers must also be imaginative and persistent and must be able to communicate their ideas visually, verbally, and in writing. Because tastes and styles 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 schedules.
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 are important, especially for those who freelance or run their own business.
Nature of the Work
Commercial and industrial designers combine the fields of art, business, and engineering to design the products people use every day. In fact, these designers are responsible for the style, function, quality, and safety of almost every manufactured good. Usually, designers specialize in one particular product category, such as automobiles and other transportation vehicles, appliances, technology goods, medical equipment, furniture, toys, tools and construction equipment, or housewares.
The first steps in developing a new design, or altering an existing one, are to determine the requirements of the client, the purpose of the product, and the tastes of 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. They ascertain desired product characteristics, such as size, shape, weight, color, materials used, cost, ease of use, fit, and safety. To gather this information, designers meet with clients, conduct market research, read design and consumer publications, attend trade shows, and visit potential users, suppliers, and manufacturers.
Next, designers prepare conceptual sketches or diagrams—by hand or with the aid of a computer—to illustrate their vision of the product. 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 these renderings. Computer models make it easier to adjust designs and to experiment with a greater number of alternatives, speeding up and improving the design process. Industrial designers who work for manufacturing firms also use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) tools to create designs and machine-readable instructions that can direct automated production tools to build the designed product to exact specifications. Often, designers will also 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 present the designs and prototypes to their client or managers and incorporate any changes and suggestions. Designers often work with engineers, accountants, and cost estimators to determine if a product can be made safer, easier to assemble or use, or cheaper to manufacture. Before a product is completed and manufactured, designers may participate in usability and safety tests, watching consumers use prototypes and then making adjustments based on those observations.
Increasingly, designers are working with corporate strategy staff to ensure that their designs fit into the company's business plan and strategic vision. They work with marketing staff to develop plans to best market new product designs to consumers. They work to design products that accurately reflect the company's image and values. And although designers have always tried to identify and design products that fit consumers' needs, more designers are now focused on creating that product before a competitor does. More of today's designers must also focus on creating innovative products, as well as considering the style and technical aspects of the product.
Designers employed by manufacturing establishments, large corporations, or design firms generally work regular hours in well-lit and comfortable settings. Designers in smaller design consulting firms, or those who freelance, may work under a contract to do specific tasks or designs. They frequently adjust their workday to suit their clients' schedules and deadlines, meeting with the clients evenings or weekends when necessary. Consultants and self-employed designers tend to work longer hours and in smaller, more congested environments. Additional hours might be required to meet deadlines.
Designers might work in their own offices or studios, or in clients' homes or offices. They also might travel to other locations, such as testing facilities, design centers, clients' exhibit sites, users' homes or workplaces, and manufacturing facilities. With the increased speed and sophistication of computers and advanced communication networks, designers might also form international design teams and serve a more geographically dispersed clientele.
On the Job
- Prepare sketches of ideas, detailed drawings, illustrations, artwork, or blueprints, using drafting instruments, paints and brushes, or computer-aided design equipment.
- Direct and coordinate the fabrication of models or samples and the drafting of working drawings and specification sheets from sketches.
- Modify and refine designs, using working models, to conform with customer specifications, production limitations, or changes in design trends.
- Coordinate the look and function of product lines.
- Confer with engineering, marketing, production, or sales departments, or with customers, to establish and evaluate design concepts for manufactured products.
- Present designs and reports to customers or design committees for approval, and discuss need for modification.
- Evaluate feasibility of design ideas, based on factors such as appearance, safety, function, serviceability, budget, production costs/methods, and market characteristics.
- Read publications, attend showings, and study competing products and design styles and motifs to obtain perspective and generate design concepts.
- Research production specifications, costs, production materials and manufacturing methods, and provide cost estimates and itemized production requirements.
- Design graphic material for use as ornamentation, illustration, or advertising on manufactured materials and packaging or containers.
Companies That Hire Commercial & Industrial Designers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Cure for Hooks and Slices? Asymmetric Dimple Patterns and Golf Ball Flight
- A Silver-Cleaning Battery
- Alternative Sources for Paper Fiber
- Are Childproof Containers Really Childproof?
- Are More Expensive Golf Balls Worth It?
- Baseball Bat Debate: What's Better, Wood or Aluminum?
- Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun
- Build Your Own Xylophone Out of Copper Pipe
- Building Banjos
- Candy Confusion: Can Small Children Mistake Medicine for Candy?
- Customize Your Own Drum Set!
- Dance Mania: Build Your Own Dance Pad!
- Design Your Own Virtual Reality Headset
- Do-Re-Mi with Straws
- Dog Toys: What Makes One a Favorite or a Flop to Fido?
- Engineer a Cell Phone Stand
- Engineer an LED Night-Light
- How Does Packaging Affect the Ripening of Fruit?
- Interpreting Area Data from Maps vs. Graphs: An Experiment in Visual Perception
- Juice Box Geometry
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Commercial & Industrial Designer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- Industrial Designers Society of America: https://www.idsa.org/
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design: https://nasad.arts-accredit.org/
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
- The Manufacturing Institute. (2007, October 19). DreamIt. DoIt. Video Profile: Kurt Solland. Retrieved November 27, 2009, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-95CdTUVnDI
- idsketching.com. (2009, April 10). John Muhlenkamp: Industrial Design Sketching Interview. Retrieved November 28, 2009, from https://www.davison.com/creators/2009/04/10/john-muhlenkamp-industrial-design-sketching-interview/
- YouTube, NOVA. (2013, December 5). Judy Lee: Go and Play. Retrieved May 10, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT79LWKQ37M
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Motorola Solutions
- Northrop Grumman
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