Industrial Designer Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career in industrial design? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming an industrial designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Industrial Designer

Becoming an industrial designer could be a good choice for those who like to create new things and use their imaginations. Explore the pros and cons of an industrial design career below to determine if this career is right for you.

Pros of an Industrial Design Career
Allows for creativity*
Those who work in manufacturing or large design companies may have regular hours in an office*
Entry-level positions available with a bachelor's degree*

Cons of an Industrial Design Career
Field is competitive, with the possibility of jobs being sent overseas*
Industrial design field is vulnerable to economic fluctuations*
Designers might need to travel to a variety of locations*
Designers create and refine items based on customers' preferences, which might conflict with a designer's own ideas**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Job Duties, Salary and Career Information

Duties of an Industrial Designer

As an industrial designer, you would design products that are safe and functional, as well as stylish and of high quality. A designer generally specializes in a single product category, such as tools, toys, furniture, appliances, household items or construction equipment. Working from clients' requirements and knowledge of a product's purpose, you would conduct research and make a conceptual diagram. You would then work with cost estimators and engineers to make the product, paying particular mind to safety, cost and ease of assembly.

Salary Information and Outlook

As of May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that industrial and commercial designers made a mean salary of about $67,000 per year (www.bls.gov). However, your salary could vary based on the industry you choose to work in. For example, the BLS noted that industrial and commercial designers working for architectural or engineering firms reported mean earnings of around $70,000, whereas those employed in electrical lighting equipment manufacturing reported mean earnings of about $62,000. Location also can affect your pay. In May 2013, industrial and commercial designers in Vermont reported mean earnings of $56,000, while individuals doing the same job in Michigan earned about $75,000.

The BLS reported that industrial and commercial design jobs were expected to grow at an average rate of four percent in the 2012-2022 decade. Those who have a strong background in computer aided design could have particularly good prospects.

What Are the Requirements?

An aspiring industrial designer must have a bachelor's degree in industrial design or a related field, such as architecture or engineering, according to the BLS. Courses in these programs often cover design fundamentals, design style and computer-aided design. You also might gain experience by completing one or more internships. Throughout your schooling, you should put together a design portfolio, which you can use to catch the eye of potential employers.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Creativity, strong verbal skills and self-discipline are common skills required for this field. Sketching abilities, an open-minded personality and the ability to work alone are also important. Here are a few industrial designer job posts from March 2012 listings at Monster.com to give you an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A design company in Seattle, WA, seeks a designer with at least three years experience to work in a collaborative environment. A candidate must have experience with design programs like Pro/E or CAD systems.
  • A company in Santa Barbara, CA, seeks a designer with a bachelor's degree, two years' experience designing consumer products or fashions and skills in digital and hand sketching to design a variety of products, from electronics to sporting goods.
  • A New York company seeks an individual with a bachelor's degree in industrial design and knowledge of technical sketching to create items for kitchens and bathrooms, working in every step from drawing to testing of prototypes.

How to Stand Out As an Industrial Designer

Since competition is expected for these jobs, you can stand out in the job market by specializing in an emerging area of design or showing a willingness to relocate, according to the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). Another option is to join professional organizations like IDSA or the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA). These organizations can provide links to other professionals or, as in the case of PDMA, offer professional certifications.

Pursue a Master's Degree

The BLS notes that some employers seek industrial designers who earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in addition to a bachelor's degree because of the relation between product design, production and a business' plan for operations. In an MBA program, which might be designed to allow you to work while going to school, you'll learn about financial management, organizational leadership and communication.

Other Career Paths

Architect

If you want to design on a larger scale, you might consider a position as an architect. Architects are licensed professionals who design residential and commercial buildings and complexes. You could utilize your degree in industrial design by pursuing a master's degree in architecture. If you're still considering your educational options, you also could become an architect by earning a Bachelor of Architecture. This position requires a license issued by the state you choose to work in, but before you can acquire your license, you'll need to participate in a practical training period that takes place after you earn your degree. As of May 2010, the BLS noted that most of the 87,700 architects employed in the United States earned between $43,000 and $120,000.

Engineer

Another option, if you're interested in computer-aided design, is to pursue a career as an engineer. Engineers design products and components using math and science fundamentals. You can put your computer-aided design skills to work in this field simulating machines, testing systems or creating parts specifications. You'll need a bachelor's degree in engineering for most jobs and a license if you plan to offer your services to the public. You can specialize in such areas as aerospace, civil or mechanical engineering. Average growth is expected for most engineering specialties, but civil and industrial engineers could see faster than average growth between 2008 and 2018. As of May 2010, the median annual salary for civil and mechanical engineers was $78,000, while industrial engineers earned $76,000, the BLS reported.

Model Maker

If you like to create things with your hands but aren't sure you want to spend four years in school, you might be interested in a career in model making. According to the BLS, there are multiple paths toward becoming a model maker, including learning skills on the job or in an apprenticeship or earning an associate or bachelor's degree in model making, fine arts or engineering. Model makers might work with metal, plastic or wood. As of May 2010, model makers who worked with wood reported median earnings of $29,370 annually; those who worked with metal and plastic reported median earnings of $42,740 that same year.

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Thomas Edison State University

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