Product Designer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A product designer's median annual salary is around $62,000. Is it worth the educational requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a product designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Product Designer

The assortment of products available to today's global consumers means that a number of industries require product designers. Take a look at the pros and cons of this career so you know what to expect.

PROS of a Product Design Career
Flexible, may work as a freelancer*
Variety of product types offers a number of career choices*
Advances in technology ease conceptual design*
In-house designers usually work in comfortable office settings*

CONS of a Product Design Career
Competitive field with slower than average job growth (4% increase from 2012-2022)*
Field directly affected by the economy (companies cut product development spending during downturns)*
Budgets and deadlines may lead to high-stress situations*
Many design jobs are being outsourced overseas*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Product designers must be able to turn a consumer need into a marketable product. They use a mix of engineering, business and artistic skills to develop products that meet consumer demand. Employers require a high degree of teamwork skills for this position because product designers collaborate with accountants, marketers, executives and many others along each product's manufacturing pipeline. Ultimately, you'll be responsible for the functionality, style and safety of each consumer good you create.

Salary

According to the BLS, as if May 2014, commercial and industrial designers made a median annual wage around $64,000. This equaled about $31 an hour.

Specializations

Almost every type of manufactured good requires some degree of product design. You can specialize in a specific product category, such as housewares, toys, equipment, furniture or technology. If you plan to specialize in a certain area, you should begin building a portfolio of product designs in that category during your education and internship.

What Are the Requirements?

Most product design positions require at least a bachelor's degree in industrial design or engineering. Skills acquired during school should include computer-aided design, math, manufacturing and business knowledge. To qualify for this job, you're expected to demonstrate creativity through a portfolio of work. You'll also need hands-on experience that you can acquire through an internship.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers want educated and experienced innovators who can create products under budget and on time. To give you an idea of what real employers are looking for, here are some samples from March 2012 postings on Monster.com:

  • A North Carolina tech company wanted a product developer who was an expert in understanding and enhancing the user's experience.
  • A pet product company in Arizona advertised for a product designer with integrity and creativity who could turn market opportunities into brand-building products.
  • In Michigan, an auto company was looking for a product designer with a bachelor's degree and 3-5 years' experience working in automotive development.
  • A California-based luxury stone tile company needed a product designer able to document the business' development process for use in the company's social media and marketing programs.
  • In Minnesota, a gift and holiday craft company advertised for a designer to conceptualize products and packaging. Applicants were required to have a bachelor's degree and be proficient with Illustrator and Photoshop software. The ability to sculpt and use Microsoft Office was considered a plus.
  • A manufacturing company in Ohio wanted a senior product designer who could create and modify product designs to meet customer needs under the constraint of the company's financial budget and manufacturing capabilities. The company required applicants to have technical training, such as a degree in mechanical engineering technology.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

An outstanding portfolio of products in your chosen field of specialization is one way to gain employers' attention. According to the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), high-end product designers build brand loyalty by creating products that resonate with consumers on a number of levels, from visual aesthetics to an obvious concern for user safety. Designers who create environmentally sustainable products often have an edge, especially in eco-friendly industries.

Postgraduate Education

Earning a master's degree on top of your bachelor's degree could enhance your standing in the field of product design. Product design is closely tied with business and marketing, so you might want to get a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to round out engineering and design skills gained during a bachelor's program. An MBA might also be helpful if you want to start your own design business.

Other Fields to Consider

Fashion Design

Fashion design is product design's flashier cousin. Fashion designers create clothing, shoes and accessories. Fashion design is also a competitive field, but pay is generally higher than product design salaries, based on BLS figures. This could be a good option if you're fashion conscious and artistically inclined.

Graphic Design

Graphic designers deal with many of the visual aspects of products, including product packaging and logos. According to BLS projections for 2008-2018, employment of graphic designers was expected to increase due to new media demands, but graphic designers are paid less than product designers; average salaries were around $48,000 as of May 2010.

Engineering

Engineering is the scientific side of product design, and many product designers already hold a bachelor's degree in engineering. Engineers create and work with technology and tech products. The BLS projected average job growth for engineers from 2008-2018. Engineers can choose from a variety of specialties, but are required to be licensed if their services are available to the public.

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