Industrial Designers


Exploring this Job

An excellent way to uncover an aptitude for design and to gain practical experience in using computers is to take a computer graphics or computer-aided design (CAD) course through an art school, high school continuing education program, technical school, or community college. Some community colleges allow high school students to enroll in classes if no comparable course is offered at the high school level. If no formal training is available, teach yourself how to use a popular graphics software or CAD package. Some software firms such as Autodesk allow potential customers to download their software on a trial basis. This would be a good, inexpensive way to try out CAD software. 

Summer or part-time employment at an industrial design firm is a good way to learn more about the profession and what industrial designers do. Another option is to work in an advertising agency or for a market research firm. Although these companies most likely won't have an industrial designer on staff, they will provide exposure to how to study consumer trends and plan marketing promotions.

Pursue hobbies such as sculpting, ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, and sketching to develop creative and artistic abilities. Reading about industrial design can also be very beneficial. Publications such as Design News ( contain many interesting and informative articles that describe different design products and report on current trends. This magazine can be found at many public libraries. Read books on the history of industrial design to learn about interesting case studies on the development of specific products.

The Job

Industrial designers are an integral part of the manufacturing process. They create designs for new products and redesign existing products. Before a product can be manufactured, a design must be created that specifies its form, function, and appearance. Industrial designers must pay attention to the purpose of the proposed product, anticipated use by consumers, economic factors affecting its design and manufacture, and material and safety requirements.

Industrial designers are usually part of a team that includes engineers, marketing specialists, production personnel, sales representatives, and sometimes, top manufacturing managers. Before the design process actually begins, market research or surveys may be conducted that analyze how well a product is performing, what its market share is, and how well competitors' products are doing. Also, feasibility studies may be conducted to determine whether an existing design should be changed or a new product created to keep or gain market share.

Once a determination is made to create a new design, an industrial designer is assigned to the project. The designer reviews study results and meets with other design team members to develop a concept. The designer studies the features of the proposed product as well as the material requirements and manufacturing costs and requirements. Several designs are sketched and other team members are consulted.

Some designers still create sketches by hand, but most use two- and three dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) software that allows them to create sketches on a computer (and, in the instance of three-dimensional software, models with the help of three-dimensional printers). Once a preliminary design is selected, designers work out all of the details. They calculate all of the measurements of each part of the design, identify specific components, select necessary materials, and choose colors and other visual elements. A detailed design is then submitted to engineers and other design team members for review.

In some cases, a model or prototype may be built; however, CAD programs now allow engineers to test design features before this stage. Designers may also use 3-D printing technology that allows them to print out an object faster and in a more cost-efficient manner than if a prototype was created using traditional manufacturing techniques. Engineers test for performance, strength, durability, and other factors to ensure that a product actually performs as planned and meets all safety and industrial standards. If any part of a product fails to meet test standards, the design is sent back to the industrial designer for revisions.

This process continues until the design passes all test stages. At this point, a model may be built of clay, foam, wood, or other materials to serve as a guide for production. In some cases, a prototype made of the actual materials and components will be built. The design, along with all computer data and any models and prototypes, is turned over to the production department, which is then responsible for manufacturing it.

Industrial designers may also become involved in the marketing and advertising promotion of products. They may name the new product, design the product's packaging, plan promotional campaigns or advertising strategies, and create artwork used for advertising.

Industrial designers may design the layout of franchised businesses, such as clothing stores or gas stations, so that they present a coordinated company image. This type of design can also include developing company symbols, trademarks, and logos.

Designers may work for a design firm or directly for a manufacturing company. They may freelance or set up their own consulting firms. Corporate designers may be part of a large team with designers at various locations. Computer networking and cloud computing software allows several designers to work simultaneously on the same project. Using this approach, a designer creates one part of a design, for example, the electronic components, while another designer creates another part, such as the mechanical housing. A variation on the multidesigner approach schedules designers on different shifts to work on the same project.

Technology is changing the way industrial designers work. Computer-aided industrial design tools are revolutionizing the way products are designed and manufactured. These programs allow designers and engineers to test products during the design stage so that design flaws are identified before prototypes are built. Other programs allow product models to be tested online. Designs can be sent directly to machine tools that produce three-dimensional models. All of these advances decrease the time necessary to design a product, test it, and manufacture it.

Some industrial designers may have specialized design duties. For example, user experience designers create user interfaces for systems software, applications software, Web sites, and other types of technology. They use their knowledge of design, programming, marketing, and human behavior to ensure that the user has a positive experience with the technology.