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Industrial Designers

At a Glance

  • Combine artistic skills and practical knowledge
  • Design a variety of items, from cars to toys
  • Often use CAD (computer-aided design)
  • Work closely with clients and staff
  • May work overtime to meet deadlines
  • Have a bachelor's degree

Career summary

Industrial designers develop a wide variety of manufactured products.

Industrial designers may also be called commercial designers, product designers, or product engineers.

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Industrial designers combine artistic skills and practical knowledge to create designs. Most designers concentrate on one area. They may design:

Designers talk to clients about what they want, and how the product will be used. They do research on similar products and design trends. Designers consider size, shape, weight, color, and materials to be used. They consider cost to produce the product, ease of use, and safety. They also consider market competition, or what is selling in the product area. In some cases, they design a series of products. Industrial designers make sure each product has the same look and feel of other products in the line.

Industrial designers create sketches. They do this by hand or on a computer. Designers often use computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create products. CAD allows designers to create three-dimensional drawings of products. These drawings can be rotated, which helps designers visualize the final product. Changes can quickly be made to CAD designs, which add speed and flexibility to the design process. This reduces design costs and cuts the time it takes to deliver a product to the market.

Industrial designers also use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) to create their designs. Designers who work for manufacturing firms may use CAID to send their designs to automated production tools. These machines read the designs and create products.

Industrial designers present their sketches to the client or design team. They also consult with the product development team, which may include engineers or marketing staff. Designers make changes based on the feedback they receive or new developments in trends. They create detailed designs of the product. These may include drawings, small models, or computer simulations. Some designers create full-sized prototypes of their products. In addition, designers prepare lists of the materials needed to produce the product. They also estimate costs.

Industrial designers may supervise assistants who carry out their designs. Designers who run their own businesses have administrative tasks. For example, they may do more product research than other designers. They may also hire and train new staff. In addition, they devote time to developing new business contacts.

Related careers

This career is part of the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to industrial designers.

Common work activities

Industrial designers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, industrial designers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Industrial designers frequently:

It is important for industrial designers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for industrial designers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Industrial designers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an industrial designer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Industrial designers must have a bachelor's degree. Many four-year colleges and universities grant the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. In this program, art is the emphasis. You take courses in art, art history, principles of design, and designing and sketching.

Design programs are broader than art programs. In addition to art courses you study industrial design, materials, manufacturing methods, and computer software.

About 230 colleges and universities have approved programs in art and design. Most of these award a degree in art or fine art. Some award degrees specifically in industrial design.

Many schools do not allow formal entry into a bachelor's degree program until you have successfully completed a year of basic art and design courses. You may be required to submit sketches or other examples of your artistic ability.

Regardless of major, you should take classes in computer-aided design (CAD) and manufacturing materials and processes.

Work experience

Hands-on work sculpting, woodworking, metalworking, or sketching is good preparation for design work.

Industrial designers also prepare for their work by developing a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of your best work. It demonstrates your skills to clients or employers. A portfolio may include hand drawings, computer images, photos, and print samples.

An internship is an excellent way to build your skills, demonstrate your talent, and make job contacts.

On-the-job training

Beginning designers usually receive on-the-job training. The length of training varies by employer. Some provide up to three months of training and others provide several years. As you gain experience, you work on more difficult tasks.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many industrial designers are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Creativity is important in all design occupations. Employers look for designers who have an eye for color and detail, and a sense of beauty and proportion. Sketching skills are helpful for many jobs. A good portfolio (a collection of a person’s best work) is often the deciding factor in getting a job.

Computer-aided design (CAD) increasingly is used in all areas of design. This is particularly true in the aerospace, automotive, and electronics industries.

Employers look for designers who are imaginative and persistent. They seek designers who can communicate their ideas visually and verbally. Employers need designers who are well read, open to new ideas, and quick to react to changing trends. Problem-solving skills and self-discipline are also important.

Because experience is essential for entry-level jobs, students should consider internships or volunteer work. Mechanical aptitude and interpersonal skills are important.


Any training in graphics, photography, engineering, drafting, marketing, management, or architecture is valuable. Drawing, building models, and reading art and design publications are beneficial. Taking apart appliances to see how they are assembled can be helpful.

Costs to workers

Workers who join a professional association may need to pay a membership fee and annual dues.

#Took over national content to revise statements regarding use of computers in occupation, 5/2/16 cj.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Commercial and industrial designers (SOC 27-1021)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $20.54 $28.72 $38.71 $49.54 $61.26
Monthly $3,560 $4,977 $6,708 $8,585 $10,616
Yearly $42,730 $59,730 $80,510 $103,050 $127,420
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $26.18 $31.51 $41.89 $52.36 $63.52
Monthly $4,537 $5,461 $7,260 $9,074 $11,008
Yearly $54,452 $65,539 $87,129 $108,902 $132,109
    Vancouver Hourly $25.30 $30.46 $39.19 $51.02 $67.92
Monthly $4,384 $5,279 $6,792 $8,842 $11,771
Yearly $52,628 $63,362 $81,508 $106,122 $141,288
United States Hourly $18.57 $24.84 $32.01 $42.13 $51.94
Monthly $3,218 $4,305 $5,547 $7,301 $9,001
Yearly $38,630 $51,670 $66,590 $87,620 $108,040

Wages vary widely based on the designer's experience and job duties. The more years of experience a designer has, the higher the wages. Industrial designers in managerial positions earn much higher wages. In addition, wages vary by employer and area of the country.

Benefits vary by employer. Full-time industrial designers are likely to receive typical benefits. These include vacation, sick leave, and health insurance. Self-employed designers must provide their own insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Commercial and Industrial Designers (SOC 27-1021)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 462 12.6% 16.1% 57
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 26 42.3% 15.2% 5
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 16 6.3% 14.6% 1
    King County 324 10.8% 19.6% 38
    Snohomish County 21 4.8% 12.4% 2
    Spokane County 40 12.5% 13.9% 5
United States 43,900 3.2% 5.2% 4,600

National employment

About 23% of industrial designers are self-employed.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will slow as the manufacturing industry experiences a slight decline. Growth will be highest for those who design medical equipment and other precision instruments.

Job prospects will be best for those who have a strong background in computer aided design (CAD) systems.

Other resources

American Design Drafting Association (external link)
105 East Main Street
Newbern, TN 38059
Engineer Girl! (external link)
National Academy of Engineering
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (external link)
2025 M Street NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Industrial Designers Society of America (external link)
555 Grove Street, Suite 200
Herndon, VA 20170
Society for Experiential Graphic Design (external link)
1900 L Street NW, Suite 710
Washington, DC 20036
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
What is Industrial Design? (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster