Where Art Meets Science, Innovation is Born

Where Art Meets Science, Innovation is Born

You want to change the world? To replace the old things with newer better things?

Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.---Bill Gates

Want to be the next Steve Jobs? To create the next laptop, or a device that makes I-Phone obsolete? Maybe a radical new game console, the next fuel-efficient engine design, the next green-friendly house design?

Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nicolai Tesla, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, every age has them.

In his time, Raymond Loewy, often called “the father of modern industrial design”, created a new look— from the curvy Coca-Cola bottle to the finned Studebaker. And you probably never heard his name before reading this. But, Loewy was very very wealthy, in huge demand, and very famous in his time.

Our world is continually changing. All the objects that change in our world, are creations, by design.

Everything around you, your coffee mug, your car outside, your laptop, your desk, was designed to fit your human body parts and motions.

Commercial and industrial designers combine the fields of art, business, and engineering to design the products you 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.

Engineer analyzing gears

Industrial design. Design engineering. Commercial design.

Commercial and industrial designers usually work closely with a range of specialists including engineers, materials scientists, marketing and corporate strategy staff, cost estimators, and accountants. About 30 percent are self-employed; many designers work for services firms.

A Bachelor’s degree is usually required to start. Many top designers pursue a Master’s degree.

Strong competition for jobs is expected; those with strong backgrounds in engineering and computer-aided design and extensive business expertise will have the best prospects.

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 to 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 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.

3d rendering of architectural building

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-lighted 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 may be required to meet deadlines.

Designers may work in their own offices or studios or in clients’ homes or offices. They also may 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 communications networks, designers may form international design teams and serve a more geographically dispersed clientele.

Creativity and technical knowledge are crucial in this occupation. People in this field must have a strong sense of the esthetic—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.

Commercial and industrial designers held about 48,000 jobs in 2006. About 30 percent were self-employed. Another 15 percent of designers were employed in either engineering or specialized design services firms. Manufacturing firms and service providing companies employed most of the rest of commercial and industrial designers.

Strong competition for jobs is expected; backgrounds in engineering and computer-aided design and extensive business expertise will have the best prospects.

Employment of commercial and industrial designers is expected to grow 7 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as average for all occupations. Employment growth will arise from an expanding economy and from an increase in consumer and business demand for new or upgraded products.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Increasing demand for commercial and industrial designers will also stem from the continued emphasis on the quality and safety of products, the increasing demand for new products that are easy and comfortable to use, and the development of high-technology products in consumer electronics, medicine, transportation, and other fields.

Despite the increase in design work performed overseas, most design jobs, particularly jobs not related to high-technology product design, will still remain in the U.S.

Design is essential to a firm’s success, and firms will want to retain control over the design process.

Many talented individuals are attracted to the design field. The best job opportunities will be in specialized design firms which are used by manufacturers to design products or parts of products. Designers with strong educational backgrounds in engineering, and computer-aided design and extensive business expertise, will have the best prospects.

As the demand for design work becomes more consumer-driven, educated designers who can closely monitor, and react to, changing customer demands—and who can work with marking and strategic planning staffs to come up with new products—will also improve their job prospects.

Median annual wage-and-salary earnings for commercial and industrial designers were $54,560 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,270 and $72,610. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,970. Earnings information for the self-employed is not available.

Median annual earnings of salaried commercial and industrial designers

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.

An increasing number of designers are pursing a Master’s degree in business administration, to gain business skills. The growing emphasis on strategic design and how products fit into a firm’s overall business plan, gives these MBA grads an edge in competing for business.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 250 postsecondary 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 may be required to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

You love art, you love gadjets, you love science? It’s all waiting for you.

Unlock the ideas in your mind. Get the knowledge to make them into reality.

Go get the degree that will be your doorway to industrial or commercial design. Then use those tools to change the world we live in!

For general career information on commercial and industrial design, contact:
• Industrial Designers Society of America, 45195 Business Court, Suite 250, Dulles, VA 20166. Internet: http://www.idsa.org

For general information about art and design and a list of accredited college-level programs, contact:
• National Association of Schools of Art and Design, 11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Suite 21, Reston, VA 20190. Internet: http://nasad.arts-accredit.org

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