Product designers are the clever people who design everything we use in our lives, from toothbrushes and toys to iPods and aeroplane seats. These guys use their creativity, eye for detail and technical knowledge to design new and innovative products.
Furthermore, they use their expertise to modify existing products, improving their functionality and aesthetic appeal.
To work in product design, you need to understand the relationship between art, science and technology. As a product designer, you will spend your time planning, designing and modelling products, producing prototypes and conducting rigorous testing.
As a product designer, you won’t just design products willy-nilly. On each project, you will be working to your client’s brief. Consequently, before you start coming up with concepts and getting stuck into some serious CAD work, you will liaise with your client to understand their criteria for the product.
After an initial period of brainstorming, mind-mapping, thought-showering, or whatever you want to call it, you will produce a series of preliminary sketches and design ideas.
From there, you will begin creating detailed designs using computer-aided design (CAD) software and producing technical specifications, which will detail everything from production costs to the materials required.
The next stage of the process is prototype development. You might create prototypes using your bare hands or you might use state-of-the-art computer software – it really depends on the complexity of the project.
Finally, you will be responsible for prototype testing. Again, you will either take a hands-on approach to the testing, or you will conduct computer-simulated testing, depending on the nature of the project.
When making important design decisions, you will need to consider certain restrictions that are detailed in the brief, such as budget constraints, environmental impact and health and safety regulations.
Once the prototype has been designed, developed and tested, you will be required to present your final design to your client for their approval. This is where the journey of a product design project ends, unless the client is unhappy and you have to make some changes!
Salary & benefits
Entry-level product designers tend to earn between £19,000 and £25,000 per annum. With a few years’ experience under your belt, your annual salary might increase to around £25,000 or £40,000.
Some senior product designers can earn upwards of £62,000.
Freelance product designers tend to earn more than their salaried counterparts. However, working as a freelancer does not have the same level of job security or the same perks, such as sick pay or annual leave.
Although product designers are typically contracted to work from nine-to-five, evening and weekend work may be required from time to time to meet project deadlines.
An undergraduate degree, postgraduate degree or HND (higher national diploma) in a relevant subject, such as product design, industrial design, mechanical design or design engineering, is usually required for entry into this line of work.
Gaining relevant work experience is also a vital step towards securing gainful employment in the competitive world of product design. Many of the university courses mentioned above incorporate an industrial placement year. This can be a fantastic opportunity to develop your skills and improve your portfolio.
Understandably, you will need to be confident using complex computer software, such as computer-aided design (CAD) tools.
Training & progression
You will do most of your training ‘on-the-job’, developing your CAD skills and technical knowledge under the supervision of an experienced product designer. However, you may occasionally be required to attend in-house training courses.
As you progress in your career and move into project management, your company may even sponsor you to complete a relevant professional qualification, such as an MBA. You may also wish to take part in workshops offered by external organisations, such as the Institution of Engineering Designers (IED).
Many product designers eventually progress into project management roles. Another option is to work as a freelance product designer, where you will work for different companies on a variety of projects.