Industrial/product designers are responsible for the design, creation, testing and development of new products. These guys utilise their specialist knowledge and practical experience of creative design and engineering to produce functional, effective and aesthetically pleasing products.
Product designers can get their teeth into all kinds of projects across a range of different industries. For instance, you might be designing anything from toys, kitchen utensils and office equipment to medical devices, laboratory apparatus and industrial contraptions.
The products you design may be intended for limited production or mass manufacturing and, therefore, they will need to be optimised accordingly. Product designers don’t just design new-fangled, exciting products; they may also make vital modifications to existing designs in order to improve their functionality or visual appeal.
Industrial/product designers are employed by industrial organisations, manufacturing companies and private consulting firms in the design, engineering and technology industries, while others may work in high-tech research and development laboratories.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be discussing design requirements, technical specifications and other criteria with clients and other members of the design team. Following this consultation period, you’ll be responsible for preparing detailed drawings of the product, before developing sample prototypes for testing purposes. You’ll be conducting tests that assess the product’s durability in response to adverse conditions and unfavourable situations.
After the testing process, you’ll be making essential tweaks and adjustments to the design and optimising every little detail. You’ll then be tasked with setting out the guidelines and procedures that will be employed in the full-scale production process, especially surrounding quality assurance.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for product designers in the early stages of their careers range between £19,000 and £35,000 per annum, while design professionals with more than 10 years of experience can earn up to £60,000 per annum.
As you gain more experience, you may wish to become a freelance product designer, where you will be paid on a daily contract rate or on a project-by-project basis. Contract rates vary widely, but generally you will be paid more as your reputation improves and your portfolio expands.
Industrial/product designers need to be flexible about their working schedules, as they may frequently be required to work extra hours, especially when it comes to meeting tight deadlines.
A degree in a relevant engineering, science or design discipline is highly recommended for candidates looking to break into this line of work. While there is a scope to specialise in technical or creative aspects separately, gaining a qualification that combines creative and technical aspects is advantageous for expanding your job options.
Consequently, subjects such as 3D design, spatial design, materials science, product design and industrial design are ideal. Most positions will also require you to have a practical knowledge of computer-aided design software (CAD).
Training & progression
Training and development programmes are mostly offered internally, involving theoretical learning sessions and gaining hands-on experience under the supervision of senior product designers.
Some larger companies in the automotive and manufacturing sectors even offer bespoke graduate development programmes for talented young people or professionals with less than three years of experience in the field.
Obtaining professional credentials from recognised industry bodies, such as the Design Business Association (DBA), are essential for career progression into senior technical roles and managerial positions.
If you want to continue down the technical route, you could even work towards gaining status as an incorporated or chartered design engineer.
Other designers move into project management positions, focusing their efforts on strategic decision-making and business development. Unfortunately though, this may involve taking a step back from the hands-on technical side of things.