When you go to a store and buy a cool new PDA or pair of sunglasses or a computer mouse, you’re seeing the end result of a design process that may have started with a drawing on a scrap of paper. Commercial and industrial designers create products that are attractive, durable, and make our lives easier.
Automobiles, microwave ovens, pens, computers, toys, garden tools, motorcycles, desk lamps, shoes – people use millions of different consumer products and industrial goods every day. Some items, like the old-fashioned mousetrap, have been around for centuries. Others, like the portable MP3 player or advanced video game controller, didn’t exist ten years ago. And some, like the rotary dial telephone, have become obsolete and have disappeared.
Who designs these things? Commercial and industrial designers combine the fields of engineering, art, and business to design the products people use every day. Designers are responsible for the function, appearance, quality, and safety of manufactured consumer products. They get trained in basic design and then generally specialize in one particular product category, especially if it is highly complex, such as automobiles or computers.
Designers sometimes have to create new products (such as the iPod), or they may update familiar products (such as toasters or office chairs). In the design process there are several important factors to consider:
Cost. No matter how extraordinary the idea, the manufacturer always has to consider the cost of production. Even the coolest new gadget won’t sell if it is too expensive. Everyday gadgets, like the toasters sold at Target, must be priced competitively.
Style. Some products, like claw hammers, need to look rugged and functional. Other products, like MP3 players, need to look trendy. A few, like the cell phone you can drop in the water, are both. Designers work within the requirements set by the manufacturer.
Functionality. No matter how cool a product looks, it has to work well and provide benefit to the user. Computer products from Apple are popular not just because they are stylish, but because they deliver a high level of functionality.
Quality. Products that are defective or contain design flaws can cost the company its market reputation. Returns are costly, and when products fail there can even be lawsuits. A well-designed product will have parts that fit together, work smoothly, and have a long service life.
Safety. The federal government has laws that address product safety, including everything from mandating seat belts in cars to prohibiting lead paint on toys. Product designers must be aware of these regulations, and create products that meet applicable safety standards.
What kind of training do you need? Most entry-level commercial and industrial design jobs require a bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering. Coursework may include drawing, computer-aided design (CAD), principles of design, and manufacturing methods and materials. Many designers also study engineering, physical science, or mathematics, depending upon the area of specialization.
How’s the job outlook? According to the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the current decade 2008-2018 there will be increasing demand for commercial and industrial designers because of the continued focus on the safety and quality of consumer products. In addition, job growth in this category will be fueled by the development of high-technology products in medicine, consumer electronics, transportation, and other fields, and the increasing demand for new products that are easy and comfortable to use.
How do you look for a training program? The fastest way to get started is to log onto a reputable college directory website. You can search for programs using keywords such as “engineering” or “Florida colleges.” You can read about the colleges or grad schools that meet your criteria. Don’t forget to check out online or hybrid (online and on-campus) programs. Then you can request free information from the schools that meet your criteria. Compare programs, schedules, financial aid, and job placement services. Then apply to the schools that are right for you. If you are creative and want to use advanced technology, a career as a commercial or industrial designer may be right for you. In less time than you think you could be training for a rewarding new career.