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Industrial design is one of those ubiquitous fields that many people don’t know how to describe. One industrial designer said, “I can't count how many times I have been asked if my title means I design large industrial plants and buildings. No! I design athletic shoes!”

Some industrial designers do overlap into architecture--take, for instance, designer Michael Graves, whose building designs gained international acclaim long before he started designing best-selling household goods for Target stores. But no matter the product, you can bet an industrial designer had a hand in its development. From housewares to heavy machinery, designers are constantly creating concepts for consumer goods: sketching, making models, and working with clients and engineers on product specifications, manufacturing, and logistics.

Like other design fields (graphic design, for instance), industrial design is the unfolding of art into commodity--which is to say, a chance to work in a challenging, creative field and not eat ramen every day. Industrial designers--working with engineers, marketers, ergonomic experts, and, of course, clients--spend their time creating fresh, new or improved, user-centered products and environments that increase the aesthetic and efficiency of everyday life.

Degree Information

Most graduate schools with an Industrial Design department offer an MA, an MFA, or both. The MA is a 45-credit program, while the more in-depth MFA program--commonly considered the terminal degree in the field--requires 90 credits. Both programs center on themes of advanced design management, inquiry, and innovation. A thesis or research project is usually required.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Are you a creative thinker who enjoys solving problems?
  • Are you a good communicator and collaborator?
  • Can you think three-dimensionally and visualize clearly?
  • Can you set aside your personal tastes to design commercially for a target market?
  • Does the school you’re considering have good connections to local industry?
  • Does the program offer courses in specific areas of industrial design that interest you?

Career Overview

Industrial designers work in product, industrial, and environmental fields, dreaming and drawing new and better approaches to daily life through design. Potential careers include designing toys, signage, props and exhibitions, household goods, electronics, athletic gear, scientific and medical instruments, recreational and transportation equipment, and more.

The job market can be limited by location. For example, most footwear design in the U.S. is based in the Pacific Northwest or New England area, whereas the auto industry is largely located in Michigan.

Also, if you’re the competitive sort, you’ll be happy to note that there are numerous annual contests and awards for fresh, innovative design. One example is the Industrial Designers Society of America’s IDEA award, which recognizes both professional and student design contributions.

Career/Licensing Requirements

There are no licensing requirements in the field of Industrial Design.

Salary Information

The national average for an entry-level industrial designer is between $38,800 and $47,200. A senior position could be attained after five years in the industry, and the average salary for a senior designer ranges from $58,000 to $71,000.

Related Links

Industrial Designers Society of America
Links to conferences, seminars, strategies, contests, jobs, and more.

Centre for Sustainable Design
A Brit-based organization focused on eco-design and sustainability issues.

Core77 Design Network
A fun, flashy site packed with discussions, blogs, articles, and trade news.


  • Contemporary Art

  • Advanced Computer Application

  • Advanced Product Design

  • Applied Theory And Management In Industrial Design

  • Art Criticism

  • Computer Modeling

  • Directed Studies In Industrial Design

  • Furniture Research And Development

  • Graduate Seminar In Methodology

  • Industrial Design Studio

  • Outstanding Designers

  • Professional Practices In Industrial Design