Industrial designer

,  13 March 2013

Industrial designers design and develop products that are easy to use, efficient and cost-effective.

Courses in industrial/product design are available at all levels . Image: University of the Creative Arts
Courses in industrial/product design are available at all levels . Image: University of the Creative Arts

What do industrial designers do?

Industrial designers design new products or develop existing ones. The range of products they work with is vast and encompasses everyday items small and large, from razor blades to cars.

Phones, toasters, kettles, vacuum cleaners, toys and play equipment are all designed by industrial designers who are sometimes called product designers. They often specialise in a particular type of product.

Industrial designers must design products that are easy to use, efficient and cost-effective. The look, colour and finish of the product are usually very important and often contribute greatly to its appeal for the consumer.

Industrial designers also design products and parts for industrial manufacture and production, such as medical equipment, electronic components, and systems such as heating and ventilating.

What is the job like?

Your work can vary according to the setting in which you work. It would often involve:

  • Meeting with the client or senior managers to discuss the initial concept and creating new design solutions and developing existing designs.
  • Preparing initial sketches followed by technical drawings using specialist computer assisted design 2D and 3D (CAD) software.
  • Developing a model or prototype which can then be used to progress the product to small or large-scale manufacture.
  • Using a variety of materials including polymers, wood and metals.
  • Liaising with production staff in the UK or overseas and sourcing components.
  • Employing a good knowledge of market trends and health and safely issues.
  • Assisting with project costings.

If you are designing parts for industrial manufacture, then your work may also include designing printed circuit boards. In such cases, having a strong background in engineering is important.

How do I become an industrial designer?

You will need:

  • strong technical problem-solving ability
  • creativity and imagination
  • excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • a willingness to work with the latest technologies and CAD
  • good team-working skills and excellent attention to detail
  • commercial awareness and the ability to work under pressure to tight deadlines
  • an understanding of materials and how things are put together.

Relevant school subjects include Art and Design, Design and Technology, English, IT, Maths and Physics.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Courses in industrial/product design are available at all levels within further and higher education. However, most industrial designers are graduates.

Some of the further education qualifications can also provide the entry requirements for university (at level 3).

Further education courses include:

  • BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design,) Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Architecture, Interior and Product Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Manufacturing and Product Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering.

The BTEC level 3 courses last for two years full-time and are an alternative to A levels. You will need a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes, or equivalent level 2 qualifications, and GCSE A-C English or equivalent and sometimes Maths.

The BTEC level 3 courses can lead onto higher education courses, such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses. You may be asked for a merit or distinction.

It is also possible to progress onto a level 3 qualification from a level 2 qualification, such as a BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design or Engineering.

Contact individual colleges to check entry requirements, which may vary. It is usually possible for successful students to progress from level 2 to level 3 courses.

Degree courses

Degree courses in industrial design are listed on the UCAS website. There are various subjects that encompass industrial design including:

Relevant school subjects include Art and Design, Design and Technology, English, IT, Maths and Physics.

  • BA Industrial Design
  • BA Product Design
  • BA/MA Product Design and Interaction
  • BA/MA Product Design and Manufacture
  • BSc Product Design and Technology
  • BSc Industrial Product Design.

Research course content very carefully as industrial design courses vary greatly in their emphasis. Some courses are quite interdisciplinary and include Engineering, whereas others are more design-focused. The courses which include Engineering will usually ask for Maths and or Physics at A level.

The BA courses may ask for Art and or Technology at A level and a portfolio. Always visit the university open day before applying.

Other degree courses, for example in Engineering or Manufacturing, may also be relevant.

Degree requirements

The entry requirements for a degree are a minimum of two A levels or equivalen, such as a Level 3 Diploma . You will also need English GCSE A-C or equivalent and often GCSE A-C Maths. 

Another route to art-based degree courses in Industrial Design may be via a one-year foundation course in Art and Design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels, including Art and Design or equivalent.

Two-year HND courses in Product/Industrial Design are also available. 

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships for Junior Industrial Designers might occasionally be available, listed as Junior Product Designers. 

Salary Information

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.

Junior industrial designers can expect to earn around £18,000 - £22,000. With more experience salaries can rise to between 25,000 and £30,000.

Very experienced industrial designers can earn between £45,000 and £60,000 and sometimes more.


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