Commercial and Industrial Designers Overview

The commercial and industrial designer works with a variety of specialists including engineers, marketing and corporate strategy staff, materials scientists, cost estimators, and accountants.

Nature of the Work for Commercial and Industrial Designers

Commercial and Industrial Designers

The commercial and industrial designers work is combined with the field of art, business, and engineering to create products for everyday use. The designers are responsible for the style and function of the goods including the safety of the product. Commercial and industrial designers usually work in one product category ranging from automobiles to house wares.

The very first step in creating a new design is to determine the requirements and needs of the client, the product’s purpose, and the tastes of the customer. Researching the product is the first thing required and the context in which the product will be used is determined. Factors such as size, shape, weight and color are characteristics that need to be decided. The designers meet with the client, conduct market research, read consumer information, attend trade shows and, often visit with manufacturers and suppliers.

Sketches and designs are prepared next, either by hand or computer, to illustrate the vision of the product. Designers create sketches or drawings with a computer-aided design tool called CAD. This device along with other computer tools helps in the design process to help speed up the process. The designers who work for industrial firms use an industrial design tool, CAID, to create designs and readable instructions for machines that can help automated production tools build the product designed to exact specifications.

The commercial and industrial designers present their designs along with a prototype to their clients for any changes or suggestions. The designers also work with engineers, accountants, and the cost estimator to decide if a product can be improved for safety, use, or cost efficiency. Safety tests and use of the sample prototypes by consumers are often done prior to the product’s completion or manufacture.

It is important to make sure that a design fits into the company’s business plan, so the commercial and industrial designer will often work with the corporate strategy staff. Working with the marketing staff occurs to develop plans that will be best used by consumers. The designer also tries to make sure that the design is accurately portrayed to reflect the company’s image and values. The commercial and industrial designer must of course try to develop and create innovative products before their competitor does.

Commercial and industrial designers work in offices with comfortable surroundings. Smaller companies may hire designers to work under a contract to handle specific tasks or jobs. Adjusting their schedules to meet their client’s needs may be necessary as well. Consultants and those designers who are self-employed may work longer hours in small offices to meet deadlines.

Designers may often work in their own offices or even in their client’s home or office. Traveling to locations for product testing, exhibitor sites, design centers and, manufacturing facilities may also be part of the designer’s job requirements. Computers can help designers form international design teams and also to help serve more clients over a wider geographic area.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Commercial and Industrial Designers

A bachelor’s degree is needed for most positions in commercial and industrial design at an entry level. The degree should be with a major in industrial design, architecture, or engineering. Coursework involves classes in design, sketching, computer-aided design, manufacturing methods, and industrial materials and processes. Classes in engineering, physical science, mathematics and psychology are also helpful.

Many are pursuing a master’s degree in business administration to increase experience in business and to gain an understanding of how products fit into a firm’s business plan.

Accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design usually occurs from about 300 postsecondary colleges, private institutes that have programs in art and design as well as universities.

Qualifications of commercial and industrial designers include creativity as well as technical knowledge. Having a strong sense for color and detail, balance, and proportion is also very important. Knowledge of computer-aided software is usually required by employers, but knowing how to sketch designs is still very important. Having a good portfolio of one’s work samples is often the deciding factor when getting a job.

Imagination and persistence, good communication skills, both visual and verbal, are important. Designers need to stay abreast of new trends and have the ability to implement new ideas. Time management, self discipline and the ability to meet deadlines is crucial for commercial and industrial designers.

Good business sense as well as a sales ability is important and having knowledge in accounting, marketing, purchasing and quality control will also be helpful.

On the job training is common for beginning commercial and industrial designers. A few years of training is customary before advancement to high level positions can occur. An experienced commercial and industrial designer can advance to positions including chief designer, department head of design, or a supervisory position. Designers can leave the field to teach at colleges or universities, and often do consulting work in their time away from teaching.

Top 10 Most Popular Industrial Design Schools

1. Clemson University (Clemson, South Carolina)
2. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (Brooklyn, New York)
3. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, Georgia)
4. Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, California)
5. College for Creative Studies (Detroit, Michigan)
6. University of Cincinnati, Main Campus (Cincinnati, Ohio)
7. Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, Rhode Island)
8. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
9. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main Campus (Atlanta, Georgia)
10. Auburn University, Main Campus (Auburn University, Alabama)

See All Industrial Design Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Commercial and Industrial Designers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Employment for designers is expected to grow faster than average in the future. Although fierce competition is expected, those designers with strong backgrounds in computer-aided design and business knowledge will have the best job opportunities. Jobs in the commercial and industrial design field are expected to grow as fast as average for this field. Growth in employment will occur from consumer and business demand for new or upgraded products. Continued demand for new and innovative designs, improved quality, and development of high-technology products will cause demand for commercial and industrial designers in their field.

Some slowness in growth will occur when some firms are using design companies overseas. These firms are closer to their manufacturers and suppliers, which will reduce the time it takes to design and sell a product.

Design work will become more consumer-driven allowing designers to work closely with their customers and react to their demands for changes in products.

Employment of commercial and industrial designers will be affected by changes in the economy with economic downturns causing companies to cut their research and spending which would also reduce new product development.

Earnings and Salary for Commercial and Industrial Designers

Median annual wage-and-salary wages for commercial and industrial designers are $58,060. The middle 50 percent earn between $42,040 and $77,300. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $31,810, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $95,910.

Annual Salary for Commercial and Industrial Designers

On average, Commercial and Industrial Designers earn $58,060 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $31,810/yr $42,040/yr $77,300/yr $95,910/yr

Hourly Wage for Commercial and Industrial Designers

On average, Commercial and Industrial Designers earn $27.92 per hour.

10% 25% 75% 90% $15.29 $20.21 $37.16 $46.11

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook