How do I Become an Industrial Designer?

Angela Brady

To become an industrial designer, it is necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and complete an internship in the specialty of interest. Industrial design has traditionally meant product design, but over the years it has expanded to include packaging design, green design, exhibit design, and even some graphic design. Many industrial design students enter school not knowing which field they want to pursue, and let the content of their courses guide them in the right direction. Other students enter school with a definite idea of what they want to do, and usually change their minds and pick a different specialty before graduation. There is an option to suit everyone who wants to become an industrial designer.

An industrial designer is expected to have mastered basic drawing skills.
An industrial designer is expected to have mastered basic drawing skills.

A good industrial design program will be comprehensive, and assume that the student knows nothing of the field. The first year is spent on learning the basics of drawing and design and color theory, and the second year is spent sharpening those skills into life drawing and technical drawing. The third year is spent learning mechanical engineering, as well as various design and 3-D modeling software. The fourth year is mostly spent on graduate projects, portfolios, and internships, as well as tailoring projects to suit whatever specialty the student is gravitating towards.

Industrial designers are expected to be familiar with color theory.
Industrial designers are expected to be familiar with color theory.

Internships are usually completed during the fourth year, and are valuable tools in determining which specialty to choose. Schools generally require one six-month internship, but additional internships allow students to try out various areas of interest. It is a chance to see first-hand the work environments, job duties, and officially become an industrial designer.

A student aspiring to become an industrial designer will complete many projects during school, from concept to model, as if for a client. Many times, local businesses will sponsor a project, and the student whose project is chosen will get to see their idea brought to life. The student’s best projects and drawings go into a portfolio that is displayed for interested employers at a portfolio review, usually held after graduation. Portfolio review is a chance for the student to show off four years of hard work, and maybe even land a job.

Industrial design jobs can be difficult to find, especially in small towns. The biggest industrial design centers are located in New York, San Francisco, London, and Dubai, where massive corporations and constant development call for skilled designers of all kinds. Many companies that manufacture physical products (as opposed to services and virtual products) keep a small industrial design staff, and these companies can be based anywhere. A school with a good industrial design program will usually offer job placement assistance right around graduation.

The first job after graduation is usually more of a paid internship, where the new graduate spends time learning how to apply the skills from school in a real design office. Responsibilities are gradually increased, and after a couple of years, a promotion may follow that would entail major participation in a project. After five years, the employee is eligible to manage small projects, and after 10 years may even be promoted to the head of the design department.

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