Job descriptions and industry overviews

Industrial/product designer: job description

21 Jun 2023, 15:38

Industrial/product designers create new products that are innovative, practical and suitable for manufacturing, and develop enhancements to existing products to make them more usable.

Two industrial designers working together on product ideas

What does an industrial designer do? Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Industrial designers (also known as product designers) develop and test designs for items that will be manufactured, from cars and home appliances to digital devices. The role brings together creativity with practicality as it involves coming up with innovative ideas, testing them and refining them to ensure they’re usable and that they meet customers’ needs.

Typical duties include:

  • consulting managers and clients about design requirements
  • clarifying and solving design issues
  • researching users’ needs
  • investigating appropriate materials and production processes
  • producing sketches, sample designs and prototypes
  • testing product designs using specialist computer software and computer-aided design (CAD) technology
  • maintaining an awareness of current design trends and influences
  • liaising with sales, marketing and production departments
  • correcting product faults
  • presenting designs, samples and final work to customers for evaluation.

Some software organisations and teams employ product designers to develop apps and other digital tools. Although the job title is the same, product designers in software firms focus on user experience (UX) rather than manufacture of physical items.

Graduate salaries

Starting salaries for product designers tend to be around £29,000, according to job comparison site Glassdoor. Your earnings will increase as you gain experience: average salaries are around £43,000.

Typical employers of industrial/product designers

  • Vehicle manufacturers
  • Domestic product manufacturers
  • Food and drink manufacturers
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • Manufacturers of household items and products
  • Design consultancies.

Once you have experience, you could become self-employed, taking on contract work or focusing on a specific industry. As with self-employment in other industries, you’ll need a network of contacts, good business sense and a determined and rigorous approach to the work.

Jobs are advertised by careers services and university departments. They’re also advertised by specialist recruitment agencies and on sector-specific jobs sites such as

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into this profession for school leavers and graduates.

Graduates will need a degree or a higher national diploma (HND) in a design-related subject such as product or spatial design. If you have a degree in a different subject but relevant experience, you could consider a postgraduate course. You could also consider this route if you’re keen to work in a specialist area such as ceramics, as the course is likely to offer opportunities to build hands-on skills.

Work experience will strengthen your job applications. If your degree doesn’t include a placement year, look for vacation work, freelance opportunities and design competitions. If you’re a student member of the Chartered Society of Designers, you can use its events and online resources to build a network and find jobs and work experience opportunities.

You’ll need a portfolio to show recruiters evidence of your work. You can use examples from your course, designs created during work experience and personal projects you’ve developed.

School leavers can look for apprenticeships in product design. These involve studying towards a degree in product design while working in a related job.

Once you’re working, you could aim for chartered status with the Chartered Society of Designers. To become chartered, you will need to have been a practising designer for five or more years, and will need to submit a detailed application and portfolio, including evidence of continuing professional development (CPD).

Key skills for industrial/product designers

Employers in this sector will be looking for:

  • excellent technical and creative skills
  • the ability to use and learn specialist design software
  • a good eye for detail
  • commercial awareness
  • the ability to explain your ideas to non experts
  • interpersonal and teamworking skills.

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