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One might not achieve the success of Raymond Loewy, Victor Papanek, or Jonathan Ive, but a career in industrial design offers intriguing possibilities.



Imagine a career in which you are called upon to design or redesign NASA's Skylab space station, the Greyhound bus, the Shell and Exxon logos, the Coca-Cola bottle, and the interior of both Air Force One and the Air France Concorde, not to mention various things like fountain pens, postage stamps, refrigerators, jukeboxes, and locomotives. Sounds improbable, but those are only a few of the designs of Raymond Loewy, one of the foremost industrial designers of the 20th century. Though industrial design jobs don't normally encompass such a vast range of items and industries as Loewy did in his protean career, they can offer some very eclectic and intriguing opportunities to designers who possess creative and analytical talent combined with manufacturing or engineering expertise. Industrial and commercial design jobs can even provide a chance to further a humanitarian cause or benefit the environment–or simply make a lot of money.


Definitions of industrial design usually fail to capture the appeal of what are at heart, despite their utilitarian focus, creative jobs. For example, the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) defines industrial design as "the professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimize the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer." In practice, this could involve using computer-aided industrial design programs to develop products, improving the ergonomics of an existing product, creating physical models of proposed designs, participating in safety or usability tests, choosing or altering colors and textures, etc. The responsibilities of industrial design jobs thus lie somewhere between those of product development jobs, engineering jobs, and art jobs.


Few vocations draw upon such a broad range of academic disciplines as do industrial arts jobs. Most aspiring industrial designers obtain a degree or pursue coursework in subjects like industrial design, engineering, architecture, graphic design, manufacturing technology, marketing, or quality control. This fluidity of academic boundaries can make industrial design an appealing field for professionals who want to make a career change and have related experience at design engineering jobs or even art design jobs in a non-industrial environment.


As with Raymond Loewy's eminent accomplishments, the portfolios of some of the most well-known industrial designers exemplify how diverse a career in industrial design can be. The original designs of Henry Dreyfuss, the first president of the IDSA, included alarm clocks, vacuum cleaners, tractors, and telephones. Victor Papanek was a proponent of industrial designs that took social and ecological issues into account, particularly those of developing nations. One of Papanek's designs was a transistor radio made from metal food cans and powered by a candle. Contemporary industrial designer Philippe Starck has performed everything from interior design jobs for luxury hotels to renewable-energy jobs such as creating a home wind turbine for the energy company Pramac.


Yet not all industrial design careers are so varied. For example, Jonathan Ive is one of the most influential contemporary industrial designers. He was the principal designer of a few little products known as the iMac, iPod, and iPhone. As the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design for Apple, Ive is reported by The Observer to earn over $2 million per year.


Obviously, few designers attain the level of success enjoyed by Starck or Ive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that the median annual salary of commercial and industrial designers is around $55,000. However, that number does not include the 30% of industrial designers who are self-employed. It's a competitive occupation, but those who succeed can eventually move on to lead design or project management jobs. Experienced designers might also pursue teaching jobs at universities or technical colleges or start their own design firms. Others may take consulting jobs on a full-time or part-time basis.


--Joshua Avram

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