Is an Industrial Design Degree Worth It?

industrial design

Key Takeaways

  • An industrial design degree merges creativity with practical skills, essential for a career in diverse design-driven industries.
  • Career prospects in industrial design are promising, but the financial and time investment should be carefully considered.
  • Personal passion for design and the ability to adapt to market trends are key to success in industrial design.

    Understanding Industrial Design and Its Impact

    Every modern product has undergone an extensive product development and design process. Food products, smart gadgets, and consumer products are a few of these modern products. 

    Industrial design is the professional practice behind the design of products and services. Their practitioners, known as industrial designers, usually have an industrial design degree. But many also start their careers with a related degree, such as graphic design.

    Regardless of degree and industry, industrial designers work behind the scenes. But their work is critical in moving products and services off the shelves. 

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    This is because consumers buy with their eyes first. In other words, aesthetics matter in purchasing decisions. When customers like what they see, they’ll likely patronize the product and service. 

    Industrial designers use different techniques to achieve visual appeal and engagement. Colors, patterns, and materials are common techniques. 

    However, industrial designers aren’t only concerned about physical appearance. Industrial designers must also consider these factors in product design: 

    • Improved product functionality 

    Industrial designers must understand the consumers’ needs, preferences, and pain points. Their design process also prioritizes ergonomics, comfort, and intuitive features. The final products have functional features and are comfortable to use. 

    • Enhanced user experience 

    Every product feature must contribute to enhanced user experience, too. Smartphones, for example, must have intuitive user interfaces. 

    • Increased sustainability 

    Industrial design can contribute to sustainable product manufacturing processes, too. Efficient manufacturing processes are within its realm. The use of recyclable and eco-friendly materials is also a popular method. Sustainable product design adds value and improves user satisfaction, too.  

    • Improved brand recall and emotional connection 

    Brand recall can result in emotional connections between a product and its consumers. Product design promotes brand recall since it’s the brand’s visual image. Industrial designers use their skills to design products that evoke positive emotions. 

    Indeed, industrial design can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. But it isn’t an easy job. 

    Industrial designers must be creative and practical during the product design process. Being technology-savvy is also a must for success. Industrial designers use many technologies and techniques. These include CAD and CAM software, 3D printing, and augmented and virtual reality. 

    The convergence of creativity, practicality, and technology makes industrial design challenging. However, its rewards make the challenges worthwhile. 

    For one thing, industrial designers are in high demand across a wide range of industries. These include consumer electronics, automotive, medical devices, and sports equipment industries. These professionals are also well-paid, meaning a good return on investment. 

    The Academic Path: Levels of Industrial Design Degrees

    Colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate industrial design degrees. Note the natural progression between degree levels and their corresponding benefits. 

    In general, the higher the degree level, the higher the income potential. But the cost and time investments increase with a higher degree level. Keep these in mind when determining your first degree choice and next decisions.  

    Associate Degree 

    If you’re interested in an industrial design career but want to test it first, go for an associate degree. Community colleges offer it for an affordable cost. Students gain a foundational understanding of industrial design and its principles. Graduates qualify for support roles but earn a bachelor’s degree for promotions. 

    Bachelor’s Degree 

    Students earn a bachelor’s degree in 2-4 years, depending on their transfer credits. The comprehensive curriculum provides a broad understanding of industrial design theories and principles. There’s more emphasis on breadth of knowledge, not depth. Courses cover design research, product design, and user experience, and more. 

    Graduates qualify for entry-level and mid-level roles in industrial design. Career advancement is within reach with extensive work experience and performance. 

    Master’s Degree

    Students in master’s degree programs gain a depth of knowledge in industrial design. The advanced courses focus on specialized areas, such as advanced digital modeling. Students gain a deeper understanding of research and innovation in industrial design, too. 

    Many leadership and academic positions require a master’s degree. The higher earning potential usually offsets the cost of education. 

    Students in every degree level complete a portfolio and gain practical experience. These aren’t only for compliance with academic requirements either. 

    Your portfolio is tangible proof of your creativity, practicality, and tech-savvy skills. By assembling your best work, you’re increasing your employability prospects. You can use it to highlight your industrial design process, too. 

    Internships and personal design projects are excellent opportunities to gain practical experience. Your theoretical knowledge becomes practical skills. You have opportunities to expand your network and learn from the pros. Your access to resources also improves. 

    With your portfolio and practical experience, you can present a holistic picture of your potential. 

    On another note, which is best: on-campus or online programs? Both types of programs are great for industrial design education. But be sure to enroll only in a program offered by a regionally accredited institution. 

    Is an online design program worth it? Yes, it is. Again, regional accreditation is key. Check the online program’s curriculum, instruction quality, and graduate outcomes, too. 

    Career Opportunities and Professional Growth

    Becoming an industrial designer after earning a bachelor’s degree is popular. With median annual wages of $73,250 (May 2023), they earn well. 

    An industrial design degree also opens opportunities for these occupations. (Dollar amounts are the national annual average salary) 

    • Color specialists ($46,577) 
    • Graphic designers ($50,656) 
    • Production designers ($56,442) 
    • CAD designers ($64,620)
    • Interior designers ($64,912)
    • Production managers ($77,988) 
    • Industrial engineers ($80,816) 
    • Product managers ($105,434) 
    • Product designers ($115,589) 
    • Design researchers ($122,486) 
    • UX researchers ($124,218) 

    Note that these occupations have different hiring requirements. Many leadership positions and specialized roles require a master’s degree. Extensive work experience and excellent work performance are a must, too. This is true for managerial positions like production and product managers. 

    Note that these occupations have different hiring requirements. Many leadership positions and specialized roles need a master’s degree. Extensive work experience and excellent work performance are a must, too. This is true for managerial positions like production and product managers. 

    Many high-paying occupations also don’t need a master’s degree. However, continuing education and professional development are a must for these reasons. 

    • Being an expert in a specific industrial design niche breeds trust and credibility. Your master’s degree boosts your professional profile. 
    • Earning a master’s degree results in depth and breadth of technical knowledge. Your decision-making and problem-solving skills also improve. You’re more prepared for the risks and challenges associated with leadership positions. 
    • Staying updated is vital for long-term success. Consumer behaviors, market trends, and technologies are in constant flux. Continuous learning equals adaptability and resilience. 

    The bottom line: An associate’s or bachelor’s degree opens doors. Lifelong learning keeps them open for career opportunities. 

    Many industries have a high demand for industrial designers and related professionals. There’s sufficient space for new graduates and established professionals. Of course, it’s important to leverage your college education, work experience, and work performance.

    As for the return on investment, an industrial design degree pays off. With high salaries, even for entry-level positions, recouping your monetary investment within a few years is possible. 

    Let’s assume that the cost of earning an industrial design degree is $36,500 per year, including incidental and living expenses. If you earn $76,250 per year as an industrial designer, you can recoup your investment in under two years.

    Even if you incur higher costs from earning a master’s degree, you can recoup them within a few years, too. Your higher income will make it possible. 

    The trick is choosing a public college, if possible, and applying for financial aid. Effective financial management is essential, too. 

    The economic viability of an industrial design degree also rests on emerging technologies and sustainability issues. You must keep abreast of these aspects if you want to remain relevant. 

    Making an Informed Decision: Is Industrial Design the Right Choice for You?

    While an industrial design career has its rewards, don’t lose sight of the challenges, too. You must determine if you have the passion and temperament for industrial design. During your self-assessment, you should ask yourself: 

    • Do I love creating new designs and bringing new ideas to life? 
    • Do I incline towards the use of creative technology in everyday objects? 
    • Do I have both creativity and tech-savvy skills? 
    • Do I welcome criticism even if I consider it my best work? 

    If you answered “Yes” to most questions, then consider an industrial design degree. Otherwise, you may well be on the wrong path.

    How about choosing between an on-campus and online program? Both are great choices, as we said before, so your choice is a personal decision. Your lifestyle, learning style, and financial resources must be considered in your choice.