What is an Industrial Design Degree?

In essence, industrial designers design the way that we live our lives, by creating, innovating, and styling the common mass-produced items that we buy, use, and consume.

They are the professionals who research, build, and test prototypes to maximize the functionality and desirability of products, from cars to food packaging to consumer electronics. In their work, they consider characteristics like materials, size, shape, weight, color, functionality, and safety.

Students of industrial design learn in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in the design studio. They study the history of industrial design, design conceptualization, drawing, dimensional and computer-aided design, materials and processes, and model making.

In the simplest of terms, this is a degree for the person who loves art and loves to make things. It is a degree found at the intersection of science and art.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design – Four Year Duration
The Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design is typically the minimum qualification needed to work in the field. With this undergraduate degree it is generally possible to secure an entry-level position. Here are some sample courses offered at the bachelor’s level:

  • Visual Communications – foundation in three-dimensional visualization through manual sketching of contemporary designs
  • Two-Dimensional (2D) Design Principles
  • Concept Model Making
  • History of Design
  • Design Studio – the stages of product development, creative and artistic methods, objective and scientific methods
  • Technical Drawing
  • Three-Dimensional (3D) Design Principles
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Studio – studio work in the development of the CAD skills used to communicate product form and product specifications
  • Materials and Manufacturing for Design
  • Human Factors
  • Graphic Design for Industrial Design
  • Interaction Design Studio – the design of interactive products that includes the way users will interact with them
  • Multimedia Design – media presentation of projects, development of a personal portfolio of work
  • Quantitative Research Methods – data collection, sampling techniques, statistical analysis, graphic presentation of data
  • Product Design Studio – design challenges and solutions, producing design concepts that respond to materials and manufacturing processes
  • Transportation Design Studio – design principles for transportation products, safety principles, ergonomics, sight lines, sustainability
  • Sustainable Design
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Qualitative Research Methods – research methods such as interviewing, focus groups, participant observation, interpreting results
  • Design Management – industrial design business model, leadership, innovation, and corporate growth
  • Professional Practices – industrial design ethics, professional development, lifelong learning
  • Industrial Design Work Experience
  • Senior Level Design Project – a unique design project, including idea concept, sketches, research, physical models, and proof of design merit

Master’s Degree in Industrial Design – Two to Three Year Duration
The focus of the master’s program in industrial design is development of an independent thesis project that considers ergonomic, social, global, historical, ethical, and commercial aspects of design.

Here is a snapshot of the kinds of courses that may be required at the graduate level:

  • Industrial Design Technology – analysis of a manufacturing process as the basis of design, review of materials and processes
  • Color Workshop – examination of how humans perceive color and light and how that information can be used in design
  • 3D Design – advanced 3D design
  • Drawing – the use of drawing as a thinking and learning tool
  • Prototypes / Design Studio – design and building of a complete and useful product prototype
  • Model Making – forming, cutting, joining, and finishing models, photographing and presenting models
  • Computer-Aided Industrial Design (CAID) – evaluation of CAID in relation to traditional methods of industrial design
  • The Future of Industrial Design – a look to the future of industrial design from the perspectives of human needs and human problems
  • Digital Ideation – how to make the best use of digital tools and techniques in prototyping
  • Sustainability and Production – developing concepts that minimize environmental impacts of products
  • The Design Business – protecting intellectual property in the design of new consumer products

Degrees Similar to Industrial Design

Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering degree programs teach the analytical, computational, and engineering and design skills needed to work in the aerospace industry. Students learn how to apply this knowledge to the manufacturing, testing, and monitoring of civil or commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles, rockets, spacecraft, lunar vehicles, and space stations.

A degree in architecture will appeal to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for both the sciences and the arts. This is because architecture is itself the art and science of designing and engineering structures and buildings. It is a field with a foundation in creativity, technology, and social and cultural trends.

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Commercial Art
Professionals in this field combine art and business by using their creative skills to market and sell products and services. The degree gives students a background in branding, account planning and management, as well as the aesthetic concepts of color theory and composition.

Drafting Technology
This degree field teaches students to use computer programs to create specialized drawings that are used in engineering, construction, and manufacturing.

Fashion Design
A degree program in fashion design teaches students how to develop artistic ideas and concepts and transform them into wearable clothing and accessories. The typical curriculum is built around the four basic elements of fashion design: color, silhouette/shape, line, and texture. Students learn that each of these elements can create identity and meaning, they can convey certain emotions, they can be flattering or unflattering, and they can trick the eye.

Classes in fashion design programs cover the history of design, fashion sketching, pattern drafting, and computer-aided fashion design.

Graphic Design
The goal of graphic design is to produce visual concepts to communicate messages. The discipline uses layout, color, and other creative concepts to design logos and branding packages that inspire and captivate consumers.

Industrial Engineering
Industrial engineering majors learn how to improve the way that industries and organizations, such as hospitals and factories, operate. They draw on their knowledge in math, science, business, and psychology to consider factors like materials, equipment, and people.

Interior Design
Design degree programs in interior design teach students how to apply both technical/scientific and creative/artistic solutions to produce functional and attractive spaces within a building.

Mechanical Engineering
Students of mechanical engineering learn how to research, design, develop, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, sensors, engines, and machines. These devices serve many industries, including the aerospace, medical, energy, and manufacturing sectors. In addition to coursework in engineering and design, degree programs in the field include classes in mathematics, life sciences, and physical sciences.

Skills You’ll Learn

Appreciation for Product Marketability
It is important for industrial designers to design products that are commercially viable and appealing to a market segment.

Attention to Detail
Creating precise drawings with correct measurements that can be used by contractors and sub-contractors is a critical skill developed in industrial design school.

Capacity to Work to Deadlines
Industrial design must respond to market demand, and this means being able to meet deadlines.

Creativity / Artistic Ability / Sense of Style
Coming up with the style and choosing the material for a product takes an artistic eye and out-of-the-box thinking.

Drawing Skills / Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
The ability to present an idea in a manual or computer generated drawing can be used in any business sector.

Innovative ideas are meant to be showcased and shared. This is a skill that industrial design students learn throughout their professional training. It is also a skill that is useful in multiple occupations.

Problem-Solving / Research / Design Thinking
Problem-solving in the industrial design field is often referred to as ‘design thinking.’ Early on in their education, industrial design students are taught to consider a problem from multiple perspectives before arriving at a solution.

Relationship Building / Teamwork
Early on in industrial design school, students are required to work on projects with fellow students. Once they begin practising in the field, they become aware of the need to communicate and collaborate with contractors, subcontractors, engineers, and clients. The capacity to build relationships and work in teams is applicable to virtually every walk of life.

Spatial Reasoning and Visualization
The skill to think about and visualize products in three dimensions is fundamental to industrial design.

What Can You Do with an Industrial Design Degree?

There are four primary fields of industrial design, in which graduates of the discipline typically work:

Commercial Design
The majority of industrial designers work in this primary segment of the field and are employed by manufacturers of all kinds of products.

Commercial design is primarily driven by the market and the desire for profitability. Its focus is on designing and creating safe, useful, aesthetically pleasing, and affordable products that consumers want and/or need and that make money. Manufactured products that fall into this category of industrial design are almost endless, because they include almost everything we use on a daily basis.

Some examples are medical aids and equipment, automobile bodies and interiors, furniture, televisions, appliances, light fixtures, flashlights, cell phones, cameras, clocks and watches, speakers, headphones, dishware, barbecues, cutlery, kitchen utensils, razors and shavers, toothbrushes, textiles, tools, toys, bicycles, skateboards, snowboards, helmets, sports footwear, umbrellas, pens, and scissors. And the list goes on.

Responsible Design
The intention of this area of industrial design is one of service, even compassion. Industrial designers who work in this subfield develop products that help people in need.

Products from the responsible design sector include things like cutlery and kitchen utensils or special needs keyboards designed for people with limited manual dexterity. Responsible design products can, of course, be commercialized, but because of their narrower target market, they are not considered purely commercial designs.

Experimental Design
The objective of experimental design is to explore and to imagine. The products that experimental industrial designers come up with are generally not commercialized yet. They are concepts, possibilities, and futuristic prototypes.

Discursive Design
Discursive designs are meant to express an idea, to make a statement, to voice a hope. These designs can be both commercial and discursive, that is to say both profitable and provocative. For example, plastic waste recovered from our oceans is being used to make designer sunglasses.

In addition to designing specific products for manufacturing companies, industrial designers may do other kinds of work. Possibilities include:

  • Product packaging design
  • Industrial design research
  • Exhibit design
  • Television / movie / theater set design
  • Consulting to architectural firms
  • Consulting to engineering firms
  • Consulting to interior design firms
  • Self-employment


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