Am I wasting my time pursuing ID / Product Design?

Hi everyone who reads this:

I am at crossroads right now trying to determine if this is all worth it or not in the long run.

I’m applying to learn product design, possibly at CCS or Kendall. If I have an excellent portfolio when I complete my four years, what kind of opportunities await?
I understand this is a very competitive field, but surely people wouldn’t pursue it if it wasn’t worth SOMETHING, right?

I see on this forum, many posts about people who are having difficulty finding work. That would really suck after taking out giant loans… I am directly on this path if I fail to find work when done. The schools all tell me that they have a 98% job placement program afterwards. Is this even true? Do they mean jobs that place you in at a pay rate of $30,000? I already made $40,000/yr (not really great at all) and I have no degree yet (illustration) before I got layed off. I am going to school to hopefully make more than that. Of course if I continued at that job, I would ALWAYS make that 40k… there would never be an opportunity for me to grow like a degree would have helped me to… so NOT getting a degree is a moot point.

I don’t want to wait twenty years after I graduate to finally get an $80,000 / yr job. I know you need good experience and a solid portfolio to get good pay, but can anyone tell me for example how frequently jobs appear for PD and what level of pay I can expect after say 5 years of experience?

Last, are there any people on here who have started their own successful ID company? I mean people who either work on one-off jobs for say Herman-Miller one month and then another month work on something for a sporting goods maker? And still make enough to live off of? Are there people on here who start their own company and are able to manufacture their own furniture and sell it via web/bricks’n mortar showroom?

Any helpful advice and suggestions are appreciated. On a side note, I am extremely passionate about product, houseware and furniture design. I do NOT have an ego and do not think I am the “best” at anything. I like to collaborate with everyone rather than look at other designers as my “competition”. Should I have a more competitive attitude to be successful in this field?

If this is true you’ve answered your own question.

Yo, this is certainly true. I understand where you’re coming from, but maybe I should rephrase:

Is this field FINANCIALLY worth the effort? Even if in the long run? Is it common to make $80,000 after say 5-7 years of solid experience with a very strong portfolio?

$80,000 depends on location.

I live very comfortably on half of that and get to do something i absolutely love, but i am in a small town in midwest, cost of living is nothing here. (1.5 yrs experience) I’d expect at least around 3/4 of 80,000 if i was in LA or something. So it’s possible, but you’d have to be in a place where that kind of salary is necessary.

I’m talking about average young designer experience ( as I understand it). If you’re f’ing awesome, who knows? I’m decent, I’m not “omigawd amazing”.

ID isn’t exactly a “get ridiculously wealthy by the time you’re 35” field. it’s an emotionally rewarding occupation…it’s a luxury to have a job you actually truly love.

i live in the midwest too if you consider michigan midwest. I don’t MIND living here. I just want to ensure that I’ll find SOME kind of job in my field when I graduate. I would greatly enjoy designing furniture and housewares.

Can you provide any info on your state – Wisconsin I presume? I have heard Madison is a nice progressive community with a brainy population. Is there a lot of manufacturing to support the design?

Thank you![/list]

if you are willing to relocate, there will always be a position somewhere that needs to be filled. it’s definitely a competitive field and getting more so as ID gets more press, but if you are passionate, hard-working and motivated, you’ll get a job that pays well. i do believe that working on either coasts is more challenging. more people gravitate to cities like LA, SF, NYC, etc… and therefore the salary market is tighter, but not impossible. i live reasonably well in NYC with a salary in the 40s… and i have loans up my a**!

I’d say you have just the right qualities to be in this field (no ego, passion, collaboration etc) and we need more people like you. There is more than enough ego stroking intellectual masturbators in this business to go around. The most successful people I know have no egos issues. Having had experience in both I can tell you that working in a corporation probably will decrease your chances of making a lot of $ in comparison to working on your own. I left my corporate job to work on my own and I got a 25% raise by doing so. That said you probably should gain some experience at a corporation or consultancy before you venture out on your own. If you don’t want to take out “giant loans” you can do what I did. Apply for scholarship. I got a scholarship every semester and my last year I practically got paid to go to school. If there is will there is a way. The question is, how willing are you?

reading the passionate and helpful replies may be my small little note might worth a thought.

I don’t think anyone should pick anything because that makes money. Of course you have to consider the opportunity costs of doing so. What I did was, I buffer my cost by taking 2 years out to work for part of the costs. I was right. When I graduated, it was a bad time to find jobs. But because I planned before hand I wasn’t in big debt like most others did. I was also fortunate to land in a job only 2 days after touch down when even ivy league grads fail to get jobs. Why did I get the job ? Because I was passionate about it and that was a trait to find a job in the first place.

As for pay wise, if you are creative, it shouldn’t be a problem if you are good. When your interest and talent is there, money will find you somehow.
We are supposed to be very creative you know. good luck :slight_smile:

curious side point here: I’ve always thought living in the States cost you a bomb especially after having half your income being taxed. Maybe I am misinformed ? Living on 40K is very low !

No, living in America is not all that expensive compared to other highly-industrialized countries. I have heard the same about Europe that it is extremely expensive to live no matter what country (except maybe extreme east europe - bulgaria etc). Because the US is a very large nation with a very large population, the cost of goods and services is quite low due to so many people buying constantly. There are many regions as well to choose from to live, such as the Midwest (where I’m from), the South, East Coast, South East (florida, georgia), West coast (California), Southwest (arizona, new mexico, maybe texas), Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington), etc… There are many housing markets where you can find a very decent home for $50,000. Many people who live in San Diego or Boston probably laugh at this statement of mine, but I live in a state that one can easily find – around that price – a cozy 1200 sq ft 3 bedroom 1.5 bath home in a fairly safe but definitely not upscale neighborhood. Of course the economy of Michigan is pretty crappy, but San Antonio Texas is a great place to live with a very decent economy and if you check out some of the homes you can get there for say $150,000 you will be amazed. Brand new homes, 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 car garage, new suburb… Having lived in Canada for many years too, I can tell you that the US is less expensive as a whole than our neighbor to the north. FIrst of all ,they’ve been paying $4 / gallon for gas for a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time and even more nowadays. Plus provinces like Ontario have a 15% tax on everything (gst, pst). Even though I enjoy traveling and meeting new peoples and new cultures and eating delicious new foods, I definitely enjoy living here in America. It’s really a great place to live. There’s 50 states to choose from to live in, and it’s much more diverse than people think. I know people around the world have stereotypes about it here, but many of the bad ones simply aren’t true. Americans over all are pretty nice people who just happen to live in a very industrialized society.

America is a great place to live if you have lots of money. It is not so great however for the 45 million people who live here without healthcare, just as an example. There’s more to it than cost of living. The cost of living in Zimibabwe is low but so is also the quality of life. America ranks as # 13 in the Quality of life Index for 2005. I’m certainly not so naive as to claiming its all bad (especially not for me personally who live quite comfortably here) but it is also not “all good” either. A mobile home in a trailer park costs more than $50 000 so I think it is a bit misleading to state that you can easily find a descent home for that amount. I suppose it depends on your definition of “descent”. You will most certainly see quite a rapid change in both gas prices and healthcare in this country in the coming years and it won’t be for the better. I also wasn’t aware you had to choose between meeting new “peoples” and appreciating the country that you live in.

Worldwide quality of life index (2005)

  1. Ireland
  2. Switzerland
  3. Norway
  4. Luxembourg
  5. Sweden
  6. Australia
  7. Iceland
  8. Italy
  9. Denmark
  10. Spain
  11. Singapore
  12. Finland
  13. United States

Ha! A decent house for $50,000! I live in San Francisco and a decent 3 bedroom house 1.5 bath 1200sq. ft is more like 2 million dollars! The median home price in the Bay Area is about $600,000. I’m sure that other nice metropolitan Areas like New York, and LA are the same. For $50,000 you can get your own cardboard box and grocery cart on a street corner in SF. That is unless you want to live in the Midwest…

Another thing about living in America is that you have to work your butt off all the time just to make a decent living. (At least in the Bay) Most people only get 2 weeks vacation time a year in the US and they don’t retire until they are in there 70’s.


In Europe people work to live, in the US people live to work.

For $50,000 you can get your own cardboard box and grocery cart on a street corner in SF. That is unless you want to live in the Midwest…

True, the prices have artificially skyrocketed in places like California, but there are good things to be said about all geographic parts of the United States. Living in the midwest is not a bad thing if you enjoy a simpler and slower pace of life (goes region by region of course).

I would not be surprised if thousands of people who “thought” that they could afford a $700,000 home in Cali with their “teaser” rates and interest-only loans receive a rude awakening and a foreclosure notice this time next year. I feel sorry for their bad decision, but I lived in California for many years prior to this real-estate hype and I’ve seen in the 80s and even in the mid-90s when people couldn’t GIVE away their homes. Look it up if in doubt.

So what goes up does in fact come down at times. Hard. Ben Bernanke (Fed chairman) said recently that the housing market will get worse before it gets better. Federal Reserve chairmen do not say things on the record unless there is some underlying truth.

The midwest has already been a precursor to all this foreclosure business. Michigan is either the first or second state leading this trend. You CAN buy a home in a very decent suburb for $50,000. This is not necessarily the time to buy, as home values are expected to decline further. My goals are very high in life… I too want a large home in a clean and safe community. I want health insurance and gourmet food, an audi S4, etc… But I am willing to work very very hard to attain those things, and so are many other people who come here from third world countries because it is more possible to do so here than at home.

Go to and explore various suburbs in Detroit to see the truth. The manufacturing job losses have not been pretty. Laying off auto workers and auto-supplier workers has been a work in progress for a long time. Michigan has a population deficit unfortunately.

I used to think ugh the midwest sucks, but in reality it doesn’t. Sure it’s incredibly conservative with plenty of people bringing Jesus into every topic; and sure there aren’t any sushi bars in Detroit; sure people have bumper stickers that extol the virtues of supportin’ thar UAW and their musclebound Teamster-cohorts. But there are places like Iowa that are doing excellent. Iowa leads the nation in public education. It is the third leading state for wind farming. It offers housing at a cost far lower than that of SF or Boston. Yes you take some, you lose some. Weather? No sushi or Indian food? It’s all about what you want out of life. No fun night life might mean you can afford a large plot of land to grow pot – er sorry – organic crops.

Anyway, don’t hate me because I think living here is better than many other countries. I think every country has something good to offer. Even Zimbabwe.

And no you don’t have to choose between meeting new peoples and appreciating the country you live in. I meet new people all the time. By “peoples” I only implied people who do not share my citizenship, have never been to America, do not speak the English language perhaps, but have another type of culture that is also rich with traditions and delicious cuisine. Sometimes visiting other countries, MAKES you appreciate where you live more.

thanks for the detailed replies on cost of living in the US.
I didn’t quite expect that. Thanks !

I think this is also the reason why Ameriacns have much more room than
the rest of the world when it comes to entreprenuerhip. There is always a place to could fall back too. This is not the case in places like Singapore. Its much harder to borrow money and a lack of alternatives should you fail your venture. I am considered one of rare ones who dare to work for my dream and do things differently. I believe this is very common in the States.

Over here around 75% of the people are living in HDB flats (government flats.) Though the quality is high and its not anything that like the council flats in Europe, the cost of owning your property is very high. A 3 room flat of around 90square metres could cost you in the range of US$80000. Its not cheap considering its public housing. An executive apartment costs around US$300 000 to US$400 000. With house prices rising there are cases that people have sold their apartments for more than half a million.
Private housing is way more expensive than this, usually going through the roof from a million for a 2 room condominium in the city centre.

The lack of land here also stops you from having a garden. So if you do flop in a business, you’d really have to live in the streets.

I don’t think this is good for innovation.

But on the other hand its still worth to live for what you believe in and what you like. Afterall you’ve got only one life. Make sure you do something you really feel passionate about and things will turn up for you.

Europe is not a cheap area to live. But the social welfare system keeps the standard of living up. (some parts of western europe and of course Northern europe) I’ve got many ex school mates who studied in the midwest and they seem to like it very much there. More likely to blend in in the midwest and california than they would in the eastern part of the US.
Madison is well known for academic excellence. A few of my school mates are there on scholarship along with a good number at UofMichigan at Ann Abor, UIUC and UW at Madison. Most of my school mates studied in the US that its strange that I was educated in Europe…I opted a college in the Midwest too. But that was many years back.One in Illinois. The other was not in the Midwest. It was in Boston.

The opportunities for you people in the states are vast. For small countries like Singapore.(one of the smallest 20 countries on this planet) we have to be very resourceful to survive. You rarely have the leeway of able to still able to own a car, a house and a garden at a lower cost, if you are just slightly off the track.

My two cents - I just graduated in May. There is definitely work out there. If you work really hard to network. I think the biggest problem with most graduates is that they don’t talk to people in the field and don’t go out of their way to attend networking events. Then, once the cushion of school is gone, they have no idea what to do next. Make friends with other designers. Observe more experienced designers closely: how did they get where they are? And you have to be creative, when it comes to looking for work. There really are no rules, which can make it difficult and frustrating. But a lot of it boils down to who you know, persistance, and being in the right place at the right time.


I have been to Singapore and lived in Malaysia for some time (KL) so I understand what you’re talking about. It takes a very special kind of determination to really make it in Singapore. I think it’s tiny size works against it in that respect, however it is a very modernized and highly-organized nation compared to other SE Asian countries, with a great culture and lots of tasty food. But the people that live there for the most part, ARE that type of determined individual. With all due respect, Chinese and Indian people are extremely resourceful people who do not take education lightly and usually try to buy into some kind of business on top of their well-paying job when they migrate to the US.

The midwest is a good place to live if your’e looking for the inexpensive. I would not consider it as culturally diverse, nor as sophisticated as a place like San Francisco or Seattle. It does not however, cost $750,000 for an average home.

Wisconsin is a fairly down-home state, without much pretentiousness… Same with Michigan, although the Michigan economy is terrible in general… primarily due to the moribund domestic auto industry. The home foreclosures have just begun. I had a house that was once worth $120,000 five years ago. Today it will not sell for $80,000.

As for europe, I have to agree with you on the standard of living. Some of those scandinavian countries are cradle-t0-grave welfare states that really help you out in case of job loss… However the taxes (sales tax/VAT at least) are insane.


What school did you attend and how was your experience there? Was it for product design specifically? Also when you say “there really are no rules” do you mean when it comes to looking for a job? Does this mean one can really go to any product manufacturing company and pitch his/her ideas/portfolio to try to get a job? Did you do a lot of internships during your college years?

Too many questions… sorry. Thank you though for your input.

What school did you attend and how was your experience there? Was it for product design specifically? Also when you say “there really are no rules” do you mean when it comes to looking for a job? Does this mean one can really go to any product manufacturing company and pitch his/her ideas/portfolio to try to get a job? Did you do a lot of internships during your college years?

I went to CMU for ID initially, and then transferred to Pratt, also for ID. CMU wasn’t for me. I had an excellent experience at Pratt. I did two internships during school, one in apparel and one in footwear. I now work for a medical product company.

You can approach manufacturers with your ideas, though that probably won’t get you a job, more like a royalty agreement if they like and want to produce your stuff.

Or if you can dig up the money, you can manufacture your ideas yourself. This route requires the ability to deal with stress/risk well… But I’ve found it to be the most personally rewarding, as you have complete creative control.

Lizkin, I PM’d you. Thanks.