How is the industrial design field doing right now?

I’ve been a professional industrial designer for about 8 years now and seen my fair share of ups and downs. When I graduated into the market in 2006, the economy wasn’t doing so well and finding a job was challenging. Then in 2008, the economy took another dive. It seems like things have gotten better now, but it also seems that with new technology trends, the demand seems to be going away industrial design and more into UX interfaces.

Has the field of industrial design seen its fair share of ups and downs? Will there always be a need for industrial design services? I sure hope so, but I’ve also seen clever designers come up with ideas that create demand. We’re a resourceful bunch.

There will always be a need, but we work in an industry that can be turned into a perceived commodity very quickly to some of your potential clients.

This is why most of the big consultancies have moved away from pure ID and more towards strategy, UX, and other value added services beyond just physical design. Adapt or die as they say.

I recently switched to full time UX simply because there is a lot more UX work and opportunity, especially here in the northeast.

It is always important to layer in a strategic lens. Things become commoditized when their value is reduced. In the 90’s I thin ID firms started selling “sketches” instead of seeing solutions. Teague, Dreyfus, Loewy, they always sold solutions and they never limited themselves to ID, they wanted to be collaborating at the leadership level on strategy and positioning. Design is returning to that and I thin UX and IxD helped push that. In the future I see more hybrid designers who can do think strategically and produce tactically across disciplines, ID, brand, UI/UX. I think UX/IxD as a specialty is already seeing a shelf life. A lot of firms are expecting UX designers to also do visual design or another discipline. Mike being a great industrial designer is a good example.

The macro question though I think is ID going away? Of course not. Human’s are physical beings. As long as we still eat, sleep, and crap in the physical world the majority of our experiences will be with physical products. Now it is up to you to ensure you take that opportunity and do something great with this that attributes real cultural and brand value and isn’t just “selling sketches”

Well, could it be that there is a decidedly US american perspective at work in this thread?

Industrial design business tends to be where the customers are. And while the US is still one of the largest
halfway homogeneous consumer markets in this world it is not the manufacturing hub it used to be.
Whereas production shifted abroad years ago design work tended to stay where the headquarters were. This
is changing now, as well. Productmanagement of global companies is working from a global perspective and
the Industrial design work is following it. (At this moment two members of the board hook up to have a meet
in Shanghai, which I think is a great way to use this board.)

My gut feeling is telling me, Industrial Design services over here in Germany have been doing steadily better
during the last decade, only problem being the ever increasing number of graduates, that was released from
into the field as universities and schools were educating beyond demand. This is going to shift within the next
decade, as the baby boomers go into retirement and a much smaller (50%) generation is growing into jobs.

Conclusion: Industrial Design services stay in demand, but not necessarily where the education is (best).


If only Jon were here to tell us about Canada :slight_smile:

I told him on Twitter that Montreal design sucks too.

I think we have the same problem of too many students in the US and Canada. Design has become a big money maker for universities.

As a profession, I think we are OK. The decline of physical products has been over-estimated. Also, our skills are highly transferable to UX. I think the main threat are changes in the perception of value that we bring to product development. I think it’s worse in Canada where salaries are lower. I’ve had a few clients / bosses that thought design was a commodity and low salaries breed that perception (mho). Also, there is the constant pressure to reduce costs. As design services improve in low-cost countries, we might see the clients with these lower perceptions shift their projects overseas. We shall see…

There will always be physical objects in our environment so I don’t think ID will go away. Demand for ID is still there (with ups and downs) but there’s also an increase in demand for UI/UX. I don’t think UI/UX is replacing ID.

I believe the challenge will be competing with ID in Asia. If clients do not value/understand the importance of ID and with Asia investing in Design schools, then I can easily see lots of jobs going to Asia. Two of our clients were already getting free design services from the manufacturers in Asia. They came to us because they were getting volume but nothing they liked. One of them ultimately couldn’t pass on getting the whole line of products designed for free.
Recently we were contacted by a client that wanted to do design, prototyping, tooling design and tooling in the US in order to just have their manufacturer in china just do the parts. I believe they were sending Illustrator drawings to the factory and the final product looked nothing like the original Illustrator drawing.

One of the reasons why I chose ID was that you can apply your skills to different industries. Working in a consultancy we have seen different industries slow down, remain steady and grow.

It’s really interesting that you say that FH13, since recently I’ve been feeling like the best way to get a job these days (as a young American) is to move to China. I’ve now given that advice to two other people and I’m still planning on moving there by August.

I think the more broadly a young student or professional can make their argument for how the design process/their industrial design skills can be/should be applied to an existing discipline, the better their chances are of finding work.