ID career path.. and path after ID..

I’m still mulling over the value of a career change into ID by pursuing a Masters. By many accounts here I’m barking mad to be risking my livelihood to enter a career where only the top 10% or fewer of all graduates actually practice the profession successfully, and even fewer continue on with it after ten years or so for a lifetime career.

If I go down this road I want to do it with my eyes open. So, if I may query the readership: what is the typical career path of an industrial designer, with either a Bachelor’s or Master’s? For those who make it in, is the natural progression to eventually start one’s own design practice or other business? Or is it to take on more business-like responsibilities within a corporation, requiring an MBA?

Are those who remain in design work after ten years or more without advancement considered unsuccessful or lacking ambition, therefore easy targets for layoffs?

And what of those who leave the profession, by choice or otherwise? Do they consider themselves burned out and/or tapped out? Do they migrate to related professions? Or do they wind up in totally unrelated [under]employment?

Thanks for your input

I am still trying to (re)enter the workforce after a layoff of only 5+ months experience at my first job. My company had a corp. re-shuffle and I was one of the cuts. I wish that I would have had at least 2 to 3 years experience in before this happened. Now I am basically back at square one. I have been out of school for about 2 years now, and I am still seeking employment within the industrial design field.

I would imagine that after 10 years design experience one would take on the role of product manager. You could also try another branch on the tree of design such as soft goods, furniture, exhibits, or what ever it may be.

You have to keep a positive mind set about your future…

Junior IDer - > Senior IDer → Design Manager/Director - > VP of Design

At least in the corporate world.

After seeing the level of incompetence of Product Managment where I work, I think there is great opportunity of IDers to change things there. Product marketing people, honestly, don’t have a clue if all they have is a Marketing/MBA background.

nydesignguy,

What level of design are you currently at? Where I “was” employed they followed the same steps to the top (corp. of course). In a portfolio, how many projects does one need to obtain an Entry Level/Junior Designer position? I understand quality is better than quantity, but how many quality projects?

Not sure where you get that 10% figure, it may even be a tad optimistic.

Typically, you are faced with 3 major choices once past the senior level, i.e. max 8-10 years of doing creative design work - (1) climb the corporate ladder, management (2) academia, spread the gospel to the creative hopefuls, and (3) self-employment, selling design as a service, product or a combination.

Of course the 4th option is quitting industry altogether, which is what I see more and more disillusioned young designers doing. Not getting into the why’s of this here.

The very few - if any - remaining in creative design jobs beyond the 10-year mark usually make it to some design director or creative direction position and do practically no CAD, prototyping or other such nuts-and-bolts work, there are enough fresh graduates eager to get their hands dirty when starting out. Or so goes the work “philosophy” in these companies. If a company keeps you in a creative decision making post for so long chances are good they value your experience and sound judgement above sketching and even technical skills. Usually good minds are much harder to come by than good hands. The money for mfg firms today is in strategy, daring ideas and vision, technical skills and labor are exportable.

The direction designers will take after X number of practice years really depends on how well they fared during that time. I know experienced people so disgusted with industry they switched to totally unrelated fields and are now making a fraction of their previous salaries, as I have friends who quit design early on in their careers and made literally fortunes in businesses where they oversee the creative efforts of others. Every person is an individual story and you cannot generalize either a trend or any recipe for success from their personal choices.

I can say most enginners readily aim for management positions early on and as a lot are less passionate about engineering challenges on leaving school than designers are about creating. This leads to designers in general suffering professional transitions that much more difficultly, as they rarely see design school as a sprinboard to the CEO’s chair. Of the few ending up in higher office politics, it’s fair to say it happens out of necessity much more frequently than personal ambition or even a natural disposition for the business world.

Employment statistics show a percentage of designers above the general population average are self-employed but the numbers confuse the legal status of self-employment with actually making a living at it at least equal to the “average” design job. Truth is, chasing design contracts is a meagre hand-to-mouth existence for most and usually a temporary state of affairs to put food on the table until the next job.

Burnouts are common in this field, even after only a few years practice. Poor working conditions and abuse were commonplace even when I started out but Core posts seem to indicate it’s a real meat market out there now.

Why on Earth you’d get an ID Master’s I don’t know, it might help you with some design management positions but an MBA, for all its detractors, is still the better known degree that will open up more doors down the line. If you intend on pursuing management jobs.

Designers or engineers successfully running their own businesses today have always aimed for this, so consider your long term plans in this field. This is why it’s nearly impossible to prescribe a magic formula or talk of a “typical career path” like you mention. It’s unrealistic to try to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes without a defined long-range plan.

Bottom line is, where do YOU want to be in 10-15 years time. And after.

Senoir Designer - 6 years work experience.

nydesignguy,

Thanks for the honesty! It just helps put a face with a voice, if you know what I mean.

I am still green and want to make sure I am obtaining experienced information about the field.

Thanks again,
Eric

I pursued a career change from architecture to Industrial Design. The only way to do that without starting as a freshman again, is to pursue a Masters. My educational training as well as the specific area of research I’m working on will allow me to have a portfolio that shows I’m a qualified for work in the industrial design field, just like a senior who is graduating and starting their first job.
The benefit to having a Masters and applying for jobs the first time around in this field is that hopefully the combination of work experience and portfolio work will set you apart. Not to mention maturity is sometimes nice.
Eventually, for me, an academic career is what I wish to pursue. But practical work is necessary. Don’t be turned off by what may seem like 10% of IDers doing work. A Masters is definitely worth it, especially if Industrial Design is something you are passionate about.

Go to a top design school in a hot district. Get internship as earily as possible. What you learn from work is much more useful than just staying at school’ studio. Networking is really important for internship and your later career. Don’t consider too much about tuition. A good beginning ofen means a better end.


I am not a design guy but am looking to get into the field. One thing to keep in mind is that this is America. What field is not competitive in this country? I dare you to name one. The field I am in now has 5000 QUALIFIED applicants for every 1 job out there. Go figure. Did that stop me. No. I mustered up my skills and got the job and now have a few years experience under my belt and the contacts to boot. The key is finding your passion and working from there. If your aptitudes are uniquely suited for this job and you have a passion for it (well any job for that matter) you’ll find a way. Nope, let me change that. You’ll flourish. If you don’t want competition then get a government job where you make your salary, get your pay grade raises every year, and get a retirement plan. I guarantee that you will find yourslef in a quandry with a lack of happiness but no competition and a secure job. Ask me how I know this?

On the issue of the Masters Degree. Again, take this with a grain of salt because I am not in the industry - I simply have life experience. It seems to be a solution for entry for the person who has a four year degree specializing in a different field and doesn’t want another four year degree for this field. Many of the programs will accept students with other degree specialties. How it helps a person with a bachelors degree in ID I don’t know. I don’t have enough industry knowledge to answer that question.

Anyhow there is my two cents. I agree with the person who says that you have to make your own formula work for you. An aloof attitude for this or any industy for that matter will not cut it.

I am not a design guy but am looking to get into the field. One thing to keep in mind is that this is America. What field is not competitive in this country? I dare you to name one. The field I am in now has 5000 QUALIFIED applicants for every 1 job out there. Go figure. Did that stop me. No. I mustered up my skills and got the job and now have a few years experience under my belt and the contacts to boot. The key is finding your passion and working from there. If your aptitudes are uniquely suited for this job and you have a passion for it (well any job for that matter) you’ll find a way. Nope, let me change that. You’ll flourish. If you don’t want competition then get a government job where you make your salary, get your pay grade raises every year, and get a retirement plan. I guarantee that you will find yourself in a quandary with a lack of happiness but no competition and a secure job. Ask me how I know this?

On the issue of the Masters Degree. Again, take this with a grain of salt because I am not in the industry - I simply have life experience. It seems to be a solution for entry for the person who has a four year degree specializing in a different field and doesn’t want another four year degree for this field. Many of the programs will accept students with other degree specialties. How it helps a person with a bachelors degree in ID I don’t know. I don’t have enough industry knowledge to answer that question.

Anyhow there is my two cents. I agree with the person who says that you have to make your own formula work for you. An aloof attitude for this or any industry for that matter will not cut it.

I agree… just think of someone like a philosiphy PhD who went into the field because it was some kind of calling. They spent a lot more time in school and had even less to look forward to getting out - education or ?. or palientology, or dozens of other fields.

Myself, I have had some successes as well as hard times in ID, and I have thought seriously about leaving the career. My conclustion? I would have to spend $30-120K+ to get another degree and then that still doesn’t “guarantee” a great life and steady work. People are underemployeed and get laid off in lots of fields, who is safe anymore and who knows what will or won’t be safe in 5-10 years… If this is what you enjoy, hunker down, spend a little less and learn as much as you can to get to where you want to be. That is what I have decided at least…