Why is Industrial Design so undervalued?

Hello fellow designers.

In the hope of creating a stimulating conversation I’d like to introduce the topic as to why Industrial Design appears to be so undervalued in the real world. Obviously we are biased, but design has been proven to be generally the most critical differentiating factor between products that leads to consumers purchasing decisions. Design makes or breaks companies and products. Obviously we all understand the importance that design plays in the world, and how it is critical to the success of any company.

Now here’s the issue. Why is this not represented appropriately within a company’s structure? Why is it that engineers can make twice as much as designers, when design arguably requires more specific skills, knowledge, and that intangible factor…creativity… than engineering does. Why is it acceptable for young designers with University Degrees to take home salaries in the 30g’s, when receptionists and bartenders can easily make as much (no offense to receptionists and bartenders).

I know there was a discussion not too long ago that got really heated and got locked when discussing a reasonable salary to expect in Chicago as a young designer. That is not at all my intent, but more to assess our profession and try to understand why is that design isn’t deemed as worthy of reasonable salaries as most other professions that are arguably much less vital to the success of a company. As a young designer with 2 years of professional experience, several awards and accolades it becomes difficult to accept that if I am even lucky enough to get a job, I still need to live like a student for several more years before I might finally be able to afford a car…


If is late so I will not go into a lot of detail but read Roger Martin’s book The Design of Business. As Design Thinkers we value Validity. Make the right thing for people and they will reward you. Business people, from Wall Street to the CEO value Reliability. When a company projects that they will X profit they need to reliably produce X profit. Not X+1 but exactly X. We start talking about “changing the market” and “redefining the business” and this gets Reliability people really upset. They want a smooth and slow upward curve of growth. We talk about things that could cause steep changes in the curve. We are very scary so it is better to marginalize us because we don’t follow the rules.

Not saying it is right, just answering your question on what is going on.

Hi all, though im not in the ID field, here’s my 2cents worth.

I suppose salary is linked to the perceived value you bring to a company. Or rather, measured value.

And the only way to do so ‘objectively’ is through quantitative means. Engineers are tasked to ensure efficiency and reliability are met. In this case, it is clear-cut. The better you are able to meet the target, the more you will be rewarded.

IDers contributions are probably more intangible in nature. This makes it hard for companies to percieve it ‘objectively’.

Hope it makes sense:)

If you want to make money you got to be where the money is: Accountant, Sales, lawyers and upper management.

If you are in RD you are f*c!3d :wink:

It has also something to do with measurability. The sales can show how much they have sold (exact figures). The same thing goes for the accountant and the one responsible for purchases.

It’s hard to measure your final design and its impact on sales on another worse/better design that hasn’t made it into production. You could off course measure/compare your design opposed to the competition but even then the whole exercice would be biased. Who loves what? (Les goûts et les couleurs on ne discute pas) Isn’t the product to new/different/innovative and scare customers away? Design is not a B/W thing. It’s gray wich makes it hard to measure it’s impact and therefore our payment isn’t up to par with the other more exact disciplines.

Its quite contradictory to say that those who create the added value in a company earn the least. But that’s the truth.



While generally you are correct, if you look at the amount of designers that are VP’s and the fact that a few are now presidents, and at Nike our CEO was a designer for a time, I think the trend shows that this is SLOWLY changes. It is, in fact, what you make it.

Compare what we do to acting. Most actors make very little. They get a few small parts. are they still critical to the movie, yes, but the bulk of the compensation goes to a much smaller group of people who prove without a doubt that their contribution is critical to the overall success. Get in that group.

Also look at the evolution of your company:

  1. Chances are it started out with an insight by an individual and led to a Useful market offering.
  2. That individual probably started by hiring an engineer or two and found a factory to produce it.
  3. Then he hired a sales guy to sell it.
  4. As competition arrived it added Marketing to help differentiate. Marketing is unimpressed by engineering’s ability to differentiate…
  5. …so (assuming Marketing takes a better-not-cheaper strategy) they hire some, designers to help them add Desire and Usability to their already-Useful offering.

That order of evolution probably also matches your corporate hierarchy.

That is a great point CG. So how did companies like Braun end up with design in the board room so early? How was their path different? I think leadership has a lot to do with it. Dieter Rams at Braun, Harley Earle at GM in the 40’s and 50’s (even though he wasn’t a designer, he was a champion for design who reported directly to the executive management).

Interesting to see it an be a temporal thing as well. Just because Braun had Mr Rams at one point in time on the board, does not cement their role as a design driven company since he has left. There needs to be a strong advocate, and a succession plan.

All interesting points and thanks to all for contributing. I guess I just wanted to get a good look at this, and a better understanding than the standard response “don’t get into design if you want to make money”. It’s great to hear the opinions of obviously very knowledgeable people in the field.

I recently went through Daniel Pink’s work called “A Whole New Mind” and I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with it, but it basically states how future business belongs to right-brainers, and that eventually all those jobs that can be automated, will be leaving creativity as the true competitive advantage. That we’ve evolved from the Information Age of knowledge workers into a Conceptual Age of creators and empathizers, and how embracing this Conceptual Age leads to success.

I guess it got me fairly encouraged as to the future, but still leaves me wondering when, and if, this transition and growth in respect for creative thinkers will materialize into increases in salary. The trend is growing to include design thinking in Business schools, which will invariably lead to more respect for design in the business world, but I wonder how long this transformation will take. There are positive signs out there, let’s just hope that it starts to snowball into something more significant.