Free Online Lectures and Courses for Design

Every item people touch, every item people use on a daily basis, every product on a store’s shelves, they all have something in common. Someone had to design them before they made it to market or to consumers. There are several steps involved in designing a product and getting it into a consumer’s hands. Product design is also referred to as industrial design.

A designer is involved in all three stages of product design: analysis of an idea or problem, defining the product’s concept, and, finally, synthesis of the product concept, turning the concept into reality. In the analysis phase, the designer works to determine whether they can find a solution to a problem or can update an existing product. The concept stage is when designers work to create objectives to solve that problem within a set of specific parameters. In the synthesis stage, designers brainstorm solutions that fit within previously identified parameters and select the best ideas. They then build prototypes and improve on those prototypes to bring forth a finished product.

Sample Courses

Individuals interested in completing degree programs or certificates in product or industrial design will take a variety of classes. The exact number varies, depending on a student’s goal (degree or certificate), but courses often include the study of topics like drawing, art history (including history of design), visualization and several studio courses.

These degree and certificate programs often examine how individuals use items that become indispensable in daily life. Courses introduce the prototyping process and design methods. Students spend time in design labs to create products and learn how computers can be used in product design. Many degree programs require students to create items in a capstone course.

Possible Specializations

Product design is, in some programs, a specialization itself. In some cases, students can specialize in multiple areas, although not every specialization is available at every school. For instance, some degree programs include specializations like vehicle design. There are master’s degrees that focus on the analysis and concept stages of product design as well.

Degree Types

While students are exploring the field of product design, they’ll need to decide what level of education to pursue to achieve their career goals. Product or industrial design degrees are available at multiple levels.

Associate

Associate degree programs in product or industrial design give individuals opportunities to learn about their chosen career and complete coursework that can be applied to study in bachelor’s degree programs. Associate programs do not typically lead to entry-level positions.

Bachelor’s

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that product or industrial designers must have a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. These 4-year degree programs are often available as Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Science degree programs, which differ, typically, in the number of mathematics and science or language and art courses required.

Master’s

For individuals seeking jobs that require a master’s degree, like teaching, there are 2-year degree programs that focus on product development. These advanced degrees will appeal to students focusing on a specific area of product design (like vehicle or furniture, etc.) or who want to start teaching at the college level.

Doctoral

A doctoral degree (Ph.D) is appropriate for individuals interested in the research behind product development. A Ph.D program often focuses on specific areas of research like methods of design, design strategy or interaction design.

Beyond the four degrees above, students can also pursue professional certificates in product design. These typically take a semester or two to complete and are less than 20 credit hours.

Ideal Candidates for Product Design

Product design professionals enjoy creating new items to solve problems. They often create product sketches by hand or using computer aided drafting (CAD) programs after collaborating with clients. These professionals pay close attention to detail and are comfortable speaking with groups or individuals and incorporating client-initiated changes. They are comfortable working indoors and spending quite a bit of time at a computer. Individuals who don’t mind these conditions and who possess the previously discussed personality traits would make good product designers.

Career Pathways

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a rate of growth slower than most industries: just four percent between 2012 and 2022. Although the hiring of new product designers may be slow, established product designers may have some luck gaining advanced positions in their firms, moving into jobs like chief designer or design department head.

In May 2012, the BLS noted that the median annual wage for product designers was $59,160. While the lowest paid 10 percent earned an average of $34,610 annually, the highest paid 10 percent earned as much as $94,000. A product designer’s earnings is dependent on multiple factors, including experience, economy and location. In this career path, the median annual pay was $24,860 higher than the average for all occupations overall in 2012. For self-employed designers or freelancers, pay can vary dramatically, depending on demand, location and skill.

If you’re looking for more information about product design as a career, professional or member organizations and trade magazines may be of some help. Another possible source of information could be a currently-enrolled product design or industrial design student; they can provide insight into what their programs are like, what they’ve learned, and how their studies have impacted their career prospects. All this guidance will help you gain the perspective needed to determine if product design is the right, long term career for you.

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Design Journals & Trade Magazines

  • Journals

    • Design Issues

      Published by MIT Press, Design Issues considers "theoretical and critical articles by professional and scholarly contributors, extensive book and exhibition reviews, and visual sequences."

    • ID Magazine

      ID emphasizes industrial and product design information and is updated daily.

    • International Journal of Product Development

      This publication is responsible for articles on product strategy, virtual and collaborative product development and discussions of value cycle management for products.

    • The Design Journal

      Released by Bloomsbury Publishing, The Design Journal is the official publication of the European Academy of Design.

    • The International Journal of Design

      A peer-reviewed journal that publishes a variety of research papers in multiple design fields.

    • The Journal of Sustainable Product Design

      Each issue of this publication focuses on the theories and practical concerns of sustainable design and development.

  • Trade Magazines

    • Azure Magazine

      Azure profiles professional designers and presents news and analysis of trends in design.

    • Product Design and Development Magazine

      This publication is particularly technical, assessing the engineering and craftsmanship behind products and technology across many different fields.

Design Grants & Scholarships

  • Grants

    • Art Works Design Grant

      Deadline: July 24

      Award Amount: Varies

      This grant is available to individuals in multiple fields, including product design, rural design, landscape architecture and more.

    • Designerfund

      Deadline:

      Award Amount: Varies

      Designerfund helps entrepreneurial designers in several stages. Pairing qualified candidates with mentors and angel investors, while also investing in these candidates themselves.

    • The Carter Manny Award

      Deadline:

      Award Amount: $15,000 and $20,000

      The Carter Manny funds research and writing for doctoral students in a variety of fields, including design, engineering and architecture.

  • Scholarships

Design Internships

  • LUNAR

    Deadline:

    Lunar, a client-driven product design business is continually looking to fill various interns positions in their San Francisco and Munich offices.

  • Mattel

    Deadline: February 10th

    Mattel, makers of countless toys and games, is hiring an undergraduate product design intern in their East Aurora, NY office.

  • Nike Inc.

    Deadline:

    Nike regularly hires product development intern in its Beaverton, OR office. Check their onsite listings for the latest.

  • Palantir

    Deadline:

    Palantir Technologies is committed to advancing design via software that analyzes and visualizes data. They value the insights and efforts of product designers and so are hiring design interns.

  • Smart Design

    Deadline:

    Smart Design, a NYC-based design firm, hires paid interns on a rolling basis. Internship areas relevant to design students include: industrial design, design research and interaction design.

Design Student & Professional Organizations