It’s Official: Being An Industrial Designer Rocks

A new report released by the National Endowment for the Arts looks at the role of industrial design in our society. Here are the highlights.

It’s Official: Being An Industrial Designer Rocks

Today, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report taking an in-depth look into the health of the United States’ industrial design sectors.


Taking an expanded view of industrial design and including designers who aren’t just working on commercial products, but using design thinking to design user experiences, systems and processes, the 55-page report is a treasure trove of fantastic facts about the role that industrial design is playing in shaping the modern United States.

Here are some of the most interesting takeaways:

  • Right now, there are more than 40,000 industrial designers working in the United States.

  • Most salaried industrial designers work in either manufacturing (11,730 workers) or in professional, scientific or technical services (7,570 workers).

  • Industrial designers have higher salaries than graphic designers or interior designers. The annual median wage of an industrial designer in 2012 was $59,610.

  • There are 1,579 industrial design establishments in the United States, paying out approximately $1.4 billion in annual payroll.

  • Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania have the highest concentration of industrial designers in the workforce.

  • Two states employ more than 3,000 industrial designers apiece: California and Michigan.

  • Industrial design is at an all-time high, and U.S. design patents have reached a 25-year peak.

  • 54% of design patents awarded since 1998 were awarded in the following product categories: furnishings, recording and communication, tools and hardware, packaging, food service equipment, transportation, environmental heating and cooling, and games, toys and sports.

  • Industrial designers are often inventors, but inventors aren’t often industrial designers. Between 1975 and 2010, 40 percent of people named on design patents were also named on utility patents; comparatively, only two percent of people names on utility patents were also included on the design patent.

  • Over the next few years, the NEA expects employment for industrial designers in the professional services sector (e.g. engineering firms and specialized design firms) to jump 29%.

  • Overall employment for industrial designers is expected to grow 10.5% from 2010 to 2012, slightly lower than for all occupations as a whole, where a 14.3% growth rate is anticipated.

  • The four largest industrial design firms earn 11 percent of the industry’s total revenue. The fifty largest earn almost half at 45%. Compare this to the top 50 firms in the professional services sector as a whole, which generates only 18% of the sector’s total revenue.

  • In 2012, 7 industrial design patents were awarded for every 100,000 people in the United States.

  • 45% of all design patents are awarded to U.S. companies, and 32% to foreign firms. The rest are awarded mostly to individuals.

  • The top ten U.S. companies ranked by number of industrial design patents are: Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Nike, Goodyear, Black & Decker, Wolverine World Wide, Kohler Company, Apple, 3M, and Ford.

  • Internationally, the top ten foreign companies ranked by number of industrial design patents are: Samsung, Sony, Foxconn, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Honda, Nokia, Toyota, Toshiba and Canon.

  • The top 10 states ranked by industrial design patents awarded by capita are: Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, Rhode Island, California, Minnesota/Ohio (tie), Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan.

In short? America is putting its money where it’s mouth is when it comes to the importance of design, and the ripples of that are being felt in every economic stratum and across every economic sector. It has just never been a better time to be an American industrial designer.

[Images: Industrial Design via Shutterstock]