Commercial Designer: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a commercial designer. Learn about job duties, education requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Design Strategy & Innovation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Commercial Designer?

Commercial designers use art, technology and business skills to create appliances, housewares, medical equipment and vehicles, among other products. No matter their particular field, their duties generally involve consulting with clients to plan designs, researching how a product might be used, and sketching out ideas on paper or in a computer. Commercial designers also have to use computer software to develop designs, and eventually they will create physical prototypes. They might have to work with other professionals such as engineers or manufacturers to realize the client's vision. The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as a commercial designer.

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Education Field of StudyIndustrial Design, Architecture, or Engineering
Key SkillsAnalytical skills, artistic ability, computer skills, creativity, interpersonal skills, mechanical skills and problem-solving skills
Job Growth (2014-2024)2% (for all commercial and industrial designers)*
Average Salary (2015) $69,820 (for all commercial and industrial designers)*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*

What Does a Commercial Designer Do?

Commercial designers are responsible for creating the conceptual sketches, drawings and computer-aided designs for manufactured products. They work to design a product according to the needs of clients, consumers and the application of the product. This may entail conducting market research or attending trade shows in order to gather information about the design needs. With the help of engineers, accountants and cost estimators, commercial designers determine if the product is safe, simple to use and affordable to make.

Commercial designers may work for design firms, manufacturing companies or corporations. Some designers are self-employed. Most commercial designers specialize in the design of a specific category of products: toys, medical supplies, cars, or any product that is made by people.

What Training Do I Need?

Commercial designers need a bachelor's degree in industrial design, architecture or engineering to qualify for entry-level work in this field. One might study product design engineering technology to learn how to create models and prototypes, conceptual sketches, drawings and design layouts. It is also necessary to learn how to perform analysis and incorporate manufacturing concepts into the work. Coursework covers communications, mathematics and analytical skills.

An undergraduate degree in industrial design would also prepare one for work as a commercial designer. One would learn design concepts, principles of accessibility and accountability. After undergraduate school a master's degree in business administration may be sought to gain a better understanding of how to strategically design according to a company's business plan.

What Skills Do I Need?

A career as a commercial designer calls upon creativity and technological skills. Commercial designers are expected to have skills in sketching by hand as well as in computer-aided design. A good eye for proportion, color, detail and balance is also needed. Self-discipline and the ability to work under pressure are necessary for starting projects, prioritizing your work and meeting deadlines. Commercial designers must also keep up with trends in the field and be open to new ideas and inspiration.

Commercial designers need project management skills and knowledge of marketing, accounting and strategic planning. A commercial designer who runs her own business or freelances must have knowledge of sales and business.

What Might I Earn?

The median annual wage for commercial and industrial designers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $67,130 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those working in support activities for mining, software publishing and motor vehicle manufacturing earned the highest salaries in this field, though there were very few positions available in these industries. The specialized design services industry had the highest employment level for commercial and industrial designers in 2015, and it paid an average of $70,810, per the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related design careers requiring a similar level of education that those interested in commercial design might want to research. All of the following careers require a bachelor's degree at minimum to gain entry-level employment. Art directors work in a variety of fields, from magazines to television productions, to develop the look and style of a product. Graphic designers use computer software to create images for advertisements, reports, or brochures. Interior designers select the colors, lighting, and decorative items for interior spaces, as well as making sure building codes and accessibility regulations are met.

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