For the person contemplating this question, we assume the more beneficial degree has advantages. These advantages could be in low unemployment, salary, job opportunities, potential advancement, and more. It is admirable to select a degree based solely on interest in the subject. However, that is of little benefit if your college major does not result in the offering of making a decent wage. Ideally, you want both. A degree subject you love and a rewarding career. Product design or industrial design may be the answer.
Product design involves the creation of new products taking into account aestheticism, manufacturing, and product engineering. The education of the product designer can vary according to the types of products being designed.
Industrial Designers is a professional who designs products used by millions of people around the world every day. Similar to the product designer, industrial designers are concerned not only about looks, but also the value and experience it provides.
According to these descriptions, the two types of design are interchangeable. A product designer and industrial designer play nearly identical roles professionally. Any subtle differences may go beyond semantics. Industrial design sounds more technical and engineer-based. Product design sounds more related to aesthetics. It is the latter, in the mid-twentieth century, that launched the professions. Manufacturers discovered that consumers want beauty as well as function.
Some of the undergraduate programs defy the notion of product design being less engineering related. There are Bachelor of Science programs in Product Design within Mechanical Engineering departments. There are bachelor’s degrees in industrial design taught at the College of Architecture and Design.
If there is one degree more advantageous than the other, the benefits are subtle. Both require mechanical skills as well as the creativity to design. Creativity is paramount in both professions. A man considered as the father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy (1893-1986), worked as a fashion illustrator at Vogue magazine. He was a window designer for Macy’s and Saks in New York. His career advanced to the design of shark-nose locomotives and automobiles. He also worked at NASA for six years as a designer.
“Between two products equal in price, function, and quality, the one with the most attractive exterior will win.”R. Loewy
Prominent online employment sites, such as Glassdoor, have numerous jobs listed for Product Designer. However, in the job market, the term applies to software, online retailers, talent acquisition firms, and manufacturers. An example is Nokia that seeks a Product Design Intern to “create exceptional digital products.” This job requires creativity along with a passion for technology. No degree is specified but, interestingly, the successful candidate will work with the industrial and software design teams.
A similar job search for the profession of industrial designer yields more postings related to engineering. An example is Boston Whaler, a boat manufacturer that seeks a designer to develop concepts for one of their boat groups. The company requires a Bachelor degree in industrial design, understand the principles of design and know how and why things work. The latter qualification refers to an aptitude for mechanics or education in mechanical engineering is highly beneficial.
What do the surveys reveal from respected employment and data websites? The salary information favors the product designer. According to Indeed, the median income for product designers is $84,86 based on 2,364 employees, users, past and present job postings on Indeed. They report an entry-level position at $46,834. Glassdoor reports the median salary for the profession at $109,913.
Glassdoor reports the median income for industrial designers at $68,202. Indeed reports the occupation at an average salary of $66,799. This figure tracks closely to the number reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They state the median pay for industrial designers at $65,970 as of May 2017. The BLS does not have the occupation of a product designer.
One degree does not have a distinct benefit or advantage over the other. Many of the job requirements and functions are interchangeable. Despite the lack of a definitive answer to the caption query, either degree offers rewards. Any benefits seem to lie in your selection of classes to gain mechanical and technical knowledge, as well as the ability to use design software.