Nature of the Work
Designers are people with a desire to create. They combine practical
knowledge with artistic ability to turn abstract ideas into formal designs
for the merchandise we buy, the clothes we wear, the Web sites we use, the
publications we read, and the living and office space we inhabit. Designers
usually specialize in a particular area of design, such as automobiles,
industrial or medical equipment, home appliances,
and textiles, floral arrangements, publications, Web sites, logos, signage,
movie or TV credits, interiors of homes or office buildings, merchandise
displays, or movie, television, and theater sets.
The first step in developing a new design or altering an existing one
is to determine the needs of the client, the ultimate function for which
the design is intended, and its appeal to customers or users. When creating
a design, designers often begin by researching the desired design characteristics,
such as size, shape, weight, color, materials used, cost, ease of use, fit,
Designers then prepare sketches or diagrams by hand or with the aid of
a computer to illustrate the vision for the design. After consulting with
the client, a creative director, or a product development team, designers
create detailed designs, using drawings, a structural model, computer simulations,
or a full-scale prototype. Many designers use computer-aided design (CAD)
tools to create and better visualize the final product. Computer models
allow ease and flexibility in exploring a greater number of design alternatives,
thus reducing design costs and cutting the time it takes to deliver a product
to market. Industrial designers use computer-aided industrial design (CAID)
tools to create designs and machine-readable instructions that communicate
with automated production tools.
Designers sometimes supervise assistants
who carry out their creations. Designers who run their own businesses also
may devote a considerable amount of time to developing new business contacts,
examining equipment and space needs, and performing administrative tasks,
such as reviewing catalogues and ordering samples. The need for up-to-date
computer and communications equipment is an ongoing consideration for many
designers, especially those in industrial and graphic design.
Design encompasses a number of different fields. Many designers specialize
in a particular area of design, whereas others work in more than one area.
Commercial and industrial designers develop countless manufactured
products, including airplanes; cars; children's toys; computer equipment;
furniture; home appliances; and medical, office, and recreational equipment.
They combine artistic talent with research on the use of a product, on customer
needs, and on marketing, materials, and production methods to create the
most functional and appealing design that will be competitive with others
in the marketplace. Industrial designers typically concentrate in a subspecialty
such as kitchen appliances, auto interiors, or plastic-molding machinery.
Fashion designers design clothing and accessories. Some high-fashion
designers are self-employed and design for individual clients. Other high-fashion
designers cater to specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. These
designers create original garments, as well as clothing that follows established
fashion trends. Most fashion designers, however, work for apparel manufacturers,
creating designs of men's, women's, and children's fashions for the mass
Floral designers cut and arrange live, dried, or artificial flowers
and foliage into designs, according to the customer's order. They design
arrangements by trimming flowers and arranging bouquets, sprays, wreaths,
dish gardens, and terrariums. They may either meet with customers to discuss
the arrangement or work from a written order. Floral designers make note
of the occasion, the customer's preference with regard to the color and
type of flower involved, the price of the completed order, the time at which
the floral arrangement or plant is to be ready, and the place to which it
is to be delivered. The variety of duties performed by floral designers
depends on the size of the shop and the number of designers employed. In
a small operation, floral designers may own their shops and do almost everything,
from growing and purchasing flowers to keeping financial records.
Graphic designers plan, analyze, and create visual solutions to
communications problems. They use a variety of print, electronic, and film
media and technologies to execute a design that meet clients communication
needs. They consider cognitive, cultural, physical, and social factors in
planning and executing designs appropriate for a given context. Graphic
designers use computer software to develop the overall layout and production
design of magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports, and other
publications. They also produce promotional displays and marketing brochures
for products and services, design distinctive logos for products and businesses,
and develop signs and signage systems called environmental graphics for
business and government. An increasing number of graphic designers are developing
material for Internet Web pages, computer interfaces, and multimedia projects.
Graphic designers also produce the credits that appear before and after
television programs and movies.
Interior designers enhance the function, safety, and quality of
interior spaces of private homes, public buildings, and business or institutional
facilities, such as offices, restaurants, retail establishments, hospitals,
hotels, and theaters. They also plan the interiors of existing structures
that are undergoing renovation or expansion. Most interior designers specialize.
For example, some may concentrate on residential design, while others focus
on business design. Still others may specialize further by focusing on particular
rooms, such as kitchens or baths. With a client's tastes, needs, and budget
in mind, interior designers prepare drawings and specifications for non-load-bearing
interior construction, furnishings, lighting, and finishes. Increasingly,
designers are using computers to plan layouts, because computers make it
easy to change plans to include ideas received from the client. Interior
designers also design lighting and architectural details' such as crown
molding, built-in bookshelves, or cabinets coordinate colors, and select
furniture, floor coverings, and window treatments. Interior designers must
design space to conform to Federal, State, and local laws, including building
codes. Designs for public areas also must meet accessibility standards for
the disabled and the elderly.
Merchandise displayers and window dressers, or visual merchandisers,
plan and erect commercial displays, such as those in windows and interiors
of retail stores or at trade exhibitions. Those who work on building exteriors
erect major store decorations, including building and window displays and
lights. Those who design store interiors outfit store departments, arrange
table displays, and dress mannequins. In large retail chains, store layouts
typically are designed corporately, through a central design department.
To retain the chain's visual identity and ensure that a particular image
or theme is promoted in each store, designs are distributed to individual
stores by e-mail, downloaded to computers equipped with the appropriate
design software, and adapted to meet the size and dimension requirements
of each individual store.
Set and exhibit designers create sets for movie, television, and
theater productions and design special exhibition displays. Set designers
study scripts, confer with directors and other designers, and conduct research
to determine the historical period, fashion, and architectural styles appropriate
for the production on which they work. They then produce sketches or scale
models to guide in the construction of the actual sets or exhibit spaces.
Exhibit designers work with curators, art and museum directors, and trade-show
sponsors to determine the most effective use of available space.Working Conditions
Working conditions and places
of employment vary. Designers employed by manufacturing establishments,
large corporations, or design firms generally work regular hours in well-lighted
and comfortable settings. Designers in smaller design consulting firms,
or those who freelance, generally work on a contract, or job, basis. They
frequently adjust their workday to suit their clients schedules and deadlines,
meeting with the clients during evening or weekend hours when necessary.
Consultants and self-employed designers tend to work longer hours and in
smaller, more congested, environments.
Designers may transact business in their own offices or studios or in
clients homes or offices. They also may travel to other locations, such
as showrooms, design centers, clients exhibit sites, and manufacturing facilities.
Designers who are paid by the assignment are under pressure to please clients
and to find new ones in order to maintain a steady income. All designers
sometimes face frustration when their designs are rejected or when their
work is not as creative as they wish. With the increased speed and sophistication
of computers and advanced communications networks, designers may form international
design teams, serve a geographically more dispersed clientele, research
design alternatives by using information on the Internet, and purchase supplies
electronically, all with the aid of a computer in their workplace or studio.
Occasionally, industrial designers may work additional hours to meet
deadlines. Similarly, graphic designers usually work regular hours, but
may work evenings or weekends to meet production schedules. In contrast,
set and exhibit designers work long and irregular hours; often, they are
under pressure to make rapid changes. Merchandise displayers and window
trimmers may spend much of their time designing displays in their office
or studio, but those who also construct and install the displays may have
to move lumber and heavy materials and perform some carpentry and painting.
Fashion designers may work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare
for fashion shows. In addition, fashion designers may be required to travel
to production sites across the United States and overseas. Interior designers
generally work under deadlines and may put in extra hours to finish a job.
Also, they typically carry heavy, bulky sample books to meetings with clients.
Floral designers generally work regular hours in a pleasant work environment,
but holiday, wedding, and funeral orders often require overtime.
Designers held about 532,000 jobs in 2002. Approximately one-third were
self-employed. Employment was distributed as follows:
|Merchandise displayers and window trimmers
|Commercial and industrial designers
|Set and exhibit designers
Salaried designers worked in a number of different industries, depending
on their design specialty. Graphic designers, for example, worked primarily
in specialized design services; newspaper, periodical, book, and directory
publishers; and advertising and related services. Floral designers were
concentrated in retail florists or floral departments of grocery stores.
Merchandise displayers and window trimmers were dispersed across a variety
of retailers and wholesalers. Interior designers generally worked in specialized
design services or in retail furniture stores. Most commercial and industrial
designers were employed in manufacturing or architectural, engineering,
and related services. Fashion designers generally worked in apparel manufacturing
or wholesale distribution of apparel, piece goods, and notions. Set and
exhibit designers worked primarily for performing arts companies, movie
and video industries, and radio and television broadcasting.
In 2002, a large proportion of designers were self-employed and did freelance
work full time or part time in addition to holding a salaried job in design
or in another occupation.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Creativity is crucial in all design occupations. People in this field
must have a strong sense of the esthetic an eye for color and detail, a
sense of balance and proportion, and an appreciation for beauty. Designers
also need excellent communication and problem-solving skills. Despite the
advancement of computer-aided design, sketching ability remains an important
advantage in most types of design, especially fashion design. A good portfolio
a collection of examples of a person's best work often is the deciding factor
in getting a job.
A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level design positions,
except for floral design and visual merchandising. Esthetic ability is important
in floral design and visual merchandising, but formal preparation typically
is not necessary. Many candidates in industrial design pursue a master's
degree to increase their chances of selection for open positions.
Interior design is the only design field subject to government regulation.
According to the American Society of Interior Designers, 22 States and the
District of Columbia register or license interior designers. Passing the
National Council for Interior Design Qualification examination is required
for registration or licensure in these jurisdictions. To be eligible to
take the exam, an applicant must have at least 6 years of combined education
and experience in interior design, of which at least 2 years constitute
postsecondary education in design. Because registration or licensure is
not mandatory in all States, membership in a professional association is
an indication of an interior designer's qualifications and professional
standing, and can aid in obtaining clients.
In fashion design, employers seek individuals with a 2- or 4-year degree
who are knowledgeable in the areas of textiles, fabrics, and ornamentation,
and about trends in the fashion world. Set and exhibit designers typically
have college degrees in design. A Master of Fine Arts degree from an accredited
university program further establishes one's design credentials. For set
designers, membership in the United Scenic Artists, Local 829, is recognized
nationally as the attainment of professional standing in the field.
Most floral designers learn their skills on the job. When employers hire
trainees, they generally look for high school graduates who have a flair
for arranging and a desire to learn. The completion of formal design training,
however, is an asset for floral designers, particularly those interested
in advancing to chief floral designer or in opening their own businesses.
Vocational and technical schools offer programs in floral design, usually
lasting less than a year, while 2- and 4-year programs in floriculture,
horticulture, floral design, or ornamental horticulture are offered by community
and junior colleges, colleges, and universities. The American Institute
of Floral Designers offers an accreditation examination to its members as
an indication of professional achievement in floral design.
Formal training for some design professions also is available in 2- and
3-year professional schools that award certificates or associate degrees
in design. Graduates of 2-year programs normally qualify as assistants to
designers, or they may enter a formal bachelor's degree program. The Bachelor
of Fine Arts degree is granted at 4-year colleges and universities. The
curriculum in these schools includes art and art history, principles of
design, designing and sketching, and specialized studies for each of the
individual design disciplines, such as garment construction, textiles, mechanical
and architectural drawing, computerized design, sculpture, architecture,
and basic engineering. A liberal arts education or a program that includes
training in business or project management, together with courses in merchandising,
marketing, and psychology, along with training in art, is recommended for
designers who want to freelance. In addition, persons with training or experience
in architecture qualify for some design occupations, particularly interior
Employers increasingly expect new designers to be familiar with computer-aided
design software as a design tool. For example, industrial designers use
computers extensively in the aerospace, automotive, and electronics industries.
Interior designers use computers to create numerous versions of interior
space designs images can be inserted, edited, and replaced easily and without
added cost making it possible for a client to see and choose among several
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits more
than 200 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most
of these schools award a degree in art, and some award degrees in industrial,
interior, textile, graphic, or fashion design. Many schools do not allow
formal entry into a bachelor's degree program until a student has successfully
finished a year of basic art and design courses. Applicants may be required
to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.
The Foundation for Interior Design Education Research also accredits
interior design programs that lead to a bachelor's degree. There are about
120 accredited professional programs in the United States, located primarily
in schools of art, architecture, and home economics.
Individuals in the design field must be creative, imaginative, and persistent
and must be able to communicate their ideas in writing, visually, and verbally.
Because tastes in style and fashion can change quickly, designers need to
be well read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing
trends. Problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently and
under pressure are important traits. People in this field need self-discipline
to start projects on their own, to budget their time, and to meet deadlines
and production schedules. Good business sense and sales ability also are
important, especially for those who freelance or run their own business.
Beginning designers usually receive on-the-job training and normally
need 1 to 3 years of training before they can advance to higher level positions.
Experienced designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design
department head, or other supervisory positions. Some designers leave the
occupation to become teachers in design schools or in colleges and universities.
Many faculty members continue to consult privately or operate small design
studios to complement their classroom activities. Some experienced designers
open their own firms.Job Outlook
Overall employment of designers is expected to grow about as fast as the
average for all occupations through the year 2012 as the economy expands
and consumers, businesses, and manufacturers continue to rely on the services
provided by designers. However, designers in most fields with the exception
of floral design are expected to face keen competition for available positions.
Many talented individuals are attracted to careers as designers. Individuals
with little or no formal education in design, as well as those who lack
creativity and perseverance, will find it very difficult to establish and
maintain a career in the occupation.
Among the design specialties, graphic designers are projected to provide
the most new jobs. Demand for graphic designers should increase because
of the rapidly expanding market for Web-based information and expansion
of the video entertainment market, including television, movies, video,
and made-for-Internet outlets.
Rising demand for interior design of private homes, offices, restaurants
and other retail establishments, and institutions that care for the rapidly
growing elderly population should spur employment growth of interior designers.
New jobs for floral designers are expected to stem mostly from the relatively
high replacement needs in retail florists that result from comparatively
low starting pay and limited opportunities for advancement. The majority
of new jobs for merchandise displayers and window trimmers will also result
from the need to replace workers who retire, transfer to other occupations,
or leave the labor force for other reasons.
Increased demand for industrial designers will stem from continued emphasis
on the quality and safety of products, demand for new products that are
easy and comfortable to use, and the development of high-technology products
in medicine, transportation, and other fields. Demand for fashion designers
should remain strong, because many consumers continue to seek new fashions
and fresh styles of apparel. Employment growth for fashion designers will
be slowed, however, by declines in the apparel manufacturing industries.
Despite faster-than-average growth for set and exhibit designers, few job
openings will result because the occupation is small.
Median annual earnings for commercial and industrial designers were $52,260
in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $39,240 and $67,430. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $28,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $82,130. Median annual earnings were $61,530 in architectural, engineering,
and related services.
Median annual earnings for fashion designers were $51,290 in 2002. The
middle 50 percent earned between $35,550 and $75,970. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $25,350, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,280.
Median annual earnings for floral designers were $19,480 in 2002. The
middle 50 percent earned between $15,880 and $23,560. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $13,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $29,830.
Median annual earnings were $21,610 in grocery stores and $18,950 in florists.
Median annual earnings for graphic designers were $36,680 in 2002. The
middle 50 percent earned between $28,140 and $48,820. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $21,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,160.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of
graphic designers were as follows:
|Advertising and related services
|Specialized design services
|Printing and related support activities
|Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers
Median annual earnings for interior designers were $39,180 in 2002. The
middle 50 percent earned between $29,070 and $53,060. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $21,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,640.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of
interior designers were as follows:
|Architectural, engineering, and related services
|Specialized design services
Median annual earnings of merchandise displayers and window dressers
were $22,550 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $18,320 and $29,070.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,100, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $40,020. Median annual earnings were $22,130 in department
Median annual earnings for set and exhibit designers were $33,870 in
2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,780 and $46,350. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $17,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more
The American Institute of Graphic Arts reported 2002 median annual earnings
for graphic designers with increasing levels of responsibility. Staff-level
graphic designers earned $40,000, while senior designers, who may supervise
junior staff or have some decision making authority that reflects their
knowledge of graphic design, earned $55,000. Solo designers, who freelanced
or worked under contract to another company, reported median earnings of
$55,000. Design directors, the creative heads of design firms or in-house
corporate design departments, earned $85,000. Graphic designers with ownership
or partnership interests in a firm or who were principals of the firm in
some other capacity earned $93,000.
The above information is was collected from
the U.S Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos090.htm)
on July 1, 2005
Designer Definition Guide
Don't forget to check out the
Fashion Designers by Name section.