“Design, vitalized and simplified, will make the comforts of civilized life available to an ever-increasing number of Americans,” said 20th-century industrial design pioneer Raymond Loewy. For the first time, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) takes an in-depth look at this dynamic field in the report Valuing the Art of Industrial Design: A Profile of the Sector and Its Importance to Manufacturing, Technology, and Innovation. NEA representatives announced the report today at the Industrial Designers Society of America’s international conference in Chicago, Illinois.
Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products such as cars, home and electronic appliances, sporting goods, toys, and more. Working in a range of industries, industrial designers combine art, business, and engineering to make products and improve systems that people use every day. In recent years, they have also helped design user experiences and systems in a process known as “design thinking.” For example, industrial designers have worked on teams to improve the way patients and staff interact in the emergency room.
“Industrial designers play a significant role in today’s innovation economy, and they bring a creative lens to approach complex problems or challenges,” said NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa. “We hope this report provokes more discussion about how art works in the U.S. economy.”
Valuing the Art of Industrial Design uses fresh statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office to describe the industrial designer workforce, the sectors that hire them, where industrial designers work, what they and their firms earn, and what kinds of product innovations they make. Among the findings:
- There are more than 40,000 industrial designers in the United States. Most salaried industrial designers work in two sectors, manufacturing (11,730 workers) and professional, scientific, and technical services (7,570 workers). While fewer in number than other design workers (such as graphic designers or interior designers), industrial designers have higher salaries. In 2012, the annual median wage of industrial designers was $59,610.
- There are 1,579 industrial design establishments in the U.S., with a total annual payroll of approximately $1.4 billion. In 2007, industrial design firms earned more than $1.5 billion in total revenue. About 94 percent came from sales of product design, model design and fabrication, and other industrial design services.
- Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are the states with the highest concentration of industrial designers in the workforce.
- California and Michigan each employ more than 3,000 industrial designers. These states serve as hubs of design for both domestic and international car manufacturers. Some of the design centers in these states are the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan; the BMW Design Works in Ventura, California; and Mercedes Advanced Design in Carlsbad, California.
- Industrial design is at an all-time high. There are more U.S. awarded design patents than ever before, part of a 25-year growth spurt starting in the late 1980s.
- More than half of design patents (54 percent) awarded in 1998-2012 were awarded in eight product categories: furnishings; recording, communication, or information retrieval equipment; tools and hardware; packages and containers for goods; food service equipment; transportation; environmental heating and cooling; and games, toys, or sports goods.
- Industrial designers are also inventors. Between 1975 and 2010, 40 percent of people named on design patents were also named on utility patents. By contrast, only two percent of people named on a utility patent were also named on a design patent. A utility patent protects the way an article is used and works, while a design patent protects the way an article looks.
This NEA report on industrial design aligns with a White House initiative to bring more cross-agency support to advanced manufacturing in the United States. The field of advanced manufacturing includes emerging technologies such as nanomanufacturing, industrial robotics, energy efficient manufacturing, and additive manufacturing (i.e. three-dimensional printing). In 2011, the President launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a national effort bringing together industry, universities, and the federal government to foster the advanced manufacturing sector in the U.S. by enabling innovation, securing the talent pipeline, and improving the business climate for advanced manufacturing. The report emphasizes the critical role of design in both manufacturing products and improving the manufacturing process.
The NEA fosters the design field through various endeavors. NEA initiatives such as Our Town, The Mayors’ Institute on City Design, The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, all highlight the role of design in economic revitalization and in creating livable, sustainable communities. The NEA Design Art Works grant program supports activities that encourage, preserve, and disseminate the best in American and global design. On the research front, the NEA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis have created a satellite account on arts and cultural industries, which will capture data on arts industries (including applied arts and design services) and calculate the contributions of these sectors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Filed Under: Industrial automation