On the occasion of the 2013 IDSA International Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to present a new report on industrial design practice in the United States. "For nearly four decades, the National Endowment for the Arts has used federally collected data to portray the demographic and financial characteristics of artists as workers." Entitled Valuing the Art of Industrial Design: A Profile of the Sector and Its Importance to Manufacturing, Technology & Innovation, the document thoroughly presents facts and figures related to the profession of industrial design.
Design is a field with a large and extensive presence in our nation's manufacturing and services industries, as documented by the national datasets that provide the basis for this report. Designers are prolifically inventing new products, processes, and systems that have a profound impact on our economy and civil society.
Drawing largely on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), supplemented with data from the Census Bureau, the report provides a near-comprehensive survey of the economic significance of Industrial Design, as well as projections about its growth over the next decade or so (these predictions are look to 2020 as they are based on data from 2010). At 830,000 practictioners, design comprises the largest proportion of that group, nearly 40%; it's worth noting that industrial (or commercial) designers are considered to be artists, where engineers would not be—a long-debated topic that came up at various points during the Conference—alongside "fashion, floral, graphic, interior, and set designers as well as merchandise displayers." In fact, the Valuing the Art of Industrial Design largely takes an optimistic outlook on industrial design's symbiotic relationship with manufacturing and invention (i.e. patents), acknowledging the profession's hybrid role:
At first glance, it may seem as though industrial design has little to do with the National Endowment for the Arts. After all, industrial design clusters around the commercial enterprises of manufacturing and industrial design services. But that view would be shortsighted. While the Arts Endowment does not award grants to for-profit companies, it does support the schools that train industrial designers and the museums that display and interpret design to the public.
It's actually surprisingly readable for a 56-page white paper—for starters, it's set in crisp Helvetica Neue Light—featuring abundant charts and graphs and even images to boot. Visuals include maps of 'Car Design Centers' in Southern California (p. 23) and firms in Rhode Island (p. 31), as well as a few data representations on a national scale; the various sidebars cover topics ranging from 'Apple vs. Samsung' (p. 41) to aesthetic movements such as 'Streamlining' (p. 45).
For those of you TLDR types, here's the bulleted list of key 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.
Check out the full report Valuing the Art of Industrial Designhere [PDF].