Check out NEA’s impressive report on “Empowering the Art of Industrial Design: A Profile of the Sector and Its Importance to Manufacturing, Technology and Innovation”

On the occasion of the IDSA 2013 International Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts is happy to present a new report on the practice of industrial design in the United States. “For nearly four decades, the National Endowment for the Arts has used data collected at the federal level to describe the demographic and financial characteristics of artists as workers.” Entitled Valuing the art of industrial design: a profile of the sector and its importance for manufacturing, technology and innovation, the document details facts and figures related to the industrial design profession.

Design is a strong field in our nation’s manufacturing and service industries, as evidenced by the national datasets that form the basis of this report. Designers are prolifically inventing new products, processes and systems that have a profound impact on our economy and our civil society.

Drawing heavily 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 importance of industrial design, along with projections on its growth over the next decade. or so (these forecasts are looking towards 2020 because they are based on 2010 data). With 830,000 practitioners, design represents the largest proportion of this group, almost 40%; it should be noted that industrial (or commercial) designers are considered artists, where engineers would not be – a long-discussed topic that came up at various points in the conference – alongside “fashion designers, floral, graphic, interior and decor as well as merchandise displays.” In fact, the Promoting the art of industrial design takes a largely optimistic view of industrial design’s symbiotic relationship with manufacturing and invention (i.e. patenting), acknowledging the hybrid role of the profession:

At first glance, it might seem that industrial design has little to do with the National Endowment for the Arts. After all, industrial design is clustered around commercial manufacturing and industrial design services businesses. But this view would be short-sighted. Although the Arts Endowment does not provide grants to for-profit companies, it does support schools that train industrial designers and museums that present 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 — with plenty of charts and graphs and even images to boot. The visuals include maps of “car design hubs” in Southern California (p. 23) and companies in Rhode Island (p. 31), as well as some nationwide data representations; the various sidebars cover topics ranging from “Apple vs. Samsung” (p. 41) to aesthetic moves such as “Streamlining” (p. 45).

For those of you who are TLDR types, here is the bulleted list of the top results:

  • There are over 40,000 industrial designers in the United States. Most employed industrial designers work in two sectors: manufacturing (11,730 workers) and professional, scientific and technical services (7,570 workers). Although fewer in number than other design workers (such as graphic designers or interior designers), industrial designers have higher salaries. In 2012, the median annual salary for industrial designers was $59,610.
  • There are 1,579 industrial design establishments in the United States, with a total annual payroll of approximately $1.4 billion. In 2007, industrial design firms achieved total sales of over $1.5 billion. About 94% came from sales of product design, pattern design and manufacturing, 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 design centers for domestic and international automakers. 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 design patents granted in the United States than ever before, part of a 25-year growth spurt starting in the late 1980s.
  • More than half of design patents (54%) granted between 1998 and 2012 were in eight product categories: furniture; recording, communication or information retrieval equipment; tools and hardware; packaging and containers for goods; catering equipment; transport; environmental heating and cooling; and games, toys or sporting goods.
  • Industrial designers are also inventors. Between 1975 and 2010, 40% of people named on design patents were also named on utility patents. In contrast, only 2% of people named on a utility patent were also named on a design patent. A utility patent protects how an item is used and functions, while a design patent protects how an item looks.

View the full report Promoting the art of industrial design here [PDF].

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