While some startups are more than eager to hire anyone with smarts and enthusiasm, established companies and engineering firms are not likely to settle for anyone with less than a bachelor degree from a top school. Product design is fulfilling and lucrative, which makes it a competitive field; to acquire a valuable positon at a stable, respectable company, you need to prove yourself better than the rest. Often, that means getting an advanced degree.
There are a few different advanced degree programs that will aid a career in product design, which means you have plenty of confusing options to help you excel in product design. To help you choose the best academic path for you, here are the most worthwhile educational opportunities to give you a boost in your chosen field.
As a career path, product design has existed seemingly since humankind first used tools - but you will be hard-pressed to find any academic programs using that name. Instead, “industrial design” is typically the field of study that leads students into the product design career. In an industrial design program, you will learn how to imagine and create processes and products that function well and look attractive - the fundamental goals of product design.
Generally, there is very little separating industrial and product design; in fact, most employers use the terms nearly interchangeably. Connotatively, product design is a niche within industrial design, where designers focus on less technical products for consumer markets. Thus, the education provided by advanced industrial design programs is invaluable for your budding career.
As with industrial and product design, confusion remains about the distinctions between product design and development. The fact is a fully functioning product team should include both designers and developers to make beautiful, functional products a reality.
Typically, designers act as visionaries. They think creatively, search out inspiration, and sketch rough ideas for worthwhile products. Then, developers take charge of the product, transforming its aesthetic into a tangible product. Developers often claim the responsibilities of sourcing factories, estimating costs, and executing samples - the more technical duties of product creation. If you are more interested in in the pragmatic aspects of product design, product development is an excellent degree program for you.
While there are some noble souls who enjoy the labor of lower-level positions, to excel in your product design career, you should be aiming for management positions. Though some engineers and designers reach management through their merit and skill, most earn higher-level positions thanks to management training - and engineering management degree programs are excellent options for this field.
Engineering and product design overlap in dozens of ways, and many product designers are formally educated as engineers. Thus, managers of product teams have unique struggles, including overseeing a gaggle of exceedingly intelligent and motivated workers. You can take engineering classes online to bolster your understanding and experience organizing engineers, so you can continue gaining experience in the field while you return to school.
For a similar reason, you might consider pursuing an MBA as your advanced career preparation. Ultimately, the product design field exists to improve business; companies employ product teams to ensure their products are the finest on the market, so consumers will want them, need them, and buy them. An MBA will qualify you for management positions, just like an engineering management degree, but it will also give you a broader view of business functions. Eventually, you could move up the product design ladder to lofty positions like Senior Design Director or Chief Design Officer, both of which require knowledge of business operations. At that point, having an MBA under your belt will likely come in handy.
Often, a product manager is described as the CEO of a particular product. Like a CEO does for a company, a product manager plans a product’s future, starting from sketches and cost estimates to cultivate a full strategy for marketing and expectations for profits and losses. Unlike an engineering manager, who might oversee a small product team, a product manager claims responsibility for the success or failure of the product. It is a significant duty, but it comes with significant benefits - like a six-figure salary and opportunities to climb even higher on the corporate ladder.
Product management training overlaps significantly with other advanced business degrees, offering education in communications, marketing, economics, statistics, and management. Admittedly, product managers do little product design or development, but obtaining this degree will make you eligible for higher positions in your future career.
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