A product developer combines art, engineering and business to design products that people use each and every day. Product developers are both creative and practical. The designs they work on are mass-produced -- from kitchen appliances to toys to furniture. Product developers are also commonly known as commercial and industrial designers.
What Product Developers Do
According to Collegeboard.com, product developers sketch designs and use computer-aided design programs to transform a rough concept into something more specific. Product developers also know exactly what type of materials are used for the product -- inside and out. They develop working models or samples which are tested. A developer may work as a part of a team and may meet with engineers, clients and other people to get the project done.
Wage Range and Prospects
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial and industrial designers earned a national average hourly rate of $31.04 and an average annual salary of $64,570 as of 2013. Eighty percent of designers earned between $35,530 annually and $96,570 annually. As to outlook, the BLS predicts a 4 percent growth in jobs for product developers between 2012 and 2022. Although the government expects jobs in manufacturing to decline, employment in precision instruments and medical equipment is projected to increase. Applicants with a strong background in computer-aided design and engineering will have the best job opportunities.
Major Industries and Top Pay
According to the BLS May 2013 report, specialized design services employed the highest number of product developers with an average annual salary of $64,180. Other industries that employed high numbers were management of companies and enterprises; architectural, engineering and related services; miscellaneous manufacturing; and motor vehicle manufacturing. Support activities for mining, the highest-paying industry, reported an average annual salary of $91,450. Missouri was the top-paying state with an average salary of $72,790 annually.
Product developers work for large corporations, design firms and manufacturing establishments, according to the BLS. These workers work in well-lit and comfortable office or computer laboratory settings. Self-employed designers sometimes work from a home office. Designers who freelance or work in small design firms sometimes work under contract for specific tasks. Freelancers may adjust their workday to accommodate a client's schedules or deadlines, and self-employed designers tend to work longer hours.
Paths to the Job
A bachelor's degree is the typical requirement for most entry-level product developer positions, according to the BLS. Appropriate majors include industrial design, engineering or architecture, and the coursework should include computer-aided design, or CAD. Many programs also include internships at manufacturing or design firms. Some designers earn a Master's in Business Administration to gain an understanding of how product design fits into a business plan. Prospective designers also need a solid design portfolio to showcase their talent and skills to employers.