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Posted 1.10.17

Industrial designers follow some of the most intensely creative and detail-oriented design processes. As they create products from concept to completion, with multiple rounds of sketching, building, testing and rebuilding, their role often involves working with many departments at an industrial company, from laborers to engineers to managers. (Learn more about the industrial designer’s workflow.)

While their skillset and reach within a company is diverse, industrial designers are often at a loss for how to grow in their career. Like other design-oriented careers we’ve features, industrial designers are caught between creativity and business – constantly striving to innovate while facing the limits of business needs.

Many industrial designers are surprised to find that they already have the skillset needed to free themselves from this conflict; after all, the best business leaders are often those who understand deeply, and through real experience, all of the roles within a company. Because industrial designers are natural problem solvers, they are constantly looking for ways to innovate, no matter what the task may be:

  • Brainstorming big-picture solutions to real-world problems
  • Investigating current products and how they can be improved
  • Narrowing down solutions to fit within a business’ budget and expectations
  • Crafting the best sketch to present to managers and investors
  • Building aesthetically pleasing and functional products
  • Knowing when to finalize a new product for release

With the right training, these problem-solving skills can be translated into team leadership and business management success. While new industrial designers might imagine themselves in the same role years down the road, pursuing leadership without sacrificing their creative abilities can save them from creative corporate burnout.

How Industrial Designers Can Learn Leadership Skills

Industrial designers are already natural design learners. They brainstorm divergently, research intensely, use the knowledge of the experts around them, and ultimately design products that solve specific problems. When training to become a leader, they learn to apply these same design learning skills to team management. By pursuing a design-centered MBA program like Weatherhead’s, they can master the following methods of healthy leadership:

  • Facilitate inclusive, critical conversations with team members to encourage growth
  • Add appreciative inquiry to the brainstorming process, which can be applied to both product development and team dynamics
  • Achieve even more professional success by understanding business principles
  • Help a company pursue high-level solutions by translating the principles of industrial design to management
  • Improve team collaboration by building trust
  • Empower like-minded designers to pursue personal and professional success
  • Foster a unique team culture through design-oriented leadership

Industrial designers have an opportunity to grow as business professionals without sacrificing their creative roots. As leaders, they can foster passion, innovation and strength in a team of creative problem-solvers like themselves.


Interested in learning more about Weatherhead programs? Request more information or apply now, or register for one of over 70 open enrollment courses through Executive Education.

Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University cultivates creativity, innovation, and purpose-driven leadership to design a better world.

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