Furniture designers produce designs for items of furniture and related products. These designs may then be mass produced or made in small batches or as one-off individual pieces.
Designers may be involved in the design aspect of the work alone or they may be highly skilled craftsmen and designer/makers, producing the items from their own designs.
Designers work alone or alongside colleagues creating concepts and designs that balance innovative design, functional requirements and aesthetic appeal.
The process of furniture design demands creativity, business awareness and skills in marketing, finance, sales and manufacturing.
The role may involve a number of functions, particularly for the self-employed, including:
- production manager;
- maintenance engineer.
Work activities vary according to whether you are a self-employed furniture designer working alone, working with one or two other like-minded craftspeople, or whether you are employed by a manufacturing company with a group of experienced furniture designers. Tasks are likely to include the following:
- studying, researching and planning various styles of furniture design;
- finding ways to improve furniture items already manufactured;
- keeping informed about design trends and developments;
- selecting suitable materials, which might include wood, metal, plastic and textiles;
- discussing designs with clients for custom ordering or with manufacturers;
- generating sample designs using computer-aided design (CAD), card models, sketches or hard prototypes;
- using software packages such as AutoCAD, Inventor, SolidWorks and Photoshop;
- preparing detailed final designs;
- liaising with craftsmen or production department staff - such as production managers, marketing staff and design engineers - about the process of construction or manufacture;
- evaluating issues such as pricing and fixing costs, fashion, purchasing, safety, materials and manufacturing methods and techniques;
- using various tools to complete projects from raw materials to finished furniture items;
- organising plans and schedules with respect to the availability of resources;
- attending workshops, seminars and training on various types of manufacturing and furniture design.
If you're a self-employed designer, you'll need to allocate a portion of your time to marketing and business administration and promote yourself through advertising your services or attending furnishing fairs and exhibitions.
Many designers have a natural interest in associated fields of design and may spend some time on collaborative projects working, for example, with theatre set designers or retail interior designers on certain projects.
Pay rates vary depending on where you work, the size of the company or organisation and the demand for the job. Furniture designers might work for a large manufacturing firm, a small family business or a design company doing work for several manufacturing firms.
- When you're starting out, you can expect to earn in the region of £17,000+, rising to around £25,000+ once you've gained some experience.
- Furniture designers with several years' experience can earn £35,000+.
Earning potential can rise considerably for well-known, independent designers. Some designers negotiate royalties for their designs with manufacturers.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours for self-employed designers may be irregular and flexibility is essential. Late finishes and weekend work may be required when deadlines approach.
Part-time work is possible for established designers.
What to expect
- A lot of time is spent in a design studio or workshop but designers are required to travel to visit clients and suppliers, and to attend meetings and trade shows.
- Self-employed designers sometimes share a workshop with other designers to help reduce costs.
- The proportion of women in the profession is rising as more women take furniture and industrial design based courses.
- Manufacturers and design consultancies are found throughout the UK and Europe.
- Travel within a working day, overnight absence from home, and overseas work or travel may occasionally be needed, depending on your choice of market and scale of work. This is most likely to occur as a designer gains more experience and develops a good reputation.
Although entry without a degree may be possible through an apprenticeship, or by starting work straight from school as a trainee, young furniture designers increasingly have a relevant degree, BTEC or HND in a furniture-related subject such as:
- furniture design;
- furniture studies;
- product and furniture design;
- furniture design and making.
Courses with a mix of practical skills and creative design may be particularly useful.
Other relevant degree subjects include:
- art and design, 3D design or spatial design;
- ceramics and glass;
- furniture technology;
- product design.
A portfolio of work is required for entry on to degree courses. This would then be used when applying for jobs.
You will need to show:
- creative and practical ability;
- drawing skills and strong visual awareness;
- manual dexterity and good hand-eye coordination;
- an understanding of computer-aided design (CAD) and other technological advances;
- knowledge of industrial processes and techniques, safety issues and specialist fields or materials;
- communication skills;
- commercial focus;
- self-motivation, self-discipline and persistence;
- flexibility and adaptability;
- the ability to work to deadlines;
- possibly in a multidisciplinary practice;
- a desire to keep up to date with market trends and new ideas;
- business and marketing skills, for those thinking of self-employment.
Entry is competitive so any related work experience is valuable. Try researching companies and making speculative applications to those that match your design style. Some degree courses include a work placement. Check out available courses on Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
On rare occasions a graduate may be offered work as a result of their furniture degree show, but you'll need to be proactive in job searching. Network, sell yourself and your skills and seize any opportunities that arise.
Start by thinking of the contacts you have made during your degree, particularly through work experience placements. It's important to showcase your work in a professional-looking portfolio or website containing photographs, drawings and other design work.
Many employers consider potential to be just as important as experience, so it is essential that you demonstrate a working interest in the design field. Make sure that you regularly visit design exhibitions, read design journals and keep up to date with new software and technology in the sector.
It's also important to produce your own experimental work and enter competitions and shows to get your work noticed.
For access to information about a range of creative careers, including ceramics design, take a look at Creative Choices.
Furniture designers may find employment with, or through, the following:
- design practices and studios;
- consultancy practices;
- furniture manufacturing companies;
- interior and multidisciplinary design studios;
- architectural practices;
- exhibition organisers;
- commissioning departments of public and private bodies, e.g. councils and large corporate firms;
- private buyers (occasionally).
Many furniture designers choose to be self-employed or undertake freelance work for corporate or domestic clients.
Self-employed designers may initially have to look for income from other sources, including other part-time work, until they build up a client base.
For information on setting up a business see self-employment. Additional information is provided by:
Look for job vacancies at:
Specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies, see Careers in Design. Some may only deal with people who already have commercial experience.
Networking is crucial and trade fairs can be a useful source of information and contacts.
Design directories will help you identify design companies to target for speculative applications, see the Directory of Design Consultants.
As a designer you'll need to continue to build your portfolio, develop your skills and attract new contacts throughout your career.
It is vital to keep up to date with developments in materials, equipment and design trends by attending and exhibiting your work at trade shows and exhibitions. Professional journals are useful sources of information on latest trends and news, take a look at Design Week.
Joining a professional body is also useful. Membership can provide professional recognition, access to advice, opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) and industry contacts. For more information see the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD).
Developing additional practical skills may be helpful, particularly for self-employed designers. Many local colleges and design institutions offer relevant courses such as upholstery, carpentry, and computer-aided design (CAD).
Further study can provide new inspiration and the opportunity to experiment, diversify and obtain specialist knowledge.
The amount of training available to new recruits will vary depending on the company. Most employers will expect new recruits to have the basic skills but will often provide training days on new technologies and software or on company policies. Occasionally supervision is given by a design director but most companies do not allocate individual mentors.
Opportunities for structured progression usually exist in larger design companies; while working for yourself, or in partnership, or a small collective of designers will probably offer more flexibility in the direction of your career.
If you're a designer working on a smaller scale, success will depend on a mixture of these things:
- design skills;
- networking skills;
Many designers choose to be self-employed, working from a studio or workshop. At the beginning of their careers it's common for new designers to share studio space to divide costs and pool resources. For lists of studios and information about funding, check with the Crafts Council or your regional arts board:
For information useful for career development, see a-n.
Furniture designers, typically known as consultant designers, may progress to the role of senior consultant designer, even eventually reaching the level of manager or company director in large firms. However, it is usually true that the higher a designer progresses up the career ladder, the less actual design work he or she is able to do.
Sideways movement between self-employment and employment within small limited-production studios to large mass production manufacturing companies is also possible.
Designers may specialise in an area of furniture design, building up a particular set of skills and knowledge, for example concentrating on ergonomics - perhaps to meet the specific requirements of companies with large office spaces. Or they may increase their earning potential and enhance their professional reputation by gradually building up a select client base and creating bespoke designs to order.
Another avenue for experienced designers is becoming a furniture buyer for a large company or organisation, or on behalf of other client groups, such as the tourism and hospitality sectors, or private individuals.
Some experienced furniture designers choose to move into other fields, such as curating, journalism, teaching and lecturing, where they can use their furniture design knowledge.
Teaching can either be a form of career development or work that is carried out alongside regular design work, often used as a way of supplementing income.