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Job Description: Furniture Designer

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Furniture designers are proficient in designing and creating furnishings, taking into consideration both functionality and fashion. They design both exterior and interior furnishings, often keeping in mind things like customer preferences, sustainability, ergonomics, and practicality.

Furniture creation has been an art form for hundreds of years. Historically, many furniture designers created pieces for the aristocracy and nobility. Today, furniture makers design for the masses, creating dressers, beds, sofas, and many other pieces for modern homes, apartments, offices and more.

On any given day designers will work with clients producing new and unique designs or improving existing designs, forecasting and budgeting, testing new ideas using prototypes or models, preparing detailed final designs after alterations or improvements have been made, and carrying out research to develop new ideas and drawings.

They are creative and practical. They have excellent drawing skills, as well as a thorough knowledge of computer design software. Designers have an eye for grids and patterns, an understanding of layout, plot drawings and plans, good communication and listening skills, and spatial design skills as they relate to dimension and structure.

Job Description and Benefits

Furniture designers will create designs for furniture and other items that will be mass-produced, produced in small batches or made as one-off individual pieces.

You may just be involved in the design aspect of the work or you could be a highly-skilled crafts person producing items from your own designs.

You'll either work alone or alongside colleagues creating concepts and designs that balance innovative design, functional requirements and aesthetic appeal.

Your work activities as a furniture designer will vary according to whether you are self-employed working alone or with one or two other craftspeople or employed by a manufacturing company, with a group of experienced furniture designers.

The responsibilities of a furniture designer could include:

  • Studying, researching and planning various styles of furniture design
  • Finding ways to improve furniture items already manufactured
  • Staying 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.

A furniture designer should have:

  • The ability to work to deadlines
  • Collaborative skills, particularly if working in a multidisciplinary practice
  • A desire to keep up to date with market trends and new ideas
  • Skills for running a business if you’re self-employed - these could include marketing, sales, finance, buying, maintenance engineering and production.
  • A keen sense of aesthetic beauty and a good eye for detail
  • The ability to draw and conceptualise three-dimensional objects
  • The ability to work with a variety of different materials like wood, metal, fabric, and paper and pencil

What is the work like?

If you're a self-employed designer, you'll need to allocate a portion of your time to marketing and business administration, as well as promoting 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 time on collaborative projects, working with theatre set designers or retail interior designers, for example.

A lot of your time will be spent in a design studio or workshop but you may have to travel to visit clients and suppliers, and to attend meetings and trade shows.

Furniture designer jobs can be for large companies like Ikea, or for small independent businesses. Some furniture designers work on a freelance basis creating furniture pieces on demand for customers.

Those who work for large companies may do much of their work in offices, and must occasionally travel to testing facilities, exhibit sites, showrooms, and other locations. Furniture designers who work for small businesses, like independent furniture stores, may spend most of their time in a workshop.

Hours and Environment

Working for an organisation will usually mean a full-time week from 9am to 5.30pm, with some flexibility to work extra hours if required.

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.

Travel within a working day, overnight absence from home, and overseas work or travel may occasionally be required, depending on your choice of market and scale of work. This is most likely to occur as you gain experience and develop a good reputation.

Salary and other benefits

Pay rates vary depending on where you work, the size of the company or organisation and the demand for the job. You might work for a large manufacturing firm, a small family business or a design company doing work for several manufacturing firms.

  • When starting out, you can expect to earn between £18,000 and £25,000.
  • With some experience, you can earn around £30,000.
  • Furniture designers with several years' experience can earn £40,000 or more.

Earning potential can rise considerably for well-known, independent designers. Some designers negotiate royalties for their designs with manufacturers.

Skills and Personal Qualities

Personal skills which are ideal for anyone thinking of pursuing a career as a furniture designer include: 

  • 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
  • Collaborative skills, particularly if working in a multidisciplinary practice
  • A desire to keep up to date with market trends and new ideas
  • Skills for running a business if you’re self-employed - these could include marketing, sales, finance, buying, maintenance engineering and production.

Interests

It is important for furniture designers to have an interest in:

  • The world of interior design
  • The creative industries
  • Drawing and CAD software

Getting in

Furniture makers can choose different educational paths to achieve their objectives. Entry is competitive so any related work experience is valuable. Many employers consider potential to be just as important as experience, so it's essential that you demonstrate a working interest in the design field. Visit design exhibitions, read design journals and keep up to date with new software and technology in the sector.

It's important to produce your own experimental work and enter competitions and shows to get your work noticed. On rare occasions, a graduate may be offered work as a result of their furniture degree show. Connect with contacts you have made and apply speculatively to any companies or individuals that match your design style. You can use this approach for finding work experience opportunities and job openings.

Showcase your work in a professional-looking portfolio or website containing photographs, drawings and other design work.

Entry for young people

Although entry into furniture designer jobs 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 design and making or product and furniture design.

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 and product design.

A portfolio of work is required for entry on to degree courses. You can then use your degree portfolio when applying for jobs. You may choose to undertake postgraduate study. In which case, search postgraduate courses in furniture.

Entry for adults

It's important to produce your own experimental work and enter competitions and shows to get your work noticed. On rare occasions, a graduate may be offered work as a result of their furniture degree show. Connect with contacts you have made and apply speculatively to any companies or individuals that match your design style. You can use this approach for finding work experience opportunities and job openings.

Training

The amount of training you receive as a new recruit will vary depending on the company you work for. Most employers will expect you 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. As a designer, you'll need to continue to build your portfolio, develop your skills and attract new contacts throughout your career.

Getting On

Larger design companies often offer more structured progression opportunities, while a greater degree of flexibility may be achieved working for yourself or in a partnership or small collective with other designers.

Progression can be to the role of consultant designer, senior consultant designer or even manager or company director in large firms. However, it's usually true that the higher you progress up the career ladder, the less actual design work you are able to do.

Other career prospects include:

  • A sideways move between self-employment and employment or different employment settings
  • Specialising in an area of furniture design - e.g. ergonomics
  • Creating bespoke designs to order - perhaps building up a select client base
  • Becoming a furniture buyer for a large company or organisation, or on behalf of other client groups, such as the tourism and hospitality sectors.

You could also consider teaching and lecturing, either as a form of career development or alongside regular design work to supplement your income. Other fields such as curating or journalism (where you can use your furniture design knowledge) offer other alternative paths.

Further Reading

Mackintosh Furniture: Techniques & Shop Drawings by Michael Crow - Architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed hundreds of pieces of furniture throughout his career. Ranging in style from Arts & Crafts to Art Nouveau to Modern, his furniture occupies an interesting place in history and had tremendous influence on American and European furniture design. Mackintosh Furniture: Techniques & Shop Drawings for 30 Designs is a guide to recreating Mackintosh's work.

The Atlas of Furniture Design by Various Authors - The Atlas of Furniture Design employed a team of more than 70 experts and features over 550 detailed texts about key objects. In-depth essays provide sociocultural and design-historical context to four historical epochs of furniture design and the pieces highlighted here, enriched by a detailed annex containing designer biographies, glossaries, and elaborate information graphics. 

Guerilla Furniture Design by Will Holman - This innovative collection features 35 simple, inexpensive projects that you can make from salvaged and upcycled materials - cardboard, metal, plastic, and wood. The projects include tables, shelving units, chairs, lamps, and more, in a variety of styles. Many are stackable and easily portable, most can be made in a weekend, and all include instructions for disassembly and disposal when you're ready to re-purpose the materials. If you'd rather make than buy, these low-budget, high-style designs are just what you're looking for.

Furniture Design: An Introduction to Development, Materials and Manufacturing by Stuart Lawson - Furniture Design is a comprehensive guide and resource for students and furniture designers. As well as discussing pioneering contemporary and historical designs, it also provides substantive answers to designers’ questions about function, materials, manufacture and sustainability, integrating guidance on all of these subjects – particularly material and manufacturing properties, in one accessible and structured volume.

Modern British Furniture: Design since 1945 by Lesley Jackson - Exploring the free-spirited and resourceful character of British design, this is a story of entrepreneurs who spearheaded their own companies – Lucian Ercolani at Ercol, Terence Conran at Habitat and Rodney Kinsman at OMK, among others – and the creative alliances between impassioned individuals and enlightened manufacturers, such as Frank Guille at Kandya.

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