Spotlights

Job Description

Chances are you’ve bought sports-related products in your life, such as baseball gloves, tennis rackets, or bike helmets. As with any other merchandise, someone had to design those products before they could be manufactured and shipped off to the stores where you bought them. Who is doing all that designing? Sports Goods Designers! 

So what exactly falls under the category of sports goods? Law Insider defines sporting goods as “fitness equipment and accessories, which presently involve treadmills, home gyms, aerobic exercises, trampolines, weights and benches and exercise accessories.” But the term can also include “items designed for human use and worn or used in conjunction with sporting, athletic, or recreational activities.” 

Though it isn’t a well-known career type, Sports Goods Designers — also known as product or industrial designers — are key to the multimillion-dollar industry that provides youth and adults with an insanely broad range of sporting and athletic goods and products used at home, at schools, in gyms, and in professional sporting events around the world. Even though we don’t usually think about them, without the hard work of these “behind-the-scenes” product and industrial design experts, life would be a lot less fun!  

 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Designing unique sports and fitness items and upgrading features of existing products
  • Producing gear that will help entertain a wide range of users while promoting physical fitness
  • Helping mitigate injuries by enhancing safety features 
  • Contributing to fitness, health, and wellness for people of all ages
$77,030
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Sports Goods Designers usually work full-time jobs, generally indoors but with travel sometimes needed to visit and collaborate with project managers and engineers.

Typical Duties

  • Review markets for trends
  • Conceptualize potential new products or upgrades on existing ones
  • Look for problems that a new product or feature could solve for users 
  • Research existing products and designs to see what’s currently available or what’s been tried before
  • Come up with design ideas on potential consumer interest
  • Review and analyze competitor products to uncover unmet consumer needs or wants
  • Draft initial concept sketches and visual designs to go over with other designers, managers, and engineers
  • Apply aesthetic skills to producing 3D models 
  • Consider materials and fabrics to be used
  • Keep user experience and ergonomics in mind while designing 
  • Discuss short- and long-term potential for products
  • Go over cost estimates with production executives
  • Continue to develop approved ideas until they are ready to be prototyped, tested, manufactured, and marketed
  • Pay close attention to feedback during testing 

 

Additional Responsibilities

  • Explore ideas with team members outside the design department
  • Consider stakeholder interests and be able to explain product strategies and visions
  • Stay involved and offer support during the execution of design plans 
  • Monitor sales performance and consumer feedback after a product is launched
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Communication skills 
  • Consumer-focus  
  • Creativity 
  • Curiosity
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm 
  • Interest in games, sports, and fitness
  • Organizational skills
  • Patience
  • Persuasiveness
  • Resourcefulness 
  • Sound judgment and decision-making
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Technical Skills

  • Business-orientation
  • Familiarity with design tools
  • Knowledge of software related to:
    • Analytics 
    • Computer aided design
    • Computer aided manufacturing
    • Development environment 
    • Enterprise resource planning 
    • Financial analysis  
    • Geographic information systems 
    • Graphics 
    • Object or component oriented development
  • Knowledge of visual presentation equipment 
  • Knowledge of generative research methods
  • Understanding problem-solving frameworks and lean product management
Different Types of Organizations
  • Sporting goods and exercise equipment manufacturers and businesses
  • Manufacturing
  • Wholesale trade
Expectations and Sacrifices

Sports and fitness equipment and gear must be rugged, durable, and reliable because it gets used over and over, sometimes by multiple people. Thus, consumers expect companies to produce goods that will last. 

Meanwhile, product manufacturers are interested in keeping costs as low as possible, so designers are stuck in the middle, trying to help companies save money while also putting out products that meet customer expectations. To an extent, they must ensure sufficient research and development is budgeted for. They must also be involved with quality assurance, so products are developed utilizing quality materials that meet necessary safety standards and prototypes are thoroughly tested before hitting the market.

Sports Goods Designers must use a human-centered design approach that puts consumer safety and needs first. Communication between teams is vital and designers may need to put their people skills to full use as they work with others to meet objectives and address issues effectively. 

 

Current Trends

The sports equipment industry has been valued at ~$111 billion, making it a wildly lucrative area of business. As Keith Storey, President of Sports Marketing Surveys USA, noted, “It’s impressive to see that the sports industry has outperformed the US economy for a second straight year. It highlights again the growing number of people taking part in sport, and…the wider pool of potential buyers in particular sports.”

Trends include an increase in individual outdoor sports and home exercise; a major boost in sales for “athleisure” wear; more digital-enabled fitness and exercise offerings (allowing for remote group exercising); and shifts in how goods are sold (increasing online and with the help of influencer marketing). 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

Sports Goods Designers likely enjoyed playing sports or engaging in fitness-related hobbies that required equipment or gear. It’s possible they noted problems that they wanted to fix one day by creating better products. Like most designers, they’re creative and have a talent for art, but they are also practical and realistic. They may have liked tinkering with gadgets, doing arts and crafts projects, or creating tangible things with their hands.

Education and Training Needed
  • Sports Goods Designers should have at least a bachelor’s degree in product or industrial design
  • Some employers may prefer candidates with hands-on product design or manufacturing work experience
  • Students should also learn how to use prototyping tools
  • There are not many degree programs that focus specifically on sports goods/products design, but the University of Oregon’s Master of Science in Sports Product Design offers a look into typical coursework:
    • Collaborative Creation and Launch Studio
    • Design Research Methodology 
    • Digital Technologies 
    • Human Biomechanics
    • Human Performance and Sports Products
    • Human Physiology
    • Innovative Project Strategy Development 
    • Materials and Manufacturing
    • Product Design Studios
    • Soft Goods Technologies 

As noted by the Princeton Review, product designers can expect to start out as part-time assistants in the beginning, then “undergo a training program in which they are rotated to various positions within the company” so they can “gain valuable experience in finance, production, development, marketing, and sales.”

Things to look for in a program
  • Several colleges around the nation offer product design majors for undergraduates
  • Ensure the school and program you’re interested in is accredited
  • Compare tuition and other costs to be certain you’re getting the best value for your money
  • Think about the pros and cons of online versus on-campus learning. In some cases, a hybrid program might be most suitable
  • Read college program faculty bios to learn about their backgrounds, accomplishments, and innovations
  • See if you can find programs that offer exciting internship opportunities with big brands!
Things to do in High School and College
  • Take plenty of classes in English, writing, communications, art, sculpture, graphic design, business, math, physics, marketing, and IT-related topics
  • Participate in sports and fitness programs. Pay attention to the products, equipment, and gear used 
  • Think of ways you might alter or improve products. Talk to friends to get their ideas and listen to problems they’ve experienced 
  • Sketch your ideas in notebooks or on digital tablets and save them for later reference and inspiration
  • Volunteer or work part-time at athletic centers to get hands-on experience with different types of equipment 
  • Read books and watch documentaries about product design
  • Learn about the different types of products out there, including wearable items, soft goods, smart products that feature electronic systems, etc. 
  • Practice working with software and digital technologies related to product design 
  • Work on your portfolio so you can show off your talents to potential employers in the future
  • Make connections when doing any product design internships
Typical Roadmap
Sports Good Designer Gladeo Roadmap
How to Land your 1st job
  • Ideally, you’ll want to have some prior experience in manufacturing or industrial work
  • Expect to pay your dues by starting as a part-time assistant working with various teams
  • If you did an internship, let that company know when you’ve graduated
  • Move to where the most jobs are. Per BLS, the states with the highest employment level for industrial designers are California, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio
  • Look on employment portals like Indeed and ZipRecruiter
  • Read job posts thoroughly. Make sure your background meets all applicable needs listed by the employer. Note any skills/experience gaps so you can work on those to boost your qualifications 
  • Check out product designer resume templates for ideas
  • Consult your school’s career center for help writing a resume, practicing interview techniques, and connecting with recruiters 
  • On your resume, list ample details about your work experience, formal education, volunteerism, and accolades
  • Reach out to former supervisors and professors to ask if they’ll serve as personal references
  • Have your online portfolio polished and filled with high-quality photos and descriptive details that showcase your visual and interactive design skills and creativity 
    • Include concepts to improve existing products. If you have an idea for an original product, consider protecting your intellectual property with a patent before sharing it
  • While some product designers launch their own entrepreneurial enterprises, it may be good to land a traditional job first to gain experience
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Stay focused on the business aspects of work. Offer ideas that turn into viable, money-making products
    • The more profit you help your employer earn, the more responsibilities and compensation you should be rewarded with!
  • Never cut corners when it comes to product safety, which equals consumer safety
  • Be the go-to problem solver that your employer comes to trust and rely upon 
  • Pour all your creativity in your job, but remain open to constructive criticism
  • Demonstrate patience and persistence as you collaborate with teams and managers. Learn how to de-escalate conflict so everyone can keep moving towards goal achievement
  • Stay on top of sports goods design trends and never stop learning new techniques 
  • Consider doing ad hoc courses that’ll help you explore new skills 
  • If feasible, enroll in a master’s degree program to take your talent to the next level
  • Company loyalty is important, but if there are no advancement opportunities with your current employer, research other options. Just remember to leave on good terms and never burn bridges!

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