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Furniture Designers

The Job

Furniture design (which is a specialty of industrial and commercial design) encompasses a variety of skills and disciplines, including history, art, mathematics, drafting, ergonomics, interior design, and carpentry. Furniture designers generate ideas for new pieces or lines of furniture. They usually start with a graphic representation (rough sketches) of the piece to be built and then they build an actual model out of wood or foam core to view the piece in three-dimensional space. Once the model is completed, a prototype is built to the correct size using actual materials. After the prototype is approved, it goes into production, which could involve one carpenter for a custom-designed piece, or a huge factory that mass-produces a variety of pieces.

Furniture designers sit at a drawing board making technical drawings, usually using CAD (computer-aided design) software to illustrate their ideas. They must consider the intended function of the piece, its form, its style, and its environment. The furniture may be a reproduction of a period piece or influenced by an earlier style, or it may be a completely original design. Other considerations include materials, cost, manufacturing processes, and the manufacturing time.

Communication is an important part of the design process. Furniture designers must understand the clients' or employers' demands and be able to translate them into a working model. They must then communicate their ideas to builders and manufacturers to explain materials, shapes, patterns, and construction details. Production of furniture is a complex process that usually involves several people. Engineers, carpenters, assemblers, finishers, accountants, salespeople, marketers, and shippers are all part of the team.

Furniture designers who work on their own or for small companies may be involved in the actual construction process in addition to developing designs. They might use such power tools as a table saw, wood lathe, router, joiner/planer, bandsaw, grinders, and sanders, as well as a variety of hand tools. At a larger company, a designer is more likely to be assigned to one function, perhaps technical drawing or building a prototype.

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