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Grad Program: Industrial Design

Basic Information

Industrial design is one of those ubiquitous fields that many people don’t know how to describe. One industrial designer said, “I can't count how many times I have been asked if my title means I design large industrial plants and buildings. No! I design athletic shoes!”

Some industrial designers do overlap into architecture--take, for instance, designer Michael Graves, whose building designs gained international acclaim long before he started designing best-selling household goods for Target stores. But no matter the product, you can bet an industrial designer had a hand in its development. From housewares to heavy machinery, designers are constantly creating concepts for consumer goods: sketching, making models, and working with clients and engineers on product specifications, manufacturing, and logistics.

Like other design fields (graphic design, for instance), industrial design is the unfolding of art into commodity--which is to say, a chance to work in a challenging, creative field and not eat ramen every day. Industrial designers--working with engineers, marketers, ergonomic experts, and, of course, clients--spend their time creating fresh, new or improved, user-centered products and environments that increase the aesthetic and efficiency of everyday life.

Degree Information

Most graduate schools with an Industrial Design department offer an MA, an MFA, or both. The MA is a 45-credit program, while the more in-depth MFA program--commonly considered the terminal degree in the field--requires 90 credits. Both programs center on themes of advanced design management, inquiry, and innovation. A thesis or research project is usually required.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Are you a creative thinker who enjoys solving problems?
  • Are you a good communicator and collaborator?
  • Can you think three-dimensionally and visualize clearly?
  • Can you set aside your personal tastes to design commercially for a target market?
  • Does the school you’re considering have good connections to local industry?
  • Does the program offer courses in specific areas of industrial design that interest you?
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