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Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 20th, 2015, 12:34 pm


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I'm a student at Northwestern currently, and I'm in their Manufacturing and Design Engineering undergraduate program. I'm also getting a second degree in Theatre. I'm really interested in ID, but didn't realize coming into college that companies looking for IDers pretty heavily lean towards people with a traditional ID degree. The MaDE program is a less focused program and stresses design thinking more than traditional ID skills like sketching and rendering, while also adding coursework on manufacturing and mechanical engineering. I'm also getting a lot of experience with harder, artistic skills in the Theatre program, though in a different context of course. All that being said, is it possible for someone like me without a traditional ID background to break into ID in a professional sense, if I can independently work on some of the hard skills that aren't part of my degrees? Or would I have to pursue a masters degree in a more established design program? I'd appreciate any thoughts/advice. Thanks!

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby yo » July 20th, 2015, 3:08 pm

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PJ, what year are you? I'd recommend you transfer to a school that has an ID program.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby Cyberdemon » July 20th, 2015, 7:11 pm

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The issue with not having a traditional ID background is it will be nearly impossible for you to have the same skillsets and portfolio as an ID grad, and many companies may not even look at your resume when they see it has an engineering and theatre degree.

As yo mentioned, if you think you are commited to wanting to learn ID you would be better off seeing if you can find a school that will let you transfer some of your credits for your non major classes (liberal arts, etc) and try to find a program that will let you focus on ID.

Portfolios and projects take a great deal of time to build up and improve, and the studio environment is key for learning what it's like to interact with other designers and get feedback. Even if you learned to be a CAD genius on your own and sketched wonderfully, the design process is what you are paying for in a design education.

You could potentially push yourself very hard a masters program and try to get to the same level, but if kids graduating with BA's have a better portfolio you are still going to have trouble. If you are already 3+ years into a degree then that may not be an option.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 21st, 2015, 8:02 am


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Transferring isn't really an option because I'm an incoming Junior. I wouldn't say that Northwestern lacks an emphasis on the design process, by my estimation it's incredibly dedicated to the process, making a lot of courses project based rather than technique based. Still, the undergraduate program certainly isn't a studio environment, though something like the Engineering Design and Innovation program fits that bill more.

I was definitely considering a masters program, but by the way you're talking about it @Cyberdemon, it seems like it wouldn't do too much to even the odds for me :/ To clarify, is it that I would be too behind the game for it to make a huge difference? Would opportunities like studying abroad/taking summer classes in a more studio-based program while I'm still an undergrad alleviate that at all?

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby Cyberdemon » July 21st, 2015, 8:32 am

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The only reason we mention that is cost wise, if you are an incoming Jr you have 2 years of undergrad, and then another 2 years of a masters program. It may actually be more cost effective to stop while you are ahead and do a 4 year bachelors program.

When I refer to the design process, I really refer to what ID programs specifically teach around "Design Thinking" - there are lots of books on it, but the point of an ID degree is to learn how to execute that process for any project. That is different from the design process taught in engineering programs where it is a different logical process around how you build things.

I've only seen a few masters ID students ever apply for jobs with us, and most of them also had ID undergrad degrees (which made it harder to consider them since they effectively had 6 years of schooling). I've also seen people teach after school and do a lot of freelance work on the side to build up their skills and portfolio, but I expect it would have been hard for them to go straight into the corporate or consulting world right after school.

I don't want to say it's impossible, but you just have to keep in mind kids coming out of school with 4+ years of design work will likely have a stronger portfolio than someone with only 2. It's not an absolute, but just something to consider. If you still have 4 potential years ahead of you, it may be worth reconsidering what you want to do if ID really seems like the path you want to go down.

If not, you can look for Masters programs and just push yourself as hard as possible to make up for lost time. Sketch every day, take on some of your own simple design projects, and use resources like this to get feedback without a studio available.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby iab » July 21st, 2015, 8:56 am


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Northwestern's EDI program is the equivalent and probably more than an ID education. The question is, can you replicate it as an undergraduate at Northwestern?

As an incoming junior, I think you have more than enough time to get an "ID" education as an undergraduate. There is no need to slog out 2 years as an engineer and do another 15 months in the EDI.

Get to an adviser and see what you can customize to your needs. See if you can take the right and not all of the EDI courses to get you that immersion into the design process. Take drawing classes at night if they aren't offered at Northwestern. Teach yourself, plenty of online tutorials.

Also, while I am much more familiar with the NUvention course at Kellogg, I believe Northwestern teaches the full new product development (NPD) process. ID is only a part of the process. I think the "additional" education you can receive would make you a more valuable hire than someone who comes from a traditional ID education.

Good luck. And I am in the greater Chicagoland area if you have any more questions. Although getting to Evanston is a pain in my ass. I occasionally do the North Shore Century and sometimes I go to the track at Northbrook so getting to Evanston is not impossible.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 21st, 2015, 9:43 am


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First of all, thanks so much for the perspectives, I've been doing a lot of research online about these questions but this is a lot more insightful and useful to me.

@Cyberdemon I definitely need to consider the time/monetary commitments that a masters degree would require, and I also feel like I've heard before that MAs in ID end up being for non-industry jobs. Also, I think I'm having trouble distinguishing between the engineering design process and the ID one. The process taught at Northwestern's design department is roughly summarized as research-synthesize-ideate-mockup-test-repeat, and I think it was originally modeled on IDEO's process. The emphasis is on working closely with the user and constantly iterating designs, which I've heard is similar to what would be taught at ID schools, but I'm ultimately unsure. Does that sound close to the process that would be taught in a design studio setting?

@iab I'm definitely doing what I can to swing the degree towards an ID background, and my adviser has been pretty responsive to my interests. I came in with a ludicrous amount of AP credits, and so while a dual degree like the one I'm doing would normally take 5 years, I could theoretically fulfill all of my requirements in 4 without too much trouble. What I'm doing instead of that is taking the full 5 years and just tacking on a bunch of classes that build out some of those other skills, like RP and sketching, and also give me more projects to put on my portfolio. Part of that plan is to take as many EDI courses as I can.

I guess the topic of slogging through engineering courses brings me to another question then: do design consultancies and major product design companies care at all for engineering experience in their designers? Will having taken courses on things like manufacturing and structural analysis give me a leg up at all, or is it more of a detriment to have to dedicate my time to those things vs. design projects? The way that NU pitches the MaDE program is that it's a benefit, but I'm curious to know what people in the ID world think. Thanks again for all of your help!

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 21st, 2015, 9:48 am


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First of all, thanks so much for the perspectives, I've been doing a lot of research online about these questions but this is a lot more insightful and useful to me.

@Cyberdemon I definitely need to consider the time/monetary commitments that a masters degree would require, and I also feel like I've heard before that MAs in ID end up being for non-industry jobs. Also, I think I'm having trouble distinguishing between the engineering design process and the ID one. The process taught at Northwestern's design department is roughly summarized as research-synthesize-ideate-mockup-test-repeat, and I think it was originally modeled on IDEO's process. The emphasis is on working closely with the user and constantly iterating designs, which I've heard is similar to what would be taught at ID schools, but I'm ultimately unsure. Does that sound close to the process that would be taught in a design studio setting?

@iab I'm definitely doing what I can to swing the degree towards an ID background, and my adviser has been pretty responsive to my interests. I came in with a ludicrous amount of AP credits, and so while a dual degree like the one I'm doing would normally take 5 years, I could theoretically fulfill all of my requirements in 4 without too much trouble. What I'm doing instead of that is taking the full 5 years and just tacking on a bunch of classes that build out some of those other skills, like RP and sketching, and also give me more projects to put on my portfolio. Part of that plan is to take as many EDI courses as I can.

I guess the topic of slogging through engineering courses brings me to another question then: do design consultancies and major product design companies care at all for engineering experience in their designers? Will having taken courses on things like manufacturing and structural analysis give me a leg up at all, or is it more of a detriment to have to dedicate my time to those things vs. design projects? The way that NU pitches the MaDE program is that it's a benefit, but I'm curious to know what people in the ID world think. Thanks again for all of your help!
Last edited by pj18 on July 21st, 2015, 5:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 21st, 2015, 2:51 pm


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I thought I already posted a response, but it's not showing up, so my apologies if this becomes a double post.

First of all I just wanted to say thanks for the perspectives, they're proving to be incredibly helpful to me, and I really appreciate it.

@Cyberdemon, I definitely have a lot to consider as far the commitments that a masters program would entail. Also, I think I'm having trouble distinguishing an engineering design process from the ID design process. To explain a bit, Northwestern's process is derived from IDEO's philosophy I believe, and it's roughly summarized as research-synthesize-ideate-mockup-test-repeat. They put a lot of emphasis on user-centered design and iteration. How does that compare to what would be taught in an ID program?

@iab I'm trying to take as many EDI courses as possible. My dual degree is a program that would normally take 5 years, but I have enough AP credits that I only would need 4 years to complete the basic degree requirements. That said, there are a lot of classes that aren't directly applicable to the degrees that I want to take so I can develop my skills more, like sketching and RP. My plan then is to take the full 5 years, but intersperse my major requirements with extra, supplemental classes. I'm also considering applying for an internship during the school year, which I hear are less competitive than summer internships. And thank you so much for the offer to meet, I'll definitely consider it.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby iab » July 21st, 2015, 3:16 pm


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I don't know the history of the EDI degree, but it would not surprise me if it came directly from IDEO. Their Chicago office was originally in Evanston and I seem to recall a relationship back then with NU (that was around 15-20 years ago, iirc). The IDEO office was in the same building as one of my clients I would occasionally troll by. :)

As for the iterative process you described, that is exactly what you would get in an ID school. Except for they would want you to rip a "hot sketch" at the design school.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby Cyberdemon » July 21st, 2015, 5:05 pm

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Sorry maybe I got a little bit confused since I'm not familiar with Northwesterns specific program.

Is Manufacturing and Design Engineering teaching that process you described? Or are you talking about a different program?

Yes, that is the process I'm talking about, but wasn't sure if that's part of your current program or the masters program you discussed?

At the end of the day, the process is important, but hot sketches (sometimes sadly) are what catch peoples eyes in a stack of otherwise drab portfolios. Form development, CAD modeling, rendering, etc are all skills that as part of the trade are important. Particularly the aspects around working in collaborative groups and a studio environment learning to take and iterate based on feedback.

Re: Getting into ID with a non-ID major

Postby pj18 » July 21st, 2015, 6:33 pm


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@Cyberdemon it's the same process at the undergraduate and graduate level, though the graduate program is more focused around design, while the undergraduate program has a broader scope. Sorry for the confusion! There's also a pretty significant number of classes offered at NU to build a portfolio, and I'm definitely willing to participate in design challenges and the like to supplement that and develop my skills more.

To relate back to my earlier question, are there other ways for a portfolio to stick out? If I have a background in something unexpected like mechanical design or storytelling, is that enough to elevate my portfolio/resume above the pack, given that I have comparable sketches, renderings, and models to back that up?


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