Academy of Art University Online MFA for Industrial Design

Hi All,

I haven’t had much luck finding any recent comments people have to offer regarding the Online MFA program for Industrial Design AAU. Has anyone graduated from the program yet? If you’re in the program, what do you think?

Unfortunately I’m not in a position to relocate to a physical school and that’s why I’m looking for an online option. I don’t want to waste my time and money if the degree isn’t respected by employers. Any comments?

Thank you.

I can’t comment on AAU because I know nothing about it but I have taken online courses to get a few general ed requirements out of the way (art history, geography, colour theory) and every one I took was was incredibly disappointing. The classes just didn’t even come close to replacing a real classroom experience. I couldn’t have a fluid conversation with professors (ie they couldn’t just sketch something on your page to explain a concept, I had to wait a day for a short reply), students seemed to be there either for the sake of taking the easier route or seemed less driven in general, and trying to learn and participate in a web based classroom was both cumbersome and unnatural. The larger problem I’d argue is you also have no access to school facilities (print, prototyping & machine shops) which is essential for ID and as many have mentioned here, you learn the most from your peers and being in the studios which you won’t have. I can see taking math or history classes where all you’re doing is reading, writing essays, and filling in multiple choice tests but I can’t imagine doing something as hands on and visual like ID online.

I don’t know how a masters degree might be view differently from a bachelors but if its the same, I’d guess that its really more about your portfolio and quality of work. If your work suffers because of the online program then your degree will be less respected. On the other hand if this is your only option and you are incredibly driven you can make up for some of that, its just going to be harder.

Do you have a bachelors in ID already? What’s stopping you from relocating? What do you hope to get from the masters degree?

Hi nzer, I was over in California visiting from England last summer and I actually went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to enquire about the masters degree in ID. I never got chance to look at the actual design studio and workshops but there is some information on the website and images about it.

They recommended that for that particular course it is important that your able to attend the University in person for things like making models and prototypes. I think the course is the same price online too and no way would i invest somewhere near $35,000 per year to study a course online. It is much more expensive for Americans than other Universities because of it being private. For me being international, every University over there has international fees as with most countries.

I’ve also noticed that most job’s only ask for a Bachelors degree in ID or similar courses. I’m not suggesting a Masters isnt good because it would probably be amazing and a great experience as well as giving u a whole new bunch of improved skills and knowledge. However if you are not on campus, I would say this is much much harder as kdb31 has already stated about learning from your peers. At University i learnt more from my peers than from my tutors.

Thanks you both for your opinions. Much appreciated.

I don’t have a bachelors in ID… mine is in engineering.
I can’t relocate because I have a family that can not move with me.
and what I hope to get from a masters degree? I’d like to go into the field. I’ve worked with a few designers before and liked the experience but don’t have enough it to be hired as a designer.

That’s a tough one. Like p waddy mentioned thats a lot of money to pay for an online education but if it’s what you have to do… I’m completely out of my league here but depending on how familiar you are with product design maybe you could take matters into your own hands? There are some great videos like one Yo worked on recently, things like 1HDC, design books, a bunch of student portfolios to look at, everything you need really. You could spend time working on projects of your own, get feedback on here, figure out your weaknesses and perhaps sign up for a few classes at AAU (I’m assuming you can take single courses as well) to round things off. At the end of the day whether you go online or independent how far you get is going to be determined completely by your drive to push yourself.

Now I’d like to end that with a disclaimer mentioning that I am only a recent graduate so this could be an absolutely terrible idea. After watching two engineering and economics friends of mine take up programming on their own and join startups I feel like if you’ve got the initiative you can make it happen, it just won’t be as easy.

Best of luck :slight_smile:

No, it is definitely not a terrible idea. I could see something like that working if you could find 2 or 3 other people in your same situation and you do it together, and you are all very driven. It would be like a vigilante education… taking the law into your own hands!

I wouldn’t do it. I think ID isn’t something you learn online. You need to be immersed and go through it with classmates to really get the full experience and benefit of school. Also the connections you make there will last a lifetime and crucial for your career. I got a lot of jobs through classmates I knew in school. I also picked up and shared skills and learned teamwork with other classmates.

I am currently attending the program you’re talking about. I’m only 8 weeks into my first two classes, but here’s what I’ve observed so far:

  1. The level of work needed to succeed in this program is pretty intense. It’s probably compounded by the fact that it’s online. I’m taking a drawing class which requires anywhere between 20 to 25 pages of drawings per week. The assignments require traditional materials (no Wacom tablets or Sketchbook Pro) and high res photos or scans of the assignments. The Art History class I’m taking requires a lot of discussion similar to Core77’s discussion format. Both classes are taking a tremendous amount of time for me right now. I’m working full time so I can only take 2 classes at most.

  2. The feedback from the drawing class unfortunately comes mostly from other students, which is a little frustrating because sometimes you really need to hear that you suck and fellow students don’t like to take that role. The instructor does an excellent job explaining and illustrating process through process sketches and demonstration videos so there’s little confusion. The instructor I has a degree in industrial design from Art Center, and it’s evident there’s no lack of talent. He answers emails within minutes sometimes, but always within 24 hours.

  3. The Art History professor is very accomplished in her field. She is very involved in the class discussion and provides valuable feedback in a timely manner. Her philosophy is obvious, but she encourages discussion of various ideas from all angles and never pushes an agenda, which is very refreshing for an art school.

  4. I had to drop an Advanced Industrial Design class because the work load was going to be too much. The class required numerous concept models per week for each design. Projects included building a bridge made of drinking straws that could hold 8 ounces of water while only using glue as a fastener at the joints. Another project was a cardboard chair that could hold your weight that used no fasteners at all. Construction process photos were required as well as photos from all angles of the finished project. So you need a workspace or shop at home to be able to complete the assignments.

  5. One of the reasons taking this course online works for me is that I’m already working in the design profession so needing direct professorial guidance isn’t as critical. I can get feedback and honest critiques from colleagues. The cost is really high, $2,500 per class, but the company I work for has a tuition reimbursement program so it definitely helps. If you’re the kind of person who can learn from books by yourself, take that route instead. I just don’t learn very well without a structured format. If you worry that it won’t be challenging, bury the notion and prepare to work really hard. I’ve taken online courses before from another school and was disappointed with how easy it was. This school is different.

Like you, I think pursuing a Master’s in ID is going to open other opportunities within the industrial design field. Working in softgoods pays the bills, but I’ve lost many of the critical skills necessary to work in other aspects of the industry like trans or consumer electronics. This degree is just a means to an end.

Hope this helps. Sorry it’s so long. Good luck with your decision.

Thank you so much thirdnorth for taking time to answer in depth. I really really appreciate it.

great info Third North, thanks for posting it! A lot of people have been wondering about this and this is the only first hand info we have so far to my knowledge.

yep thats some useful info thirdnorth especially from somebody who studies there. Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question but what do you mean by taking various classes? In the UK for a degree we pick a subject such as Product Design, the course is then scheduled on a weekly timetable, mine was mon-fri 9.30-4.30 with half days wednesday. This was for everybody on the course, and we had set time tables for specific things e.g. wednesday would be a lecture for history and theory, monday could be workshop practice, the rest could be working on studio projects. My point is that this was the same for every student and taking a class didnt exist. We took a course and that was that, each part was graded, then we get an overall grade. So when you say one class is $2,500, how long is one class? A whole year of study for me was around £3,200

I guess the US system is completely different?

For us there is a set curriculum like you mentioned but it doesn’t fill up your entire schedule. Depending on which year of university I was in I was assigned between 1-3 classes that I had to take along with everyone else (foundation type classes). I could then fill my remaining time with several other elective classes which could include a mandatory class I needed to graduate (could be taken anytime during my 4 years) or an elective purely for personal interests. Typically you pay for a whole year of study here as well, but sometimes you can pay per class (night classes, summer studies and by the sound of it for AAU’s online classes as well). A year’s tuition seems to range from around $10,000-35,000 depending on if its a public or private.

This is an excellent topic, and glad to finally hear feedback on this program from someone who is going through it. I also had posted something a while back, but didn’t hear a peep.
I finally decided after talking to a few people from the school to apply. I am also unable to move currently and there is no other ID programs in MN. I am hoping to be starting the MFA program this summer or fall if I can’t get somethings in for summer deadlines.

I also would like to hear how the program is looked upon by employers.

I just got back from a few days at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Seeing the kind of community vibe there, it has a very “we are only as strong as our weakest link” feel, it really re emphasized the importance of an in person education to me. Especially when it is done like that. The bonds they have formed, the way they push each other, and the way they know how to work together are hard to get through the screen and as an employer, I’d definitely think about that.

Other than that, it’s all about what you can do, and how you think, so I don’t think there would be any kind of bias against it per say. I’d just really want to make sure the person plays well with others.

I appreciate what you have to say, and I agree with you on being on campus for studies, but I don’t know how much of that is required being a Master’s program. Except of course if you wanted to go somewhere to get additional funding as a TA or RA. However, I did go to undergrad and double majored and appreciated what the on campus experience has to offer. But it really does all come down to you to complete your studies and to push yourself to improve. I also agree with you about the online part - I don’t know if it’s the best choice for an undergraduate degree if it’s your first one. You are missing that on campus aspect.
As far as Grad school though, that’s really what Grad school is, for someone who has been around the block, so to speak, and can handle this type of set up because you ARE focusing that much more on your own projects whether online or on campus.
And I’m still friends with several designers, member of associations, so I do still get a lot of design discussion that way as well. I also have 8 years working experience so I hope that would show that I can play well with others. :smiley:

good points. I think if I where to do a masters, this is might be something I might consider myself. For me, after 10+ years out, some time alone to get stuff done sounds nice :wink:

I think the difference is the way you look at the wording. The program I’m in is Industrial Design. There are classes that we have to take to complete the program. Those classes include Art History, Industrial Design Drawing, Communication and Presentation, Digital 3D Modeling, Directed Study, Group Directed Study: Thesis Refinement, etc. So it seems like the structure is similar. Each class is 15 weeks long, $2,500 per class, $840 per credit for a 3 credit class. The program is 68 credits so the total cost is approximately $57,000. It’s an expensive investment.

The biggest difference between in-person study and online study is that you have to be more self-motivated when taking classes online. Collaboration in my Art History class is very dynamic. Discussion in my drawing class is minimal, and frustrating at times. It really helps to have peer reviews during live classes, and it just doesn’t happen in this class.

If anyone is interested in taking online ID classes from any university, find someone to bounce your ideas off of, either someone you know personally, or make efforts to talk to your fellow students. It’s just like any university, your personal motivation is essential. But with online courses, you have to intensify that motivation if you want to make the most of it. I agree with Yo, in-person education is so much more desirable, but if you simply can’t relocate to go to school, online school will get you what you want.

Employers don’t look at it any different from on-site education. The diploma says Academy of Art. The “online” designation is not specified, and you do the same amount of work as the on-site students. There is no difference between the online and the on-site students. If you want, you can switch between the two at any time. Some students do both. My goal is to take online classes until my final year, when I hope to finish my thesis and portfolio classes in person.