Another Involved Dad seeking advise circa 2006

First, I want to complement your forum! Without question, this is the very best resource I’ve found on the 'net for interest in ID. What a great community, thanks to everyone who contributes to this forum. I’m a career software developer. It’s been fun for me to read what people are talking about outside my line of work.

The advice I seek from this forum is this: Assuming that ID, in general, is the correct field for my son, which area of specialization (auto, entertainment, product, pop, etc.) SEEM to match up with his talents, as I describe them below?

Before I blather on and on about the merits of my son, let me say this: I’ve had “one of each kind”. My other, older, child was an average student. She was content getting into a regular state university and is happy as a clam there. Personally, I was a below average student well into college and did not become inspired until I finally figured out what I needed to be doing (programming). By that time I had wasted 5 years.

From diapers, my son has had a knack for building things. Throughout his schooling, anytime there were group projects that involved building things, he was the “team lead.” At his high school, there is a tradition of competition between the grade levels on who can most elaborately decorate a hall to celebrate homecoming with a given theme. For example, last years theme was Jurassic Park and this year’s theme was Star Wars. Having been the “lead designer” for his class the previous two years (and beating the upper class last year), he was selected once again to lead his class, this time as a senior. The design involved 7 scenes taken from the 4 star wars episodes. Every scene involved elaborate backdrops, huge 3-D props, landscaping, audio-visual effects, etc. The project started in the middle of summer and did not end until homecoming in September. First he built a 3-D scale model of the hall on foam board. It looked roughly like something freshman architecture students do, but without a roof. Next the scenes were designed. He planned out each scene with a series of sketches and from that made up a draft bill of materials. Construction came next. Some warehouse space was donated by one of the other dads. All the large props had to be built for ease of disassembly, transport, and reassembly on site. The project ultimately involved dozens of students who were organized into “crews” with specific jobs to do.

His school is the 2nd largest in Texas and he will graduate this spring. Very competitive school academically, but maybe not the greatest art program. That being said, his art teachers have been a pretty good source of inspiration and have written glowing rec letters. He was offered the chance to take the “AP” art test this year (a portfolio test, I believe) and he plans to do so. First student in this school’s history to try - we’ll see how it works out. I’m not an artist so honestly I don’t know how his art skills stack up. I’ve put some of his work on a website. If anyone is willing to offer a review, please PM me.

On the other side of his brain, he is a math wiz. Scored 760 on the SAT Math test and is practically a teaching assistant in AP Calculus. Combined with his SAT Verbal, his overall SAT is a 1340. We’ve been to visit engineering and architecture programs (there are some good ones in TX) but these careers do not interest him. He “discovered” ID, almost by accident, at a recent visit to a “college of art and design” in the Deep South. He became truly excited with all the product design sketching and visualization and model building. Recently, we were talking on the phone with a working designer and the question was posed: “What would be your dream job?” My son answered: “Disney Imagineering” (not sure I have that spelled correctly.) The person we were talking with encouraged him to start looking into “Environmental Graphic Design.” I haven’t had time to explore that yet – my head is about to explode!

What do I do with a kid like this? It’s sounds like ID in entertainment to me, but what are the job prospects? FYI: there is only one ID program in TX but it is brand new and part of an arch dept.

Well Dad… I’ll let the other replies address the ins and outs of ID, I will say this…

Your son does seem to have the skills and enthusiam necessary for ID. The question is how well he bounces back from rejection and how hard he can persevere in the face of harsh criticism and rejection. ID is hard and unforgiving, and most people limp along for years before trying something else or setteling into middle management. (and yes, some do just fine for themselves… before I get jumped on… but I’ve found them to not be the majority). Not to rain on his parade.

That said, the University of Houston’s ID program is new, but has potential to be very good. I studied under the dean of the college of architecture at Virginia Tech, and find him to be highly intelligent, grounded, and knowledgable (plus he’s a nice guy). The pedagogy there is based on established design theory stemming from the bauhaus and others.

I think it is definitely worth checking out, with the understanding that the program is growing, and can become something good.

Good luck.

First, thanks for posting. It’s always glad to see a parent supporting their child’s path to becoming a designer. It is rare. I only skimmed your post though… way to long for a designer.

There are two sides to being a successful designer

  1. design skills_ (problem solving, sketching, 3d modeling, manufacturing knowledge, research gathering, and such)

2 ) people skills_ (networking, selling your ideas, learning when to listen and when to push your concepts, PR)

Most students are heavily weighted in one or the other. Certain specializations like Entertainment require heaping amounts of both though. I would recommend a well established school with connections to the industry. This is not going to be in Texas most likely.

I will also give you the same recommendation that I give to all concerned parents. It’s great to be involved, but it should be your son on here asking the questions, not you. ID is a highly entrepreneurial field. It rewards people that go out there and take it, make it happen. I’ve know several students who have had full time 40hr a week design jobs before the end of their sophomore year (they all went to school in big design cities), and I’ve know people who have been “putting their portfolio together” at home with their mom making their bed everyday.

You don’t have to be a good speller though.

of the kinds of training possible I’d concider on-the-job most valuable, next would be a competitive student environment: that being when top-notch students push each other. and finally a mix of experienced professors and practicing adjuncts.

If your son wants to control his destiny he needs to call Disney - find out where the imagineers studied and if he could co-op/intern there.

Good points so far.

There is a really good design scene in Austin that you should check out with your son. See if you can get a tour someplace like Dell or Fossil watches in Richardson, TX to get a feel for the corporate places and then try to get a tour at some smaller independant shops. People here can probably give you a good list and maybe some contacts.

As stated before, design is a demanding and cutthroat field that many struggle in. A quick search of this forum will bring up a number of “I’m quitting” “Moving On” “Is there anything out there” posts where people talk about not finding anything and the need to move on to other opportunities.

As far as job prospects your son would be better off getting a job in the sciences or something more technical. There is going to be a shortage there in the near future and there is no shortage of designers, wanna be designers, and hangers-on that are just dying to get into the field.

You should also know that the new global economy is not on the side of the designer, especially considering how all of our jobs are so inextricably and precariously tied to energy. If the price of oil were to go above $100 a barrel we would all see shipping costs go through the roof, material costs go through the roof, and designers would be among the first to feel the pinch as people stop buying products and manufacturers drain money from R&D and move it into other more vital areas. This would also affect other workers, but designers are on the front lines.

If you could convince your son to study something like computer science he could always do ID for grad school. At least then he would have a good money making skill in CS that he could apply to web design, interaction design, etc. Thats pays a hell of a lot more than most entry level design jobs.

Thats mt 2 cents.

To: txdad,

I’ve been in admissions for a design school and would be happy to answer your questions offline, you’re welcome to email me at niti at core77 dot com

What is interaction design?

Not sure if everyone has the same definition.

To me its the study of interactions between humans and computer interfaces, sometimes referred to as HCI (Human Computer Interaction). Designers in this field work on developing controls and interfaces that people use to operate devices or computers and to make it easier for people to use technology to communicate with each other…

Someone in product design who specializes in interaction might work on making the interface of a handheld electronic device as intuitive as possible.

Someone at Motorola, for example, might work on making the keypad easy to use and make the on screen menu system intuitive and navigable.

Others can chime in if they see it another way.

there’re no imagineering courses but this field is a combination of animation, set design, film, and special effects.

people who end up working for disney or lucas as imagineers start off with learning max, softimage, or maya. right now maya is taking over because of some new ultra realistic animation capabilities. you can also do set design with it. recent movies like lord of the rings have used maya.

as for film and special effects he needs to first enroll in an ID/architecture program in a school that has strong programs both in film/video/multi media and design/architecture.

but multi media in most design schools is more net based media (interaction design) rather than commercial based like cinema. for instance MIT, cranbrook, etc.

what i suggest is to study architecture in a school which has a strong film school and learn animation from private animation artists who are willing to teach.

UCLA has an arch program but its very hard to get into film/video classes, specially studio ones if you’re a non-major. USC might be another option in socal.

also japan might be a good place for animation.

As someone who was in the technical field for years, you should know the science/engineering job market is extremely difficult as well, mainly because of outsourcing to India, China, and other countries…that and the education systems for the sciences in Europe and Asian are beginning to surpass the previous dominance that schools in the US had . I’ve met amazingly bright people with PhD’s from great universities and great credentials that can’t even find jobs as lab tech’s…

…mmjohns, you’re right tho, resources are getting scarce…which is why I think design will be changing alot soon…the ability to truly understand how a manufacturing process works, as well as material synthesis/properties…txdad, I would suggest your son go to a full-blown university over an art school…not only would the overall experience be good for him to be surrounded by people of a variety of studies, but since he also appears to be a good student, he should have the opportunity to take some science course so he can expand his breathe of knowledge.

txdad, It’s great to see parents taking an interest in their child’s goals, and understand what they want to do…I hope your son gets to read these posts, so that he knows what other people are thinking and that he knows you’re taking deep interest in him…good luck!

Hi texas dad-

I’m originally from Oklahoma, local to you, and went through exactly what your son is going through now. The best thing for your son to do right now, is to take a step back. There is so much overspecialization in schools these days, kids are making decisions on their education based on whims. Don’t get me wrong, he’s in the ballpark. Design… From there, he’s strong in math so at art school he would be leaving that behind. But, non-art school or art minded design curriculums lack creativity and conceptuality.

In my case, I knew that I wanted to create things, but didn’t like math and the structure of a state school. I went to a great Fine Arts School in the midwest, majored in sculpture and design. This school had a foundations program, which if you are not familiar with, check out the major art schools. This was incredibly important to me and everything I’ve done since. After two years there, I transferred out to a very well known school on the west coast, and was in heaven. I graduated with a BS in ID, product design focus.

My advice, get him to a school that will expose him to different avenues of design and help him refine his core skills, then revisit the “Entertainment” thing. I can tell you, from living in Los Angeles for the past 10 years and knowing quite a few people who were or are into this, it can be difficult. Your son sounds inventive and curious, Animators sit in front of a computer screen for 50-60hrs a week, and thats it.

Don’t shy away from the top named schools because of price either, after my 1rst two terms I earned a full scholarship with my portfolio, and my humble background factored in as well.

good point - the cost is an investment.

concider top schools that combine ID+Engineering like Stanford and Carnegie Mellon - sometimes MIT’ers even go into ID.

Also look over good universitys that excel at engineering and have ID like U. Michigan, Perdue and Syracuse.

And as always, Cincinnati the sheer size of the program and worldwide co-op (yes, China, Denmark and France last year) means He’ll be exposed to the entire spectrum of what’s available to ID students.