Benefits of an Industrial Design Masters degree


I am graduating this spring with a bachelors degree in industrial design. I have heard quite the colorful commentary on how a masters degree can launch you further into the oblivion of the design world, and how it can set you back. Launch due to refined skills and connections; set you back by eating away at time possibly spent working your way up the ladder or other field-activities.

If it is recommended to pursue a Masters, then how soon after graduating? Is it better to work for two years like other career directions, or jump in right away?

Thanks for your interest.


Wait. It does almost no good to jump straight into a grad program. Get some experience first.

Scope out some of the Design Schools and Discussions links at the top of the page before you make a decision. You’ll find tons of good articles about things to consider before getting a master’s degree.

due tell about this launching? Haven’t heard.

Yes I want to know more of what you heard? Also where are you graduating from? I too want to know of the oblivion and launch procedures.

(we’re just having fun with you, it was a funny way of writing your question I guess, and welcome to the boards)

I always felt a masters right out of school was always a little premature as you haven’t had a chance to learn and grow yet. But then again trying to get your masters once you are established as a designer / with a family / and a fulltime job can be extremely difficult…

I’m also curious as to the people who have found that “it launched” their career. I do now of a few people within larger corporations who got their MPD (masters in product development) from some of the big name schools had doors open for them into Director and VP level positions. but they also had a good 10 years of field experience behind them.

But don’t even get me started on people who take a four year English degree then a 1 years master in ID and feel that they are on the same footing or higher then a four year ID graduate.

Chevis W.

Don’t do it. The only masters I’ve seen launch anyone into a career they wouldn’t have had before very fast and easy is the Masters of HCI here at CMU. People are gobbling up HCI these days.

Please expand HCI - Human User Interface?

The only benefit I see of a Masters degree is you can become college professor, probably not the best bang for your money, but if that’s what you want to do.

Be careful because some universities only accept certain Master degrees from certain schools. So if your intent is to get a masters in order to teach full time do your leg work to ensure you are choosing the right one.

To say “don’t do it” and “teaching is the only benefit” is short sighted respons. There are many benefits to pursuing a Masters. That being said, it might not be for everyone.
I am about to graduate out of a Masters in Sweden and I can certainly say that it has indeed launched my career. I just started my own studio with two classmates, now business partners. We got several international clients straight out of the gate that we would never have gotten if we did not:
a) meet during our Masters, when we are mature enough to head our own projects and to know what we want
b) would have the curricular freedom to pursue projects on your own.
c) would have gotten all that funding through sponsor- and scholarships only available for students.

To go into my (granted, tuition free) Masters was the best decision I have taken in my professional career. But I can not emphize enought that it should not be a continuation of the Bachelors program, which easily happens when students don’t have a bit of work experience.
Having a strong plan and being proactive is essential for success and I believe that designers that want to be entrepeurs are perfect for a Masters which often includes business and marketing classes.

It is all about what your aspirations are. And it is not like your are being shoehorned into becoming a teacher.

maybe it is just my experience, but bepster, I feel you are the exception to the rule. You do great work, but I’m also guessing you did great work before your masters, and having the time to focus only improved you… but if someone is not good going into it, having that curricular freedom (I like the way you put that) will do very little if anything to remedy that situation.

In the US a masters is an expensive endeavor. If you have the financial ability, and the skills and experience to bring to bear, sure it is not going to hurt. Just thinking about it makes me want to take 2 years off to do my own thing! There are other programs like ACCD that are maybe a bit more on the rigorous end as well.

Maybe, as a recap, would you say a masters is going to amplify what you have? If you are already really good, and you apply yourself, you might come out great… if you go in not very good, and not ready to be self directed, you will end amplifying that.

Agree, disagree? Irrelevant?

Maybe it also depends on what your undergrad was in and how much experience you have. Such as an undergrad in ID and then later a grad in trans to get over to that part of the industry, or a grad in design research or interaction…

I think this is well put. I do agree with this.

Though I am not sure if it always has to be skill based. I have classmates in my masters that have had one year prior experience in ID, who are shining now and developing at an enormous pace. It is about talent, yes but also a mind set and a will to think analytically.
I think there has to be something said about the urge “to do your own thing”. Which maybe in an entry level consultancy gig is not at all important and could rather be a hindrance.

To pick these prospective students with potential is the responsibility of the admissions panel. If they get the mix just right, it can be an amazing, varied and serious group of designers that just elevate each other.
I guess, I got lucky.

But yes, it is expensive in the US. It’s a shame.
The days of milk and honey are numbered in Sweden as well though. Next semester will for the first time we see tuition fees for international / non-EU students. Makes me a little sad and worried.

If I would go for masters degree, I`d probably take it in Buisness Management/Financing/Marketing and not in ID.

I agree with YO that it will amplify your skills if you already have. I as an example, came from architectural background with no sketching skills and my level of thinking is very functional and going by the rules. So when I did the master’s I had to learn and bring up my sketching skills and design aesthetics. Although it amplified my problem solving and technical skills, I still need work on sketching and styling/aesthetic skills. While a bachelor student seems to be in the same or more in level to me (relating to sketch/styling). Master’s have the freedom to choose a project for thesis . So you may get better in design research, managing and solving problem.

Interesting topic.

There are up and down sides of a Masters. I would lean towards getting an ID job first. There is a drastic change in pace between school and work. The amount you learn that first year is more than all four years of school combined. You need to learn how to find the creative light switch in the dark. Then be able to turn it on at any time.

On the other hand, if you do not have a job, a masters program will give you some structure. It will force you to work. Any time you are working, you should be improving (let us all be positive). I would say that it is also a good idea to not attend the same school as your undergrad. A change of faces in the teacher arena should at least pose new questions to you.

I will get an MFA someday. Maybe when my children are in College. I would like to get it in something other than ID. This is more because I will end up back teaching again.

Background - I got my Bachelor Degree in 1989 and my Masters in Design (Advanced Strategies) in 2008. I fully admit that part of the reason i got my Masters was because I was teaching in Hong Kong and only having a Bachelors was frowned upon so agreed to do it.

First I do think that getting a Masters right after a Bachelors is premature unless your career path is education which means a PhD (At least in many countries). Even so a bout outside of the education world is important at some point. Probably between Bachelor and Master versus Master and PhD. If you don’t go out into the professional world then your students will not trust what you have to say.

Now to original question. In my case I am very glad that I got a Masters because it gave me time to delve deep into Design Thinking at a level I would never have been able to do otherwise. This knowledge has been very helpful in my career both at the job and with speaking engagements. I have been able to further the Business Model design services my company offers and as a Business Development manager I am able to have much better discussions with potential clients.

So all in all - Masters is good, when you reach a point in your life when you need to move to the next level. But you need to make sure you know what you want to accomplish and find a program that allows you to move in that direction.

[quote=But you need to make sure you know what you want to accomplish and find a program that allows you to move in that direction.[/quote]

I am currently in my first year MFA program and can give you a perspective on my journey.

I recently graduated this last spring from SCAD in Industrial Design. During the duration of my studies, I have been involved with multiple sponsored classes with a tremendous amount of client/student feedback. (more then most universities). I also was able to gain practical knowledge through a variety of internships… from small organizations and firm settings. Even had a chance to do a couple freelance design projects. So with all of the experience I was gaining in and out of my academic setting, I was positioning myself for a chance to be a contender in the job market.

But when I was in my senior year of studies, I was lacking the satisfaction of design itself. (It is weird for even my self to hear that :neutral_face: ) Dont get me wrong, I was and still am inspired by design that I see, from the everyday to the coroflot pages. But I was seeking to gain a better understanding of the reasons/ theories on ‘why’ we design and what it meant to be a ‘design thinker.’ Something about the broader philosophical knowledge was appealing and was something that I lacked.

So I applied to 13 grad programs… yes 13! Partly was because I was engaged at the time (now married :smiley: ) and my wife also was seeking her MFA in Painting/ Printmaking. So you can image the complications of trying to find a school that matched up and all that stress in incurred. Which is a different issue if you have a significant other. But will come up later on in life if you need to relocate for a job, etc.

I got into schools, like RISD’s ID program, Arizona State’s New Product Development, CCA, NC State, RIT, and Purdue. I was lined up to go to any school that I practically wanted, included the best ranked.

I chose Purdue for a couple of reasons.

  1. Cost- I know that there has been several blog posts on core77 about is tuition costs worth the expense. I do agree with this, because there is one of the best investments you can give yourself. Both financially and as a lifestyle serving your passions/dreams. BUT I do not think it is the case for graduate school. Yes, RISD is the best ranked school, but is it really worth the 35,000 or so tuition for 2 more years? This being said to being on top of my student loans for undergrad from SCAD. (which you can defer the payments until you are done with school) Besides, grad school is about being independently driven. Purdue offered me a full tuition waiver, plus a chance to become a teaching assistant with a stipend. I am in charge of running a classroom completely on my own which is giving me experience such as managing a group, inspiring others, and project management. So grad school isnt only if I want to become an academic. There are only a few schools left that offer this type of deal… mostly I think in the Big10, which is something to consider when applying for grad school.

  2. Change in Environment- Purdue offered a complete 180degree change from SCAD. I was looking forward to network with outside disciplines such as business, engineering, marketing, and computer science students. We often get so wrapped up in our own studies and think everyone knows about design, design methods, etc. But this is quite the contrary. Yes, it is frustrating to have to explain what exactly you do… I still get the “so you design industrial equipment” response. But when you can successfully communicate and share your processes, it leads to more well rounded and developed ideas. They are the users for the products we make of course! And in a corporate setting, each project you will have shareholders from each division that you must convince and satisfy. So the more outreach, the more credit design gets. The unfamiliarity and uncomfortableness from the setting forces a different perspective to drive creative thinking.

  3. Idea Development- I already talked a little bit about this, but the ability to dive deeper into your design projects. The whole point of grad school, in my opinion, isnt to “sharpen your skills” but the time to sharpen your mind. Skills (sketching, CAD, etc) are of course important, but needs to be first learned in Undergrad and then continued on for the rest of your working career. If you are looking to become a better sketcher, let say, then start sketching! Post your work on coroflot and other blogs. Even professionals continue to “sharpen skills” post academia. Look at Spencer Nugents Sketch- A- Day for example. Coming to grad school is for you to develop a critical thoughts. On whatever research interests you have from form, materials, process, creativity, collaboration, etc. It is the ability to ask yourself the question of ‘why’ and then to test it after you developed a measurement criteria. You are developing your ‘voice’ in design.

Interesting enough, I actually changed my MFA focus to interaction design. (originally industrial). When I first came to this program, I thought I was essentially doing similarly the same things I was doing in undergrad. Same design process etc. And I asked myself why in the world would I put myself through more years of what I already accomplished? So I changed to ixd, where I am more focused on the ability to create around the user. Pretty broad, but it allows me to either stay are a theoretical perceptive or technical with individual projects. The point is, that you need to realize that many of the master programs are similar to the undergrad’s with more of a research focus. So keep that in mind when applying to schools.

Overall, grad school has not hurt me in my professional career. (Of course in hindsight this could be seen differently). Financially, it is not setting me back and i am able to further develop my design philosophy, while connecting with students and professors in other academic fields. It is important to gain in depth knowledge from other areas. (If you into design research, make friends from with an anthropologist, for example) So yes, knowing ‘what you want’ is an important reflection that needs to be done before applying. Working experience is greatly needed (and should be subsidized through outside experiences like internships), but I am only 23 yrs old. Adding 2 years to my educational journey over the course of my professional career should only exponentially fast track me by further building my foundation. The better foundation, the better building you will make.

Hope this helps in your academic and career endeavors.

There is no simple answer to your question. The main thing is to think about why you want to be industrial designer and what is important about being a designer for you. These are very personal questions that only you can answer with a lot of sole searching.

My experience:
I was set to graduate from Central School of Art and Design (now Central Saint Martins) London in 1983 with a BA. At the time my passion for the process of design far outstripped my abilities and I knew that there was a lot more to be learned. I also felt that I just was not ready for the world of work. While in my final year I applied for a place at the Royal College of Art and was accepted. I started at the RCA immediately after graduating from Central. The RCA blew my mind. I felt that for the first time in my life I was surrounded by people that had a similar passion, and were similarly driven to explore ideas about design and what it could be. The three years that I spent at the RCA were incredibly productive and I know without a doubt that I would not have the skills that I have today If I had not spent the time there. For me it was an invaluable experience.

What I did not do during that time, was think about my future employability. If anything, I did everything I could to make myself as unemployable as possible by single mindedly pursuing my own personal ideas and vision. At my graduating show in 1986 I was offered two positions with two major European electronics manufacturers, I also received substantial press and was asked to exhibit my work in several other design exhibitions in both Europe and Asia. 25 years latter I am still in contact with many of the people that I went to the RCA with.

If your reason for getting an MA is to try and make yourself more employable, I doubt it will. The reason for doing an MA should be for purely academic reasons. You should look at your MA as an academic endeavor, education for the sake of education, not as a vocational degree. If you see industrial design as a vocation, and your MA as a tactical business decision, then I doubt that you will get what you want out of it, and will resent the money that you spend on it. I know plenty of designers who do not have an MA, and do beautiful work that I admire greatly, for them an MA would probably have been a waste of time and money.

Think of it this way; your degree will get you in the door, but your portfolio and attitude are the two largest determinates when it comes to getting a job.

Wow! Long time since I have been on the boards.

I graduated in '08, which doesn’t give me a lot of time to observe the effects of the whole “to be or not to be a masters student” dilemma but this is my perspective. The students I have seen go back for their masters;

A. Were worried about the current job environment and decided to wade it out by going back to school.
B. Didn’t get the job they dreamed of and decided that a Masters would help them.
C. Wanted to teach

Out of 5 students that received their MID, 2 got design jobs. Those two were good enough that they really didn’t need the degree to get a job. So, I am not sure about how effective it is for acquiring a job.

The Company I work for has requirements on the minimum they must offer someone with a Bachelor’s and Master’s. Obviously a Bachelor’s would cost less. Would this make it harder for a Master’s to find a job?

I think the most important thing to consider is what you want to do with your time. If I were you, I’d go back to the day you chose to study ID, and ask yourself -why? Why study ID, what intrigued you? Do those things still matter? Then continue your journey where ever that may lead you. There is no right or wrong move to make, just what makes you happy. If “advancing your career” is the most important factor than maybe the masters is the way to go. If practicing “design”, and making objects of desire is your thing, then jump into the water. One way or the other you will evolve, and hopefully be able to look back and say you had a great time getting to where you are.