Career advancement, Society, Ageism, Bachelors vs. Masters

First I want to Introduce myself, I’m a 28yr old New Yorker with a degree in Economics. My previous work experience includes that as District Sales Manager for a fortune 500 company in NYC, along with some personal entrepreneurial endeavors under my belt. You can add me to the list of individuals who discovered Industrial Design “later” in life. I’ve been accepted to CIA (Cleveland Institute of Art) on a portfolio merit scholarship and IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) for a Fall 2014 Start. I have to make a decision on which school to attend by the 15th of May.

I’ve been searching and reading the boards for a little over a year now. After much research I’ve come to the conclusion that for a person in my particular position, that is pursuing design later in life without a previous design background, a second bachelors degree might be the best way to break into design if what i want to do is actually DESIGN. I do not dispute this train of thought and of course this conversation has be touched upon time and time again on the boards and If the situation was that easy, i would end this post there, and move on. However, the information on this matter seems to be years old at best. Curriculum’s have changed, professors and deans have moved, campuses and facilities have been built. So trying to pull relevant information from a 2-5yr old post has been quite difficult. Also there are other elements that often go overlooked when simply suggesting one pursue a second bachelor. I hope to expand upon those issues and drive an intelligent conversation for those like myself who face this very serious career decision.

Just for reference I’ve compiled what i could find from some of the most recent post and threads on the matter of pursing a Masters vs. Bac for anyone who is interested. I also included some treads on CIA and IIT. One gripe is that some threads that have some very relevant questions go unanswered because they are written off as the topic being discussed ad nauseam. Though again the information is out of date. The culture of simply suggesting to search the boards only adds to the lack of new information and does a disservice for all across all topics as those who have been shunned perhaps lack the will to post again.

Why am I even comparing the two, these programs are so different. Do you even know what you want to do?!?!? Well in a perfect world I would attend both schools. I want to have the foundation you get from the bachelors with the design business acumen and research and strategy skills you develop in the Mdes program. But I cant, so i need to figure out which one will get me to my destination the quickest and the most prepared, perhaps allowing me to skip some steps along the way because of my drawing aptitude and work experience? The complication is that money is motivator and salaries for design strategist are higher than for those of entry level industrial designers. Despite what i want to do, the reality is that i have financial obligations and have to support myself. What is the future of design strategy?
So what do I want to do?

I want to develop a foundation that allows me to sketch my ideas, to render them quickly surpassing industry benchmarks with the most widely used programs available, along with a strong understanding of the design process, materials, its implementation insofar that after some time in the field i can advance to position of management, Director, or VP. I would never want to lead a group of designers without having a real understanding of the daily challenges they face.

I ask for nothing more than some input on my particular situation, to whether pursing a second bachelors degree (considering my current drawing aptitude, that is being accepted on a merit portfolio scholarship) is a better bet over a masters degree with a foundation year when considering employment, salaries, networking, and career advancement. I know each individual is different, and largely your portfolio and work experience will have the most weight in the matter but having a second set of eyes take a look at all the pieces of the puzzle never hurt! This largely stems around being told by the Assistant Dean at IIT that the Foundation rivals a 4 year bachelors which i strongly question, and that lat year 3 students got jobs at Yahoo in all different departments (design, management, and research) but never divulging their work and design experience and those entering IIT are 50/50 from design backgrounds.

Also if anyone could touch upon age discrimination in the field, and if older folk like myself are at a disadvantage entering the field so late in the game after getting a second bachelors. Take for example i’ll be 32-33 graduating from undergrad as opposed to 31 graduating from a masters (socially more favorable?). These facts cant be overlooked and are very real especially in the creative industry. In my previous job one of the products we outsourced were human resource product solutions, I was amazed to see the outright hiring discrimination based upon age for fear of competition, cultural and social integration and or perceived attractiveness when discussing these products with customers.

CIA
_+ I have a merit scholarship, 18k a year

  • Networking
  • 4 years
  • Will i be able to relate to someone 5-10yrs my senior and develop a relationship in regard to my peers in the program
  • salary post graduation_

IIT
_+ Great program

  • Illinois rivals NYC
  • Networking
  • Foundation year?
  • 3 years to complete degree with foundation year
  • Typically higher salaries post graduation
  • Opens up design education as future career path
    \
  • Cost of living
  • Foundation year?
  • Uncertainty in the job market for design strategist,
  • Tuition cost_

As of May 2013 The Bureau of Labor Statistics list both Chicago and Ohio as viable options for areas with the highest published employment, location quotients, annual mean wage by area. Commercial and Industrial Designers

Wow, you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into this, good for you.

If you’re looking for votes I’d vote for the CIA 4 year for the full experience, one which will help you relate to the undoubtedly younger entry level designers that you’ll enter your design career with and one day hope to manage and direct. I’m skeptical that a masters with 1 year of foundation can match that experience…

Chicago is a great city, but that also comes with lots of distractions, Cleveland not so much, but it is close to Detroit, and speaking of Detroit did you look at CCS?

Thank you so much for your insight Greenman! I was beginning to think that my post fell upon deaf ears. Perhaps my single post count and join date are to blame.

I didn’t look into CCS when i was applying, i wrote them off as only being associated with Transportation design. In hindsight they should have definitely been on my list. This was a major failure on my part. Their tuition is on par with CIA, and the cost of living in the Detroit area is very low. Did I mention their product design program looks amazing.

Anyway, I’ve already sent my deposit to attend CIA. A large part of my decision was, as you allude to, the 1 year foundation being unable to match the experience of a 4 year degree. My age and the social stigma of having 2 bachelors degrees is just something I’m going to have to deal with. Ultimately i feel i made the best decision i could with the information at my disposal and certainly in the time frame allotted to me and for that i’m content.

Thanks again for your response.

I think it really depends on what type of designer you want to be. CIA I think will prepare you more for being an actual designer, while a grad degree from IIT will likely more focus you on research and strategy (correct me if I’m wrong IIT people)

No problem and congrats on picking a school!

Honestly, 32-33 isn’t really all that old in the scheme of things, and the sales and economics experience you have may prove invaluable later on in your design career. I wasn’t aware there was a dual bachelors degree stigma, I wouldn’t sweat that. I have a friend from design school who ended up with like 3 bachelors and at least 1 masters, he was in school for something like 10 years and is now doing quite well.

I haven’t experienced a dual bachelors stigma. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that you might start out making the same as your other recent grads, but once you get some design experience under your belt you should be able to parlay your other experiences into quicker advancement.

I think IIT would be your best fit.

You’ve got management written all over you. Your sales experience is what will put you in that place and I would take advantage of your strengths and not your weaknesses.

But that’s what I took from the OP. If you want to go introvert, put on your headphones and sketch 8 hours a day, that is a whole different matter. I know plenty of npd VPs in fortune 500 companies that never picked up a pen to sketch. That is not your magical ticket to becoming a manager, again, your sales experience will get you there quicker.

The stigma is that of one not not having the maturity to make a concrete decision, and thus delaying adulthood well into your 30s. Often a byproduct of parents with considerable wealth, you can dabble in many different careers without the repercussion someone of less financial means may suffer. I suffer from neither,as this was purely a business/career decision, and i will be amounting some serious debt. But without explaining myself I would surely be looked upon as indecisive and privilege from my peers.

This was my rational for pursuing the bachelors as well. Perhaps i might have the means to slingshot myself ahead with my past experiences.

Trust me when I say I wanted to attend IIT, and i will explore the idea of attending again in the future, but when all the pieces were on the table IIT didn’t add up for someone coming from a non-design background, and wow is it expensive. North of 150k for 3 years.

Perhaps you can help me in understanding how a npd VP fairs against those who have the experience afford to them from having a bachelors and 8 hours a day sketch experience. I don’t doubt its feasibility, but in any position of leadership it behooves you to have a clear understanding of the challenges your team is facing. In essence to know what is happening in the trenches. I don’t know how that is possible without having some real design experience. What I would expect as a result of having non designers in design leadership positions is a big disconnect which then radiates throughout the entire organization.

I always think back to 1970s General Motors where design fell victim to the bottom line. Why a Rise in M.B.A.s Coincided with the Fall of American Industry - TIME

I do agree with you that it might be the quicker route, but I doubt I would bring as much value, or have the longevity of someone who came from a actual design background. I also question how this might impact the industry as whole if more npd are hired for these leadership positions. I will need to do some more research but ,i just don’t see it.

You already have the sales experience, you probably have had contact with potential customers and people who brought products to the market. Maybe you won’t be the best one sketching and making awesome sketches, but you should be able to doodle these ideas. You would also be the one picking up the concepts that could work and give the explanation behind why this concept is good and why that other one is crap.

My current boss has a marketing and management background, he is not working in the product design process but he’s perfectly capable of imagining which concepts could succeed in our market and which one couldn’t. When you are managing a team you don’t need to sketch that much, or do 3D modelling or prototyping, you have people doing that already. You will need to go more into research, strategy, how to approach the project, concept evaluation, talking to clients, etc. It will do you no harm to learn how to sketch, but you wouldn’t need to make high-end wacom sketches.

Exactly this. I currently work in the trenches. My supervisors are business/marketing/management oriented, but they know what will sell and what wont. When I pitch concepts to them, it is usually only 2-3 out of 10 that go on to development purely because the others do not fit within out scope of products or they wont sell to our target customer base.

If you have the marketing/sales background, I would think you would be able to easily move up the ladder to management once you show you can consistently pick out/come up with concepts that will sell.

Really, the difference is being able to to do the tactical versus doing the strategic.

Bringing any new product or service to market requires much more than just design. Do you plan on getting a degree in customer/market research? If you deem sketch experience as necessary, then it would behoove you to get experience writing questionnaires, recruiting participants and learning other research techniques. What about the downstream stuff? Are you also going to get an engineering degree? Right now, I’ll assume your current degree and experience allows you to come up with a pricing/marketing and sales strategy and possibly all the tactical jobs involved.

In the end, a manager doesn’t sketch, they don’t write questionnaires, nor do they write ad copy. No, they direct the people who do that. They sell all shareholders on the strategy they developed that guides all the people who do the sketching, drafting, illustrating and writing. It is my opinion that an effective manager is an effective sales person as they are selling their associates on doing a task.

You can’t get a degree in all of the tactical elements of new product (or service) development. You would be in school for decades. Sketching is only 0.2% of the process. But again, if that is what you want to do, it floats your boat, by all means, learn to sketch. On the other hand, if you don’t want a specialized role in the overall process, that is a different course.


btw, if you are interested in more of a managerial role, in addition to IIT, you should check out Northwestern’s master of product development.

Personally I think the best managers I’ve ever had have a deep knowledge of one of those NPD facets. It is hard to manage people if you don’t have a firm grasp on what they do. A lot of my confidence in managing NPD and marketing creative comes from the fact that I have a lot of knowledge in a specific area.

I know, the tired out “T-shaped” framework for employee growth. I think it works though. Some of the best abstract artists started as great realistic artists, similarly I think the best generalists started as a great specialist.

My .02 based on my very specific bias. Of course it is human nature to say “I did it this way, it worked, you should do it that way too” and maybe I am falling victim to that a bit.

Also, with the rise of CDOs in corporations and design having a bigger voice at the table as an equal with marketing and engineering, I think it is a good time to get a design degree.

If you go the CIA rout, I think the important thing is to keep you gaze on the horizon, keep the big picture in mind. If you can do that you will never be pigeon holed and you will be able to be expansive and seen as a leader.

As iab said, the choice is always up to you. It all depends on the future vision of yourself and how you think you can best get there.

I really can’t thank everyone enough for replying to my post and adding their insight! All of your thoughts and opinions have been very influential, and I am very grateful for that. If anyone else has anything to add, please do so, this is by no means an end to conversation.

I just wanted to say thank you,

J