Changing to the Product Design Path

Hi, I am an senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Retailing. After taking an intensive course in Product Design, I realized that was my calling. I really enjoyed learning about the design process from conception to prototyping.

It’s the “design think” and muti-faceted skills that I believe crucial to problem-solving. I know this is what I want to do with my life, does anyone have any suggestions on how to proceed?

Right now I’m curious about post college:

  1. Do I go back to school for Product or Industrial Design? Should it be an undergraduate, intensive, or graduate level program?

  2. Or, do I try to find work at a product design firm or business firm for experience, then apply to school later?

I realize there are no right and wrong answers, but I want to make sure I make an informed decision about my future. Do any students, professors, or designers have any advice or suggestions for me?

Thank you so much. I appreciate any feedback.


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Your situation is fairly common, and often why people in ID programs are rarely the same age. My graduating (undergrad) class ranged from 20-30+ years old.

If you’re set on being an industrial designer, rather than someone in the retail industry interested in product development, you’re best bet would likely to go back to an undergrad program. That confuses a lot of people, but the short answer is that industrial design is a skills-based career and genuinely takes a lot of hours to grow and learn–something that grad programs often lack. I’d encourage you to search around this forum, as there are quite a few topics asking similar questions, but with most things creative… it takes years to really build an employable skill set, and there really isn’t a way to shortcut that besides genuine effort and intensity.

As for grad school, I personally believe grad programs rarely prep students for actual careers in industrial design, even 3 year programs.

Now, if you should work before going back to school, that’s really something I can’t comment on. You might be able to find a job centered on product development that you’re qualified from as a retail major; just don’t expect to be actually designing products.

Good luck.