hi, i’m thinking abt applying to grad school next fall. i’m looking into cranbrook and maybe other schools like it n the us and abroad. i’m really intigured by the promise of independent study and deep conceptual thinking, rather than the strcutured approach most schools seem to take. any information on cranbrook would be appreciate, and advice of other schools. tnhx.

p.s. i already looked at this, very helpful:

What do you want to know?

at this point, everthing, i think. i just started researhing schools, and cranbrook is at the top of my list at this point, but i definitely need to know more. tnhx.

Cranbrook is definitely one of the most highly regarded programs out there, but it’s not right for everyone. Like you said, it focuses on independent study. There are no formal classes. So, to a large extent, you really build on what you already know. If you’re looking to gain skills, it’s probably not a good place for that. But, if you already have a solid foundation and some professional experience, you’ll probably do well in that kind of environment.

As for other schools like it, Cranbrook is really unique in the US because it’s only a graduate school and has no classes. Maybe there are programs like that in Europe? I don’t know. I hear good things about places like RCA, Umea and Eindhoven, but I don’t know how those programs are structured.

Consider whether or not you want to be employable. Places like Cranbrook might be great for theory, but how can they help you get a job? Blue sky thinking is overrated, especially in today’s economy.

to say that cranbrook students are unemployable, or even that “blue sky thinking” is not a marketable asset, is just laughable. it definitely is a different sort of school that puts a lot weight in design discourse. and you don’t necessarily just build on previous skills or experience. the program is what you make of it. if you want to learn something new, you’ll either teach yourself or find someone on campus that has the expertise you’re seeking. i also think that you need to decide what kind of designer you want to be. if you want to be marketable to run of the mill design firms and studios then cranbrook would probably not be the best fit. if you’re more interested in working for a consultancy or even starting your own practice one day, then cranbrook is probably a better choice.

If your curious about what Cranbrook alumni are up to, check out

I just found this the other day. I didn’t know Niels Diffrient went there (Aeron Chair designer).

not only is he an alumni of the school, but charles eames started the 3-d design program that is currently active there. As far as jobs go, your work will show for itself, and if your work is strong enough then you will be able to aspire to any job out there. At least that is what i believe.

check this out …

again i will post this in this thread

The Women From Front Design are AMAZING! I am Absolutely speechless!

That is the kind of design that moves people, kinda like high end fashion design. May not all be practical, but it trickles down and inspires inovative fashion to come.

This is also true of design, thinkers that are more conceptual really start to create a language to inspire more inovative design. May not be in that time, but the world will catch up to it.

I have heard a lot of interesting conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of schools that teach or cater to conceptually based design (such as cranbrook/RISD) They are laying some of the ground work by working outside the box, so do not be so quick to judge how practical some of the coneptual design is, because sooner or later it could inspire something practical

Maybe this was a bad example, the only thing this site made feel was, “wow, it feels like I’ve seen all of this before like 10 years ago.”

It didn’t seem very conceptual to me at all.

My take on it is that a school can not make you a deep thinker. Cranbrook is very selective in its admisions (which I commend). They select people that are allready well read, deep thinkers, who are self motivated and skilled enough to work through an open structured system. Basicly I think the students there, if left to their own devices for two years, would learn what they learned anyway. This way they get a diploma for it… and some student loans.

Anyhoo, school is what you make of it. I know many RISD grads who where considered very conceptual by the faculty, who work at the mall now. Don’t expect a school to make you or break, no matter who founded it. Of course RISD is not as selective as Cranbrook and this can be a problem.

I think if you have a solid skill set, an open program might be a great fit. If you need to work on the skills that will be required of you to get a job, I would go to a school that is going to provide that!

Good luck with your studies.

Yes, Cranbrook is good for self-motivated, independent types, but they absolutely learn from each other. Otherwise, why go there? And why would the school have such a good reputation?

The theory argument is based on ignorance, pure and simple. Cranbrook does not train cookie-cutter designers, but plenty of grads have made their mark in industry: Gary Natsume, Lisa Krohn, Niels Diffrient, Peter Stathis, Hani Rashid, and Masamichi Udagawa, to name a few. Check out Rashid’s and Udagawa’s work especially, to see how conceptual thinking and practical application can work hand in hand and complement each other.


It has a good reputation?

I’m not so sure.

Calling people ignorant and then preaching to them in an overly didactic manner is not usually the tact I like to take when trying to convince someone of an idea I believe to be true, but you can keep trying.

I would think with a school that has such a great reputation, that has been around for so long, and is so selective in its admissions, that you would be able to think of more than a half dozen graduates off the top of your head. Really reaching back with a few of those, I’m not sure I would brag on Krone or Rashid either.

Masamichi Udagawa’s work is pretty nice though.

No need to get overly sensitive, I simply disagree. I think it does produce “cookie cutter”, overly conceptual designers . It is what a lot of people out there that design things to be used by real people call design masterbation, design for designers.

Have you been out of undergrad and have worked for a few years yet?

Conceptual work depends on specific contexts, such as

-reacting to what is already there. (i.e. Maarten Baas, with his burnt furniture)

-working outside what is normally considered design (Marti Guixe)

It can help to do this if you are able to:

-get beyond with the skill aspect that most of us struggled with right out of school- grad school is not about skill.

-Build up personal experience outside of school necessary for constructing solid research and concepts. It helps to know what is happening outside. Matthew Barney started out in sports medicine.

Other schools to look at:

SAIC (School of the Art Institute Chicago)
Design Academy Eindhoven
UIAH-- Helsinki school

don’t know the British or the Swedish schools- someone else chime in?

Have you?

This is of course my personal opinion, but I find MOST of that work to be a lot of self rightous wank, not all though. In general it is just not inspiring to me at all and is very removed from the reasons that I am a designer (5 years at a consultancy and 2 years corporate BTW if you must know).

I think the ironic thing is that most of that work is done with the best intentions to broaden the field but in the end it usually comes off as elitest and turns more people away from, andmisinforms people about design. Thank you for sighting Barney as an example.

You’re right- Barney is not an approachable artist (never met him) but what I like about him is that his art would not be the way it is without him having done something else first- in his case sports medicine. That is why I reference him.

Anyone can run the risk of having their work becoming self referential- and that can be especially dangerous in grad school where there isn’t much time to course-correct (and no market pressures to correct it for you). The people that I know who have gained the most from graduate school are ones with at least 5 years between undergrad and grad- because they had so much to draw from in the years in-between.

Yo, I’m a little confused why you reacted they way you did to my post. I’m just trying to help the poster with his question about conceptual design as clearly as I can from my background as an experienced designer. Please let me know if I sound elitist because that is not my intention.

This seems to be a difficult topic to discuss- either in person or on the boards. Simply reference Rashid and Stark (especially Rashid) and the conversation immediately goes down the swirly-bath because of their egos. Is it simply because it’s really easy to make bad conceptual work? Is it because they ruthlessly self-publish? Is it because it feels that their work doesn’t deal with reality? Have they poisoned the well?

That would be too bad because the conceptual designers I have met and worked with have been nothing but energetic, friendly, honest, and share the credit, and most importantly, make design tactile and real.

Off topic- Yo, can I ask you what are the reasons that you are a designer? Who inspires you?

To Yo-

I just reread the posts- my first post (“Have you been out of undergrad…”) was responding to the poster’s original question not your post. (we must be posting about the same time)

I wasn’t questioning your experience- from your other posts I know you’re an experienced designer.

Sorry about the confusion.

You are extremely ready to jump all over someone about something wether it pertains to you or not. Do not take it so personally. You are a diffrent type of designer than what cranbrook accepts, that does not make one right or wrong; one better or the other worse. Relax. Its all important and healthy for the development of design. You would be suprised how non arrogant the students at cranbrook are. They are everything BUT arrogent or elitist.

my bad, sorry to get pricky.

who me? I am like the opposite of jaded dude. Beaming full of optomism, just because a person disagrees doesn’t make that person jaded does it?

woah there … its called editing. I corrected my words after i read them! … again … do not jump so quickly.

this is liked a screwed up IM session…

I need to clarify. Not saying the students are elitest, in fact I commented how the work is done with the best of intentions, my point is that this type of work is often perceived as elitest. These types of esoteric explorations in mention I feel often exclude people “who don’t get it” and I think we as designers should do our best to be inclusive in our work.

I guess to simplify, I’m saying that there other types of aspirational design out there and that a designer doesn’t have to go to a name brand to geet a diploma from the wizard that says you now have a brain.