Getting a Masters in Industrial Design

I’m currently a sophomore graphic design student. I was conflicted between choosing graphic design or industrial design as my major at the beginning, but I ultimately chose graphic design with the mindset that I could pursue a master’s in industrial or product design. This way I’d have expertise in both fields. Are there any schools that would be suitable for somebody like me? I’m mostly looking at universities that are overseas for my master’s, because I’m from the US. I’m also looking for a program that is more oriented towards the artistic aspect of design (drawing, model-making) rather than the engineering side. It also can’t be insanely expensive, but I’m fairly flexible when it comes to graduate school. Let me know what you think!

Design Academy Eindhoven
Royal College of Art

Switch into ID now and pursue a graduate degree in graphic design. Far easier to go from ID into graphics.

+1 to what Dan said.

+2. In my experience it seems like there is much more opportunity to do graphic design as an offshoot of products than to get a graphic design job and occasionally design a physical product. Graphic ability is a good complement to an ID portfolio/resume, but product design is a harder skill to tack onto a graphic designer role.

Plus, a masters degree in ID isn’t necessarily valuable in itself. It takes time and effort to cultivate the skill set and ultimately it will be about your portfolio and what you can actually do if you want a product design job. That said, I’ve seen folks with ID masters that have zero design skills, but I’ve also seen people who really pushed themselves in a masters program and became great designers—it just took that much more self-motivation and drive.

It’s not really possible to switch into ID at this point, but that’s alright. Keep in mind, I’m completely fine with pursuing a master’s in graphic design as well. I also have a fair bit of skill when it comes to 3D too, mostly with wood, so it’s not like I’d be going in completely blind if I were to pursue a degree in ID. But then again I’m just a sophomore so who knows how all this will turn out anyway.

Plus, whenever I look at requirements on the websites for schools, a lot of them don’t require an undergrad in ID as a prerequisite. I understand there might be a learning curve, though.

It’s certainly not impossible to pursue a masters in ID, or to be successful in either field, it will just take a lot of self-motivated work to make degrees in both fields worthwhile.

If you need to learn to sketch like an industrial designer, learn to create complex 3D CAD models, understand manufacturing processes, develop a personal process for (and comfort with) attacking problems & design thinking, etc., it can be tough to jam into a couple years. Simply completing a graduate program doesn’t guarantee success in the design field, it’s what you make of it. At the end of the day, your portfolio will do the talking—if you can produce great work, you can get a job. Just having an extra line on your resume isn’t necessarily worth your time and money though.

Considering what type of job/role you see yourself pursuing later on may help too. I imagine finding a graphic design job that allows you to design products on occasion is going to be a challenge. Finding an ID job that lets you scratch your graphic design itch seems quite possible on the other hand. But hey, If you find yourself 3 years into graphic design school and love it, then that’s great, you can just do that! Both fields have skills that complement one another at least, but if you don’t have a specific need for a graduate degree, you can save some time and money.

Thanks for the information Chris. I’m still just a sophomore, so it’s not like I have to decide by tomorrow when it comes to any of these things. I’m having a great time as a graphic design student, and I can see myself as a pretty happy camper with that profession. I was mostly just curious as to how I would get to an ID masters if that’s a path I’d like to pursue down the road, because it’s something I’m also interested in. I’m looking into some good GD schools overseas as well, so I’m not limiting my options at all when it comes to this.

That’s recognizable. I’ve even met people (it’s a specific class of people) who stepped into a university degree as if it were a business strategy. They were studying ID and treating it as a business asset from day one, and they hardly did any actual design - which they would mostly see as some tinkering done by those who like to get dirty with their hands - it was just their way of thinking that learning about design as a business tool was design. Had they been studying molecular biology, they would have not learned the actual subject (only to pass the grades) but more about how to manage and utilize people practicing it, its tools and processes, as a profit generation tool. Yet they can become great managers or business leaders - so your education has been valuable either way.

But more on-topic Colin, ID is something far different than craftsmanship. It is not graphic design + materials but requires a very different mindset, bridging art with engineering, the humanities, and business. Think about the complex set of requirements that comes with designing aircraft seating or even the cutlery for Boeing, for example. I always advise to start in ID and put as much focus as you can get away with on the graphic design aspects of it. At the Design Academy Eindhoven you can even graduate with something that’s more graphic design or filmmaking than actual product design. As SparkPD said, with programs allowing you a lot of self-directed learning, what makes the difference is your own motivation, drive, and persistence when times get tough. And they do, because most of the graduates do not end up very well paid! So think about your future now. Another school you will want to look at is UMEA in Sweden:

Nothing in life is guaranteed but you can do things to increase your probability of success. Getting a masters in ID will defiantly increase your student debt, but an undergrad in ID will server you better if you want to increase your odds of getting a job in ID. Why is transferring not an option?

I’m not so sure. Typically, your first 40 credits in undergrad are complete bs prerequisites, stuff you did in high school. A good 20 credits are fundamentals you get whether you are in gd or id. So with undergrad or grad school, you are looking at 60 credits on your major.

I will agree those 2 extra years are more money, but I don’t see an advantage of doing one before the other if you want both the gd and id.

What I don’t see is having gd and id as a good combination. imo, a gd or id paired with an mba makes more sense. The mba decides what to make, the gd/id tells you how to make it.

Totally agree. My first internal response to this is “why?”. What job or role do you see for yourself where both of these together will be helpful?

I have a few friends who did their undergrad in ID and then did masters in GD. They were always a bit more 2D/branding focused and I don’t think they actually needed the masters. They both had already gotten positions that were GD focused. In the last half of my career I’ve done plenty of brand positioning and branding work and I’ve had industrial designers on my past teams jump in on branding products when I needed a fresh take. As you develop in your career it is possible to branch out more but I think when you are starting out it might be useful to focus a bit.

Either way, I don’t usually recommend anyone jump from undergrad to grad in design if both degrees are design focused. It just seems a bit… gratuitous. Perhaps because of the credit overall you are talking about iab.

The reason I recommended doing the ID first is being with ID undergrads I think is more beneficial if you want to do ID in my opinion.

Being actually in a master’s program for design, I see less value in having both a GD and ID degree, and there’s less overlap between them than the word ‘design’ suggests. It might have been an interesting combination 30 years ago. If you are into visual systems, brand architectures, have a great eye for photo, type, composition, then sure, be a graphic designer. Work long hours in ad firms for a chance at glory and probably attend some really good parties. If you are into making interactive things that many people will use, having less parties, and getting flown around to where people make things, do ID.

I’d honestly say that I could be a somewhat competent or average graphic/visual designer. I don’t know many graphic designers who could be even average at a typical industrial design job. Its just vastly more complex and interwoven with ‘making’. No disrespect for the GD profession.

Are we sure this isn’t going to end up as another spam account advertising CBD chocolate bars?

Another advantage of a grad program is that you get to control the curriculum a bit more. So if you want to concentrate in user research or design for manufacture, or whatever, you can steer the program in that direction.

And slipperyfish, while I agree id is more complex and interwoven with making, gd is vastly more complex and interwoven with branding. Depends on which floats your boat. I think that is part of the problem with students, they have no clue to know what floats their boat so they want to bounce into grad school quickly so they can split the difference. In that case, you tend to get the worst of both worlds.

Yeah you are probably right. The pros make it look easy, and being ‘just’ printed material it is easy, from a ‘making’ perspective. Thanks.

Thanks for all your help everybody. I think I’m slowly beginning to realize that graphic design is what I’d truly like to study. I think integrating more sculptural work into my designs might be a good idea so I can use my hands instead of just relying on computers or drawing. I’m considering doing more with type design because it’s a field I’m growing increasingly interested in. But I just wanted to make this post to see what people had to say, mostly because ID is something that I’ve been very fond of for a while now. I’ve been trying to experiment as much as possible while in school, and I think that’s super important when pursuing a degree. Again, thanks for your help. This board has made me consider what I truly want later on. And again, I still have time!

There are some super fresh and amazing typography and graphic design works that use physical materials - thinking of those cut-paper photographs, or lettering done with woodwork.