Graduate School, Cranbrook 3D Design, Scott Klinker

Hi Folks,

I’ve been doing grad. school research and am very interested in Cranbrook for 3D Design. Looked through these boards and the most recent posts on Cranbrook 3D are from 2005. Also visited the school to check out the department myself but would like to get other candid opinions from recent graduates, current students, or anyone else who might have experience with Cranbrook 3D. Opinions from employers of Cranbrook grads would be great. I’m looking into other schools but would like to focus this thread on Cranbrook 3D and the current Designer-in-Residence.

Here’s what I have: Scott Klinker is the current Dept. Head/Designer-in-Residence. He studied undergrad ID at University of the Arts in Philadelphia and did his MFA at Cranbrook for 3D (I guess he studied with Peter Stathis?). He was a designer for Ericsson, Hewlett Packard, IDEO, Steelcase, etc. He was Dept. Chair for Product Design at KIDI Design School in Japan. He has some designs out in the market now. What I’ve seen of his and his students’ work has been impressive. Interesting concepts and functionality. I’ve read some of his articles and he seems pretty active in the design and design discussion world.

Cranbrook has an unusual academic system: no classes, big focus is on studio work, piles of reading and research, frequent crits and discussions. Apart from the Dept. Head, your peer group is a huge portion of your teaching resource. There’s also access to other Dept. Heads for critiques. If you want to learn new techniques they won’t formally teach you (no courses), you have to learn on your own or from peers. So, basically, as a student you have to go there really knowing your technical/making skills and their job is to sharpen your thinking/concepts/vision.

Is that right so far?

What I’d like to know is:

  • On a personal level, what was it like studying with him?
  • Since he juggles several hats, (student mentor, dept. head, designer-in-residence + designer at his own practice), did he have time to devote to his students?
  • Was he accessible?
  • Do you feel that studying with Scott at Cranbrook significantly shaped you? How?
  • Were you happy with your Cranbrook education?
  • Was the relative isolation in suburban MI a positive or a negative?
  • What did you like/dislike about the program/school/your mentor?
  • What design software was predominant in the program?
  • Was your Cranbrook degree an advantage in either your employability or in your entrepeneurship? How or how not?

Feel free to PM me if you’d like.


Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller? … Bueller?

Hi gryphon01,
I’m doing research on gard schools and would also like to find out more about the program at Cranbrook. Recently I meet a first-year grad student at Pratt, and learned about Cranbrook’s unique culture from her. Just like you said, there are no classes, and you learn everything from other students, witch sounds pretty damn interesting. When she visited the school, Scott Klinker actually mentioned that Cranbrook might not be the best choice for someone without a design background (like myself), since she would be too busy learning the foundation (not that it’s bad) and won’t be able to take full advantage of the program.
I would love to see some of your questions answered; I think they are all very intelligent questions to ask. Hopefully a current student or alumni would be kind enough to share some insight.
Have you learned anything new about the program since your initial post?

My impression of Cranbrook is that it’s very conceptually oriented in the fine arts direction. this approach has had diminishing influence outside of one-off furniture / housewares. I’ts a small program of “priveledged” students (probably because of cost) who don’t seem too interested in real world, career oriented projects.
That said, they’ve traditionally won a disproportionate number of awards and premier positions in academia and industry.

no_spec is right on in that it is very conceptually oriented. My brother went to Cranbrook for a Photography focus and by the time he left he was deeply rooted into graphic design and web development. That is how fluid the program can be, you mold your own direction and experiment with your interests. I visited him there quite a few times and went to 2 graduations to look at the student exhibits, alot of the work was over the top. Going there depends on what you want to do afterwards, and how much you put into it. I don’t think I would recommend it if you figure that you will have to work to make money while you attend. It is the type of environment where if you can’t immerse yourself in it completely you might be wasting your time, that was my impression. It seems to be a place that strongly encourages unbridled exploration, being able to apply that after graduation is up to you.

Thank you both. It sounds like Cranbrook’s philosophy is very close to Pratt’s. I’m intrigued to checkout the school and the exhibits.

not too close - I don’t think the Cranbrook grads ever do an industry sponsored project for any reason…

No Cranbrook is not close to any school in the US. If any, it will be RCA or Academy of Art Eindhoven.

I remember replying to the author of the thread via PM ages ago but can’t find it in my sent item box.

Basically, people who would find Cranbrook experience beneficial:

  • Highly motivated individuals who can be very focused yet know how to get drunk on Friday night parties.
  • Individuals with strong opinions on issues, but opened to alternative ideas.
  • People who are versatile in a wide variety of skills, not just design skill.
  • People who are both socially and professionally experienced.
  • People who have good knowledge/experience culturally.
  • People who like to break the code of norm.

People who will not find Cranbrook experience beneficial:

  • You just graduated from undergrad, feel that you are not ready for what the professional world is going to throw at you and you want to develop strong skills.
  • You look at a design or an issue and cannot accurately articulate your reactions.
  • You are not culturally informed and just don’t really care about things outside of your own world.
  • You don’t like to take risk.

    Here’s the reasons for the above list.

As mentioned in this thread, there is no class to take, no project that you must participate or sponsor to entertain(*other than those who donate to the school, you do need to have dinner with them and make them smile). There are 10 departments which you can find out more on the school’s website. Each department typically has their own weekly schedules. I will just talk about 3D’s schedule.

Every week, there will be a day for critique, and one day for reading group. In the beginning of the semester, students have to plan out their project schedule for the semester and sign up for a few crit dates. This means that you need to know what projects you will be doing and when you will get them done. Once you sign up for the date, that becomes your commitment to your peers. So on the crit day, there can be just one, or five, or no one presenting their work. Each crit takes about an hour. As a “presenter”, you simply have your work set up. May it be a model, an animation/video, an installation or even a live performance. For the first 45 min, you just let your work do the job, sit in the back and not talk. The group will critique your work based on what they see, hear, feel, taste, smell… Then in the last 15min, you get to respond to their comments.

So what is a successful critique? Basically, if the audience can’t find anything else to talk about after 15min, it’s a pretty unsuccessful one. In Cranbrook, students create work as a form of discussion on the issue that he/she is passionate about. Your work needs to be strong enough to withstand the toughest critiques because your peers are all experts from various professional fields and walks of life(3D or 2D designers, architects, fine artists, engineers etc). It’s not about trying to prove yourself, it’s about opening your passion to others, and let other help you shape your own development by offering you their professional opinions.

So unlike undergrad, there is no hand waving or bullshitting your way through the critique. If you didn’t put in any effort, it will show, and no one’s gonna hold back. That said, everyone is very passionate about what they do. The sheer degree of involvement in their own projects will only blow you away, and make you want to try harder.

So, in Cranbrook, being a contributor is just as crucial as being a learner. It’s a platform of experience-exchange that you can hardly get anywhere else, at least in the states.

What’s makes a good or bad Cranbrook experience?

Well, self-motivation is the most important.
Other than that, your peers are extremely important too. If you cannot benefit from your immediate classmate, go to other departments. In Cranbrook, there is absolutely no barrier between departments. You can go to any department any time you want, sit or participate in their crits with no invitation required. It’s very open-door. If you want to cast something but doesn’t know how to do it, someone in the Sculpture or Metals department will know. If you need to create a book for your project, seek help from the guys in 2D. The world(not just Cranbrook) is your resource.

What about Scott?

Well, Artist/Designer in general are there to offer you guidance just like your peers. You can go to them, and anyone, regarding your project directions and hear what they have to say. They can give you advice on how to start, areas or specific research sources or who’s work to consider. They may also challenge you on your thoughts because afterall, you may not even be asking the right question. Scott is extremely informed about the design scene. He can give you very specific sources of research subjects right off the head and offer your directions that you should consider.

What else?

The department will organize visits by designers or artists from all over the country/world. There is a list of visiting designers on the school website. So there is a chance of meeting designers, established or not, and talk to them about your projects one-to-one.

The school will also organize lectures by speakers from various fields, whether it’s art, design, social, and technology.

You cannot go to Cranbrook expecting that it’s going to get your a job. That may work for schools like Art Center or Standford, but Cranbrook is about yourself as a person, what you want to care about and where you may want that to take your career to. If you use career as a reference point for everything you do, than you will just do what other people want. Cranbrook lets you be the reference for your life instead.

A good example of more current Cranbrook alumni will be the founders of Antenna Design in NYC. Cranbrook alumni don’t tend to be celebrities, but its network is strong and you will know when you meet one.

Cranbrook has a lot of influence on the design industry. You may be interested to check out this book:

Regarding the fees, it’s actually pretty affordable as compared to most graduate programs.

The group is “small” because it’s hard to find the right people to be in the program. One responsibility of Scott is to make sure the people he takes in will cultivate a good experience for every participant.

another graduate of Cranbrook whom I have recently discovered is Peter Pless.

Peter heads up the Product/Environment Design Department at Northern Michigan University. I only know because at one time I briefly looked into NMU’s industrial design program… They actually call it “Human-Centered Design”… It’s not nearly as “in-depth” as many other schools, but it’s also not a very expensive school; that is…if you don’t mind living in one of the snowiest cities in America.

I contacted him when I was researching what schools to attend, and he responded with a very clear explanation of what the program is all about. Cranbrook sounds much more focused on what YOU yourself want to learn… rather than force-fed books and lectures… I could be wrong though.