Interested in furniture design but am confused, need help.

Hi all,

I live in Minneapoils, MN and I just discovered this forum and am wondering how does one go about getting a career in furniture design? I have always been fascinated by furniture and would love to make a career in a related field. I have talked to some students of a furniture design program here in Minneapolis (MCAD) and they say it is mostly geared toward "fine art"studio furniture and turns out most graduates end up broke with lots of debt (its 100k for 4 years give or take) or the lucky ones find work in a furniture studio or maybe a design firm. Then after more googling, I came to realize that furniture design falls under Industrial Design. I found some bios on some furniture designers who are industrial designers as well. So I guess one could have a degree in industrial design and design furniture? I would ideally like to design studio furniture one day, custom made for clients one day and have my own business or have a furniture manufacturer buy my designs and reproduce them in mass, but ideally, I just would want to work for either a design firm or a furniture manufacturer like Herman Miller, etc. and then eventually become an independant designer.

So if I want to learn the process of making furniture, wood, metals, plastics, etc, should I major in Industrial design and specialize in furniture? or get a Furniture design degree? I discovered the University of Wisconsin Stout (there are no ID schools in MN, can you believe?) has a ID program and it’s a lot cheaper. Sorry but I can’t spend 100 K for furniture design and end up jobless, but I might spend that kind of money forr a great ID program here in MN. I can’t move for now, at least for the next few years (long story, relationship, a lot invested here) but Wiscosin is nearby and I can manage attending Stout. Anyone know about Stout’s program? I read somewhere Stout was an average program but it has changed a lot since then. Any feedback from former alumni?

Here is the tricky part: Since I am not at all attracted to other “product design” (with the exception of houseware, light fixtures, lamps, etc), should I still get into Industrial Design or not bother because I am limiting myself to Furniture? One guy told me that Industrial designers can market themselves according to their field of interest and push at finding work in that industry, is that true? I don’t want to design alarm clocks and stuff like that, lol. One person I emailed told me that he majored in ID and took lots of furniture classes, which maybe I can do too.

Sorry for the long post, but any feedback will be appreciated. According to the replies I get, I might just change my mind about Industrial design altogether.


look up Kendall College of Art and Design. It’s in Grand Rapids, MI. There are two programs that revolve around furniture, one is furniture design, the other is industrial design. their furniture design program is probably one of the most recruited in the US. if you got the chops and you go there, you will get hired. the industrial design program involves a lot of contract furniture design.

other than that, the furniture design program at Savannah College of Art and Design in GA is really strong in studio furniture design.

I don’t know that much about UW-S. You need to ask these questions to the colleges you are thinking about, be specific, ask for specific answers. It’s your money and you should expect clear answers about your potential future.

Furniture Design is one of the branches for Industrial Design. My guess is that if you study Industrial Design, you’ll have more chances to get a job when you graduate. You can always try to move to furniture design later.

Yes, by all means proceed with getting a proper Industrial Design degree if you are interested in working on items other than furniture. Housewares, lighting, etc. That’s all covered with an industrial design degree. Bombay has housewares designers, so does Target and there are a host of companies down here in North Carolina (furniture capital of the world, supposedly) that had industrial designers practicing as furniture designers.

At the same time, if you are interested in a more technical approach to furniture design, then looking towards Hermann Miller, HumanScale, etc. would be wise. That’s basically product design, although it’s furniture. Make sense?

I’ve been in furniture design for about 1.5 years following 6 years in product. Product design is much, much better. Furniture seems too “fine art” for me, and excessively conservative. Hence, I’m going back to product design in a few months and can’t wait.

If you graduate and are looking for a job in furniture design, move to High Point and you’ll have one in no time at all.

Thanks for that reply. Yes, I understand now. I think what you mean by high art furniture, is that “foo foo” old fashioned furniture, not that trendy artsy modern stuff, right? Well i want to design Herman Miller style stuff… either for home or office, dont care, as long as its not grandma furniture LOL. So i guess that trendy stuff falls under Industrial Design. Got it.

Yes, i figured that stuff fell under ID. I am looking forward to getting into it soon. I am looking at Univ. of Wisconsin Stout. I am limited to my area and budget as its nearby. I have heard ok stuff about that school. HOpe it works out for me. I can always move later on down the road, but not now.


thanks again

What’s holding you back from other colleges? I know you’ve heard it over and over before, but the school you choose is incredibly important. It’s amazing how just the name on your diploma can get your foot through the door at many firms and corps.

I completely understand wanting to remain close to home, but I believe Milwaukee has a great ID school. U of Ill is relatively close too, and purdue’s school of design is becoming quite a good program.

Just wondering.

oh, I am sorry, i neglected to mention that I am not young in my 20’s like most of you, and am not single, so I can’t just pick up and move. :frowning: I decided on a career change and to pursue my dream. I know that the name is important and I used to believe that strongly but its also how talented you are as well. I am networking with one alumnus of Stout that got hired at a big name design firm in Minneapolis who designs for Herman Miller, so that convinced me they were a good school with good connections. And another thing, to be honest, at this stage in my life, i dont want to pay 100 K for an art degree. They are out of control, those private colleges. Stout has a good name. One of the big name designers for Herman Miller who won an award for a chair, went to Stout a long time ago and recently they revamped their curriculum. You can go to Pratt, and suck at what you do and not put your all and not get anywhere and you can go to a lesser known school and the same can happen, or vice versa. Trust me, if I had that much money to spend or was single, I’d go to that kind of school. I still have to do more research on Stout, to make sure I am making the right decision or if not, I might just forget about this altogether. :frowning:

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can end up paying 100 or more for an education. I must just be out of the loop, LOL. Stout is half that price.

Gotcha. Well, you have the right attitude about things. You’re right in that the name of the school is only so important. It comes down to what you put into it, and that was clearly evident in my graduating class. I can’t imagine doing that much work while being married though. More power to ya!!!

Hard to believe that I’ve been out of design school for nearly 7 years now, but in looking back, still think I made a good decision going to a state (Purdue) school. I think it was a good education and I’ve done well, and left without loans.

When you’re sick of the cold up in Wisconsin, move down here!

How much do you think you’re going to be worth?
Designers at Herman Miller make 100k in a year. Multiply that by 50 years of work (plus inflation) and 100k is cheap investment.

Stout is a good ID school, I recommend it. It’s a liberal arts college, so be prepared to spend less time studying design than if you chose to go to a full-on design college. I had a pretty solid liberal arts education coming into college, so I took the design college route in Milwaukee at MIAD.

designers at herman miller are project managers and design researchers. they carry a large liason role with the people and firms they hire for design.

I f it is really your dream, and I mean reallllly your dream to become a furniture designer, and not the old fashioned stuff, maybee orient yourself a little bit towards europe.

Germany and Italy have the highest number of ( I think you call it studio design) furniture makers.

They sell world wide. These are companies like Vitra, Knoll, Flötotto, Kartell, Molteni, Zanotta, Cappellini and so on. There are hundreds.

A good place to check them out or to meet with them is the IMM in Cologne/ Germany every year. The show in Milan is also good.

And if you really want to do this still then, which I am sure you will, than consider learning at a european University. The big plus is apart from that they teach you exactly design like this, they are mostly for free.

But maybee you can also take a course online? I mean, if you have a diploma from a european art college it wouldn’t look to bad, or would it?

Anyway, if you want to do it, do it. As many people said already this profession is very much about passion.

Good luck.