Is it realistic to skip the BA?

Hello all,

I have noticed a few threads popping up lately investigating ways to find a way around the traditional 3-4 year ID Bachelors. So I thought it might merit its own thread, also as a reference to other aspiring Industrial Designers, looking for a way in.

Many reasons to avoid a Bachelors are cited but mostly it has to do with concerns around age and finances.
Some are considering a Masters, others are more looking for an apprenticeship model.
So I started thinking a little bit around why I keep recommending the full undergrad experience and it would be great to hear what others think.

The challenge with “learning on the job” when it comes to ID is that most tasks require a pretty good skillset going in in order to be valuable to the team.
My first career was as a cook and I did an apprenticeship. That made sense as peeling onions and doing the dishes to start doesn’t require a lot of previous knowledge and experience. So you work your way up, but you are always contributing.
The time more experienced chefs take to teach you is made up for by you taking over more low level but time consuming tasks.

In ID, it’s different. For you to help with the development and not to be a time suck to the rest of the team, you have to be trained continuously. Designing doesn’t come just by itself and needs years of development.
I am not just talking about sketching, CAD or model-making but also the right sense for the brand, understanding the client and context. Gathering and evaluation research and insights.
All these intangible skills are important in order to contribute in an exploration.

School gives you a good foundation and while internships and junior positions are important to grow into a fully capable IDer, it’s that groundwork that is hard to get on the job.

Masters to me are a bit the same. They also require a good foundation so the student can look beyond the basics and explore new ways of thinking and executing.I personally am of the opinion that an ID Masters without a foundation in Design, is waste of time to the student, the classmates and the teachers.

On the other hand, there is something to be said about audiodact designers that have a natural knack for things and skip school to become very capable but I have to say, I have never met one and I am pretty sure that someone somewhere with a lot of experiences and resources must have carved out a good chunk of time in order to train and teach.
In today’s climate with our business spinning ever faster, that seems to be impossible to find unless you go the craft route, i.e. woodworking, metalworking or ceramics.

Any thoughts on this?

There are plenty of masters programs that offer a foundation and are typically 3 years. Same as undergrad except you skip the english/math/foreign language/humanities bullshit you need in a 4-year program.

In recommending a 4-year BS (what an appropriate name), why would you advocate a person wasting a year of time and the money to pay for that year?

As for an apprenticeship, I’d only hire the person if they had needed skills in another area. For example, I need a lab person to build prototypes or run engineering tests on the concepts to prove safety and efficacy before customer use. They do those functions and double-duty the ID stuff. Or I hire them for their research capabilities and let them do ID on the side.

In my case, I was hired for ID and did the research on the side. I don’t have an MBA, degree in psychology or human factors but I certainly am capable to develop and lead any field research and more importantly, I can determine business strategic needs that determine which problems should be solved.

All you need is a foot in the door. In any well-rounded ID firm or NPD department, you should be able to cross train.

I wouldn’t.

“Foundation” was more in reference to the basics acquired in an Undergrad education and not so much about the foundation year many schools require their students to take unless they have credits to transfer.

That’s definitely true. Transitioning from one design-related role into another is definitely possible but most likely the candidate has had training in one design-related field.
I wonder what non-design fields could qualify to get the food in the door? I guess research would be one. Being a skilled crafts person is another.

Depends on the business.

ideo hires from a very broad background.

I have ID, chemistry, biology, engineering, business, nursing, physical therapy and computer science majors working for me. They are all encouraged to work outside of their specialty. But if they don’t want to, that is cool too. And there are places I won’t let them do. Some should never be in front of a customer. Others should never be allowed in the lab.

I have to think about Marko Ahtisaari when reading about this topic. He was head of product design at Nokia while they where at their design pinnacle releasing the gorgeous, colorful lumia phones a few years back.
Apparently he has a background in philosophy and never any formal education in industrial design. Considering the great work he and his team did I was always very curious about his role in the design process. He sure knows how to talk like a designer!: - YouTube
He probably took the route over management and simply was more of a decision maker and less of a sketch monkey and CAD jockey. It shows that it surely IS possible to get a position like this if you are a very smart human being with a very good design sense. It worked for Steve Jobs as well, when I think about it.
It is definitely not very easy and most of us are probably not smart enough to get there just like that without a proper design-educational foundation. For 99% of people a BS is probably the better choice

Yes, I also find it weird how many people want to get a Masters without a BS. To me it always sounds like a shortcut. I had a friend that didn’t make portfolio review in ID after a couple of years of taking foundation courses. He decided to switch schools, get a Fine Arts BA and then a Masters in ID at the same school. For him it worked out because he was able to use all his previous school credits and just spend 2-3 more years in school. He was able to get an ID job because he had the foundation courses + the masters.

BS in ID. Back in my day it stood for Bachelor of Sanding because of all the hours we spent making foam models instead of glossy renderings.

The challenge with ID is that it is so broad. CE, Medical, Furniture, UX, Transportation, Fashion, Footwear, Sporting Equipment, Industrial Equipment, Design Thinking, Etc so the skills required can be very broad. There are a lot of exceptions and alternative paths to getting an ID job.

Sure IDEO hires from a very broad background because of their type of work but the odds of having a BA in Economics/Astronomy/Anthropology/Basketweaving and then a Masters in ID… and then getting a job at IDEO are pretty slim. I would rather encourage a person to get a traditional education and apply to 90% of the jobs out there that require the traditional sketching, ideation, problem solving, CAD, rendering, user research, etc.

The other problem I see are students or parents thinking of ID as a regular major. You get your core courses so you are educated in the subject matter so you should be able to perform your job as an Accountant, Engineer, etc. Is see it more like a sport. Sure you can teach a person to dribble a ball and shoot hoops but at the end only the ones with the foundation and natural/outstanding skill set get to play professional basketball. That’s why a good ID school and education is essential. It’s not enough to show a paper saying your got the education, you need to prove you are good at it.

Turns out you don’t have to have a bachelors in ID to make strategy powerpoint presentations :slight_smile:

If you want to really design stuff, you need the basic foundation. Otherwise you just can’t be effective. Maybe if you want to work for me for free… or pay me to work for me, I’ll consider that option too. Typically having even a bachelors is the bare minimum for a person to start their real education of being a practicing designer who ships product.

Think of it a different way, do you want to get a surgery done at a hospital who all different kinds of people in the operating room, philosophers, economists, designers… or do you want the hospital to hire the best surgeons? How about your lawyer? Do you want a designer on your accountant team when they are doing your taxes or just the best accountants money can buy?

Projects are cross disciplinary, you want lots of input and cross pollination, but the disciplines should be rigorous for that cross pollination to work. Maybe if I had a big bloated budget I could afford a few people that maybe contribute in a tertiary way, maybe not, but I wouldn’t call them designers.

Learning can only be done in a school?

Best surgeons are typically those with the most procedures under their belts. All of them started at zero.

Where do you think they learned the skill?

We are talking about recent grads. Would you hire a surgeon based on their years of schooling and residency or would you hire enthusiastic Joe Blow if he walked into your hospital and said…" Hi, I’m a mechanical engineer but I would really like to be a surgeon. Do you think if I followed you around for a year I can skip school."

It depends on how you define zero.

There are designers who came to design through their education, through a mentor, through an experience that inspired them (rarely through any sort of guidance counselor). From there they did the 10,000 hours to hone their abilities. There are also those that grow up with design and began their 10,000 hour training before university. Some designers like surgeons, come from a family of designers or surgeons. Same premise applies with lawyers or accountants. Many of these people need just a bachelors to become proficient, productive and acceptable to the market. Some need no formal education as all as referenced above.

Increasingly, we are seeing the merging of the west with the east. Western culture typically looks for ability and merit in order to make hiring decisions, whereas due to immense population and high competition variables, the east values credentials over merit in order to make hiring decisions. Due to this difference in approach to education and merit in the cultures, those looking to increase their credentials or improve their skills really need to take a hard look at why they are making such a decision.

There are many ways to becoming someone who has the ability to use design to solve problems. Some are hands on and cannot be successful without doing the design themselves. Others are more comfortable at being hands off and directing resources. Some designers have both of these abilities.

Zero is a very opaque and hard to define place when understanding someones ability, potential or background. Those of us who have hired designers have inevitably made mistakes and errors in judgement due to this opacity factor. Hiring a designer with the proper credentials will typically not upset the current team that is in place and is a safe play usually (east). Hiring a designer with loads of experience, raw skill/creativity and high energy can be a catalyst to change the dynamics of a design group (west). Some are are more comfortable with risk than others.

Some designers have contributed to the design products on the shelf as early as 10 years of age believe it or not…

It may be a poor analogy, and you know way more about hospital settings than I do, but based on my knowledge of the medical field from the TV show “Scrubs” I believe Turk and JD went to pre med, then medical school, then got residencies where they were effectively apprentices and then got to be surgeons? Actually only Turk was a surgeon.

I should have stated that my opinions are mine and what I use to guide my decisions… And of course I hold the right to make exceptions. If I got a portfolio from someone that had no training and it was so white hot that it melted my compy, and when I did the initial phone screen they seemed like they would be a fit, I would of course consider him or her. But as professionals we know that probability of that is very low.

Let me put it another way. I worked for an amazing designer who had no training when I was in Jordan. One of the best I have ever worked with or for. He always recommends people go back to school, and believes it so much that he founded Pensole which is an academy that trains industrial design students in footwear specifically. So if you don’t want to take my word, take the word of someone who was the rare exception to the rule.

And of course different work places require different things. I have collaborated with a lot of athletes who had tremendously valuable input on the design process. They wouldn’t call themselves designers though. Lots of people can contribute to the design other than the designer, just like we often contribute to the business plan, the go to market strategy, the product positioning and definition … We would say those things are a part of the design of course.

No effectively about it. Residency and fellowships are apprentices. Poorly paid apprenticeships at that.

Don’t get me wrong, I certain don’t think all people can be all things. Not everyone can be a designer. And I also believe when starting out in life, getting a BS, BA or BFA is the easiest and best method to pursue a professional career of any type, of course including design.

But the OP is about is it possible to skip the BS, BA or BFA. And the answer undoubtedly is yes. Why that gets people’s hackles up is beyond me.

First case is you don’t have the means to attend college. That is a rare circumstance on these boards. It can be done. Start in a shop or lab and work your way up. Old school apprenticeship. I’ve got a guy in our lab right now with a high school diploma. He definitely has the potential to become more. I have 2 others who definitely do not.

But by far, the most common thread that is started is “I have a degree in ‘not design’ and I want to be a designer”. In that case, there are 2 avenues. First, get a masters because wasting a year in time and money covering prerequisite humanities for a second bachelors is asinine. The second is to use your degree to get a job adjunct to design and do both. Sure, it will be a lot of work. Hours will be long. But at least in the second case you are getting paid.

Will anyone on these boards claim they learned more in their 4 years of college than they did in the first year of their job? So why exactly is learning on the job worse than getting a BS, BA or BFA?

No. We are not.

Now you are mincing in accreditation. You need a licence to practice medicine. You don’t need one to design. And in order to get a licence, you must attend medical school. I don’t make those rules.

But let’s talk about getting into medical school because in many ways it is like getting your first job. Medical schools will always accept the top 1% of those coming out of college plus being in the top 1% with their mcat. That’s easy.

They also accept those who are not in the top 1%. But who do you think they accept? The kid who took pre-med, finished in the top 10% of their undergrad and mcat. Or do they accept the kid who graduated in the 10% in mechanical engineering, got a job in a hospital in the biomed department (they are responsible for maintaining and fixing all of the equipment) for a few years and got in the top 10% of their mcat.

This I just don’t agree with at all.
I did an ID masters and I have been frustrated with students that jumped in without proper design training. Not just skill-wise but also in their maturity as design thinkers and form developers.
The course was slowed down significantly by trying to pull people along that were not on a grad-school level.
The point of a masters course is not to teach you the basics but to go beyond that.
If the students were required to take a prep-year before the Masters, things might be better but I would still argue that in many cases one year is not enough development.

What I ended up doing was to do 3 out of 4 years in my 2nd ID Bachelor program (the first was non design) and then switch to a Masters program when I felt ready for it.
So in the end I was accepted in the graduate program practically on my portfolio and technically on my first Bachelors.

To work your way up is a different story and I can definitely see that happening but it seems like a hell of a hill to climb.
A lot of designers went into their education wanting to design one thing and end up wanting to work with something completely different. School give you the opportunity to test drive many different design disciplines and to have enough time to figure out your personal point of view and style.

If you have found a place that is good and will take you in as an apprentice, you will very much be a product of that style of design.
As an educated Jr, switching jobs and learning from different studios is a heck of a lot easier than if you are untrained.

However, I would assume that doing 3 years in a good school with internships in the summer and then getting a solid jr design position will be less work and faster than having to slave away in a modelshop for at least the same amount of years and learning ID core skills on the side.

iab brought up a good point. Maybe designers should be required to get a license. Some engineers do, architects do as well, even real estate professionals. So why not Industrial Designers?
Maybe this will give our career more credibility and stop people and clients from thinking that anybody can do it and it can be done in a couple of weeks…after all “it’s just design right”.

Oh for sure. I think school just gets you ready for your real education.

You are right and I should clarify. Not saying it can’t be done, I just feel like I can’t recommend it based on the probability of getting a traditional design job. If that is not your goal, have at it. I have a young guy here who came in through brand management but I realized that at night he was doing graffiti and what paste street art. We encouraged him to bring that into the office and in addition to brand management he has done social media, marketing graphics, web design, and packaging design. So we utilize him as a bit of a hybrid clutch player. He mainly has gone back to brand management but at least I know he can make a killer point and I don’t have to have one of our graphic designers redo it.

anyway, it is all possible, but I think you need to begin with the end in mind. OP, what job do you want and what is the path that is most likely to guarantee success that is viable given your situation… in essence, this is a design problem.

That is the problem of the program, not the students within the program.

We are in agreement. But I’ll take the guy who had a hell of a hill over a guy with a silver spoon.

I don’t know if that is possible.

The objective of accreditation to create a quantifiable standard. I wouldn’t know where to start with ID. Architects need to know building codes. Engineers need to know ANSI standards. Lawyers need to know statutes. I don’t know what would be on my ID exam that would reduce malpractice. Do you have any ideas?

For sure but I wouldn’t call a design education a “silver spoon” exactly. I am sure we all fought hard to get to where we are :wink: