Is the Stanford Design Program Right for Me?

Hi Everybody,
I am about to start my freshman year at Stanford. I chose the school because the campus is buzzing with an energy to make change and advancements. I also knew it was a good cultural fit and fortunately did not need to factor cost into my decision.

I have had a serious interest in design for several years now and have studied industrial, graphic, and interaction design (though these disciplines are too great for me to truly have deep knowledge). I usually spend hours a night sketching, reading, and designing. I also make sure to create real products for real people, having worked with manufacturers in the past to do so. Purely technical subjects interest me as well (but to a lesser degree) and I have just as much experience with programming as I have with designing.

It seems natural to study Engineering, Product Design at Stanford but I feel some hesitation. Though the teaching staff and facilities are top notch the curriculum appears to be mainly design thinking + basic manufacturing technology + fundamentals of engineering. I know it’s not meant to be an industrial design program but my intuition tells me that great design comes from an understanding of materials, simplicity, and user experience that can only be learned by making. Responding primarily to user feedback (as the program is structured) seems like it could actually distract from the design process.

I also looked at the portfolios of graduates and they honestly could not compare to students from other schools. I’m worried that the program will not be rigorous enough in either design or engineering.

I definitely plan on staying at Stanford. But would it make more sense to study purely engineering perhaps CS, MechE, or Materials Science and later apply for a masters in design? I feel like engineering won’t be that useful for an industrial designer after a certain level and would just distract from doing what I truly love.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

welcome gbjdev.

Have you ever heard the saying “Begin with the end in mind”?

What type of designer would you like to be? Start there and then backtrack. Who are the types of designers doing the type of work you want to do? What was there career path? Where did they go to school?

Within a few hours of questioning and google searching you should be able to really determine where you should be. I wish I could answer it more definitively for you, but with the amount of information I have above the best I can do is give you a simple process by which to judge for yourself.

Also, Jason Mayden who is a very old and good friend of mine from back in our Nike days is a design fellow at Stanford. Look him up. My guess is he would be more than willing to spend a little time with you to give you some advice.

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the response. I really appreciate it.

I originally posted because when looking up my favorite designers most of them studied either architecture (usually the older ones) or industrial design. Since Stanford doesn’t offer any industrial design and has a very small architecture department I figured I would have to take a more unconventional path --which may turn out to be a good thing.

My aspiration is to make well-crafted products and experiences. The products that most interest me are the ones that blend the engineering and the design seamlessly. Additionally, my favorite designs usually implement an innovative use of materials (e.g a Ferrari F1 Car, the MacPro, and the Eames Lounge Chair). Those are the objects where you know every square inch was methodically chosen.

Of course I am getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even taken any classes yet. I was really just wondering if studying something like Aeronautics and Material Science deeply would provide better foundational skills for an industrial designer than studying product design shallowly.

And thank you again for the advice. I’ll make sure to contact Jason when I get to campus – I could probably use some more guidance.