It's crunch time for 2012 application

I am applying to a number of graduate level ID programs and was looking for some advice as the application deadlines are approaching. Probably going to be a long post.

First of all thanks to Core77 and Coroflot for providing outstanding articles and resources for practicing and aspiring designers. It has been a primary source of information and community for my application process.

I have spent much time reviewing past discussions about applications and portfolios and would like pose some questions pertaining to my specific situation. I will explain a little about my background.

I am now just over two years out of undergraduate studies. I studied English at Yeshiva University in New York where I focused on creative writing and composition. Beyond core requirements outside of my major I enjoyed the few creative and liberal arts courses offered at YU such as a number of Art History courses and Film. In addition to a full course load I worked about 25 hours per week at a local restaurant to pay bills. I did well for my major but some courses I could not find the motivation to excel in and this significantly hurt my GPA, somewhere around 2.8. (This, I fear, is my least attractive spec as an applicant to any graduate program.) I hope to overcome this by shining in other areas.

Since graduating from undergrad I have been working as a local handyman/carpenter/artist working out of my shop which I inherited. Right after graduation I had no particular plans or job prospects and was fortunate enough to inherit my grandfather’s shop that would still be in a damp basement otherwise. I have designed and fabricated a number of furniture and artwork pieces and I spend many hours tinkering and experimenting with various materials.

I enjoy this work and plan to keep my shop but it has been hard financially which is why I was thrilled to finally understand the full scope of industrial design. Research, fabrication, learning and applying new skills, collaborating and networking are all areas that I am passionate about and think ID is a good fit for this reason.

I have my sights set on the MID program at GA Tech. Though not the best overall school for design I am attracted to the heavy research and technology that goes on there, both in ID and in other departments. From what I gained at a recent presentation from the chair of the program, they are pushing collaboration even more and have setup a new interactive lab for ID students to brainstorm and create utilizing resources and knowledge from other departments. I love this because they are not training you to be an expert in a single field but how to make the most of products given input from a variety of sources. This is not the only place I am applying but my top choice for sure. In-state tuition is also a big plus.

So on to some questions.

  1. I would say that my main question is how to bridge the gap between seeming somewhat capable in a number of areas or an pro in one general area? I don’t want to make myself into an expert because then I wouldn’t need training. But I also don’t want to spread myself thin. To make this more concrete, I have been teaching myself a number of tools such as CAD modeling and sketching in perspective in order to present a great portfolio but do I want to be building skills in something I will learn at school? I don’t want to seem like I tried to learn a little about a bunch of stuff, or do I?

  2. Because I found out about MID in Feb 2011 I already missed the application cutoff and could not have thrown together an application in such short notice. Because I really, really, want to study in this program I have devoted serious time to my application since then. It has been really exciting and I have changed my focus a great deal since then. What is the best way to communicate the things I have been involved in?

On top of working in my own shop I have worked with some DIY 3D printers, researched and created content for my 3D printing blog, joined the online rapid prototyping conversation through social media, documented instances of digital fabrication around Atlanta, created STLs and outsourced the printing, started working as a shop hand at an inventors club startup, volunteered and designed for local Architecture for Humanity Chapter, managed social media for a financial services startup (marketing), taught myself google sketchup (I’m poor and its free and fun). Between now and February I also hope to do some other great things like visit Reprap HQ in UK, visit Objet HQ in Israel (if these places will let me in), bring a medical device from concept to product, create and prototype a parametric open source chair and possibly build a reprap based printer.

Some of these things will be included in a portfolio, but do I use the statement of intent to bring up all these things to show them how badly I want it? Is the 500 word requirement more of a guideline or the department asking for an elevator pitch? As I am sure you have noticed and as a tribute to my English degree, I have a lot to say about what I have been doing and I feel I can communicate it well through words. Better to keep the statement concise, or do I go into detail?

Also concerning the statement, do I acknowledge my poor performance in undergrad and point out my other qualities, justify it, or just let them decide? Letting them decide to me is the most nerve racking. But it might also be self explanatory.

  1. I know who the people are that teach in the program, is it important for them to know me and remember me when application time comes around? Part of me doesn’t want to come off as a finagler, the other part feels they want to see applicants with drive and willingness to get dirty. Best way to go about this? I have also heard that for research institutes it might be a good idea to be knowledgeable in the areas the professors are researching, as they might consider you useful for their own projects. Ideas?

  2. In terms of portfolio, I have heard of people creating fancy or elaborate displays for their portfolio but I think I can show my skills through the actual contents of the portfolio. Is it better to focus on being straightforward or to spend time making sure it gets noticed?

An a technical note, what are some ways to actually compile a digital portfolio? If it is to be put on a CD does this mean, pop it in and in it plays like a powerpoint? What are some ways that you have seen/used? I plan to submit a hard copy regardless and I still have not determined whether I will also digitize it. Pros/cons?

  1. In addition to what I have mentioned what are some areas that I could further my skills in the next few months to be more desirable as an applicant?

  2. What level should I attain in my sketches? Do I need to get into shading with gradient colors? I am currently working through “Sketching: The Basics” from Koos Eissen and Roselien Steur and getting into convergent perspective. Much to learn in this area, but I am getting there.

    I would also love to hear personal experiences with the application process and any advice you think might be helpful. Thanks again to all.

have you interviewed at your prospective schools? in-person demonstration of commitment is much more persuasive, particularly if you can bring a hands-on example of work showing what you want to continue.

Are you considering undergraduate programs as well? you may well be required to take a year of UG studio work to get up to speed, at 3+ years to a degree, a second bachelors may suit your needs.

And what do you want to do after the degree is finished, freelance? which program is best suited to your goals?

as far as the technicalities of applications, Design Programs in gereral are a lot less picky, GPA is not an issue if your portfolio rocks. You should post your portfolio and ask for feedback.