Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design Schools

I’m currently a junior in high school and am starting to research schools. I know I want to study industrial design, but I also want some background in mechanical engineering. Does anyone know schools that have an ID program that emphasizes engineering? What are your thoughts on having a major in ID and a minor in mechanical engineering? Is it a good idea to first have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and then a master in ID?


Hello Ilan, and welcome to the boards. First I am way too old to recommend a school for you. My junior in high school is a coder and has little interest in following my career choices so my focus in colleges has been elsewhere.

I think studying industrial design and mechanical engineering is a wonderful idea. Just keep in mind the big picture. What you are doing is a part of the new product development process. The NPD process includes market research, ID, ME, a slew of other engineering disciplines (electrical, chemical, material, bioscience, industrial, etc), quality, regulatory, purchasing, manufacturing operations, computer sciences, marketing, finance and sales. My point being there is a lot to learn about the process of bringing a new product to market and you will never learn it all in college.

Whether you have an ID major and an ME minor or an ME major and an ID minor is really going to be up to you. You need to decide which of the disciplines fits you. I cannot, nor anyone else, can make that recommendation for you. You should have that opportunity to find out while in college, you do not have to make that decision right now. I would recommend getting through college and holding an internship and/or job before planning on grad school. Do not make that plan now, it is way too early to know what you want. There are so many choices out there that you do not know, experience them first before making a decision.

On a side note, I started college and did 3 years in an ME major before I dropped it and moved to ID. Ironically I now manage a bunch of engineers.

Thank you so much iab! Very insightful. I will be sure to keep this in mind when continuing my search for schools.

I went to Virginia Tech, which has good ID & ME programs. I also did a full year of engineering before switching to ID, but I’m not sure it had much of an impact on my actual education. The first year was mostly theory-based and full of core math/science courses, which I have long forgotten at this point. I already had a mechanical mind just based on growing up around tools and working construction, fixing my own car, etc. The artistic side I had to learn in school, so an ID education was hugely important to me personally. I too work with a lot of engineers now, so the talking point of having taken engineering classes may have factored into the hiring process, but I don’t think I’ve ever used any knowledge from that first year of classes. I learned quite a bit about mechanical design later just being on the job.

From my experience in school (at least 10 years ago…) the ID minor program seemed way too rushed and not particularly useful unless you were going to spend a ton of time pushing yourself to learn and grow on your own. I can’t speak to whether an engineering minor is any more or less useful. If if the curriculum is all math, I doubt it would help, because knowing calculus isn’t going to change your ID understanding.

Like iab said, you’ll need to consider what you want to do with your degree(s) to decide which to focus on. You can always double major, but it’s going to be a stressful 4, 5, 6 years, etc. Maybe you could take ID and find a couple extra courses on manufacturing processes or materials or something complimentary and create your own minor. Or vice versa, major in ME and watch a lot of ID sketching videos online and practice at home. Try whichever seems preferable to you and dabble in the other and if you end up switching majors after a year, your life isn’t over.

I think a few targeted courses may be of more use than a second degree or minor. If anything I would focus on selecting a great ID school first and then see how you can supplement your education w other subjects. Classes/subjects that will help are: Any shop classes. We had to take separate semester long classes on Wood, Metal and Plastics at my school (not the case anymore). Get a book or see if you can find any online resources on designing for injection molding or DFM (design for manufacturing). Maybe a UX course or minor might be more beneficial. Take apart products and reverse engineer them. See how they are put together and why. Good luck.

^^^ Good advice! ^^^^

You can also look at ID schools that are functionally part of an engineering department. My school Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada is part of the faculty of engineering. The approach was very much more technical than some schools that are art based. We had course requirements in physics, calculus, algebra, engineering statics, mass production, etc.

Art based schools can provide similar ID fundamentals but may provide less real world applications, material and mass production technology knowledge and be more about concepts or one off visuals than design for production.

Trying to do both ID and ME I think is nice in theory but in practice may not get you as far as the effort required.


Look at Iowa State University. ISU is first and foremost and engineering school, but the ID program is gaining traction. Both the ID and Engineering programs work together on projects, so there’s definitely opportunity to do both degrees (or minor in one or another).

I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology for ID and got a minor in Mechanical Engineering Technology. Technically this minor hadn’t received accreditation yet (I graduated in 2006). I remember the professor saying there was reluctance to accredit a minor with the word “Engineering” in it (insert valid or invalid reasons here), so it’s possible you may find a useful program or set of courses that doesn’t have official accredidation. I just checked their website and it looks like ME Tech doesn’t currently have a minor, but regular Mechanical Engineering does. I think that’s a bit of a pity, since ME Tech has more of a practical focus vs. the sometimes too theoretical ME.

I did find the minor useful, though I can’t remember exactly which courses were officially for the minor since I started off just taking courses at the ME school until I found out about this program. I think the most useful courses were Statics, manufacturing processes, and a shop class where we did a lot on the mill and lathe. Calculus, though I really liked it, is in itself not useful at all to an ID career but was probably required for Statics. I do occasionally use things from a GD&T class (though doing technical drawings certainly isn’t my favorite part of my job, but they are necessary). Physics was useful too, though you may have taken enough in high school (I did 2 years of physics in high school). A course on metrology (measurement) was mildly useful, though the useful takeaways for an ID career could fit on half a page. I wish I had taken Strength of Materials and Dynamics. I remember being able to test out of the CAD class since it was a bit duplicative of ID (and really something you can learn on your own if taking enough initiative). Overall the minor and a few extra courses have allowed me to communicate better with engineers and do a lot of what an engineer would do, though there are certainly things a good engineer knows and can do that I don’t.

I think the above advice of just taking courses outside your major is good since ID touches on a lot of other areas besides ME. However, if you’re really into the mechanical side of things there is probably more support and guidance going the minor route, and it would probably look better on a resume.

I think the Western WA program is part of the engineering school. Also the Stanford program used to be a hybrid design/eng…more heavy on the engineering I think. As an industrial designer working in a manufacturing environment I would like to learn more about industrial engineering, manufacturing lines, efficiency, and the ‘UX’ side of that, namely industrial psychology. You will learn the basics of production technology in any decent design program. You will learn 100x more on the job, and its going to be highly specific to the industry.

We had an intern from WWU a few years ago who one day just schooled me on some physics stuff that she “just picked up” and I was blown away.

RIT, VA Tech, Carleton are all great schools.

Thanks so much for your insights! Much appreciated!