Phd in Design?

There have been a few threads on what school to go to for a Phd in design, just thought I’d back the truck up with a few questions. I’m curious about a few things…

What is a Phd in ID?

Why would you need it?

What are you hoping to get out of it?

Do employers look for it?

As a Phd in ID what type of design work will you be looking for?

Do you run the risk of being over educated and under experienced for a job in ID?

Are you going to learn anything that you wouldn’t figure out by researching and studying on your own time outside of work?

I think that the Illinois Institute of Technology is one of, if not the only program that offers a Phd in Design. It is a rare degree and basically serves one purpose.

If you are the kind of person that is really only interested in teaching design or being involved in museums with substantial design or ID collections then a Phd in design might be for you. It basically puts you in the position of being a Dean of Architecture, Design, etc at some major university or a museum curator.

This, however, would have to be backed up by some serious time spent in the academic world, writing books, essays, papers on design, and having a historical and detailed knowledge of design history, designers, and design related industries.

If you think that a “BFA in ID” + “MID” + “Phd - Des” = “instant director of design position at some major firm or corporation” then you are mistaken. Especially if these degrees are aquired back-to-back you would look like the biggest design nerd in the universe who obviously has too much time and money to play with. Plus I would hope that the school giving out the Phd would ask for some serious qualifications and experience and not just enroll anybody.

Hope that helps.

IIT was the first to offer a PhD but I don’t think they are the only ones anymore.

So, honestly just curious, how would that better than getting a masters? or a BFA and lots of reading on the side.


Who is more qualified to run a school’s design department, an academic with years of reading or a professional with years of experience? Who do you tust with your tuition?

Think about the Bauhaus. Corbo loathed universities and even the word “academic” and I think that disdain for the way you where taught to do things led to a serious innovation factory.

Are intructors that transition from being masters students to professors doomed to regergitate things they where taught without ever applying and testing them? Was it socratese that believed it was possibe to reach truth through thought and introspection without needing to turn to the material world for proof?

Random questions, would to love to see some opinions.

Hmm. So I am one of those mysterious PhD student who is sure to be doomed to become a gray-haired design nerd?

Let me suggets that most designers are nerds in their own right. Different, perhaps from what we envision a “computer nerd” to be, but a nerd nonetheless. We are somewhat obsessed with observing, thinking, experimenting and making. How is this different from what we often think computer nerds to be? Somewhat obsessed with developing new programs and coming up with new ways to get the machine to do something…???

But all jokes aside, here are a few answers to some of the questions posted:

Several design schools now offer PhD degrees in the US: The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon; The IIT, and North Carolina State. Georgia Tech in Atlanta had began a design PhD but I believe their one and only PhD student is now part of the PhD in Architecture program. In Europe, too, there are now several PhD programs. The ones that come to mind are Essen, Germany and somewhere in Denmark.

At this point, there are very few PhDs in Design active either in academia or in the industry. It is simply a very new path for design and designers.

Most of the PhD programs are part of a university/college. This is significant because for the longest time, design was tought mostly in art schools, similar to fine arts programs. The integration of design into a university campus reflects the increasing importance of design thinking and design methods to other university fields.

My studies allow me to think bigger in terms of what design is and what design can do. I am not limited to think of design as the creation of a 2D or 3D product. I guess, one would rather describe my current work as working in 4D. Research and writing are absolutely part of this so everyone can learn from each other and advance our understanding of design, design thinking and design methodologies. In an industrial setting, i.e. in a design consultancy, this work is not impossible but much more difficult to undertake since the consultancy has to worry about the bottom line more often than not.

I do think that the PhD is a very personal decision and certainly is not for everyone. Money is not a driver: Academic salaries are typically way below industries and working is not limited to 8am through 5pm. But to me, universities offer exciting environments and challenges with opportunities to meet interesting people that share their knowledge with other people while remaining curious about the world. I like that.

I’m also curious about the world, and i think everything will at last fall into a hole.No matter how creative my product is, how useful my design is for a coroperation or firm, how much money my design can earn…
Everything will come to the same end.
But theory researh is another thing, totally different from that kind of boring cycle.
I’m a MA , and hope to communicate with you about the PHd program .


So what’ the difference between getting a MS in chemistry or a PhD?
The design field is changing. You will find many of the top firms have a at least 1 research person or a contrator. Wouldn’t it be nice if this researcher had a design background too!

not sure don’t know any chemists, but coming from a place that employees a lot of researchers, it seems better when they DON’T have a background in design. You get some folks with deep knowlede in certain area and stir them with some great designers, and usually some awesome stuff happens. The idea is to bring different people into the mix.

Personally, and this is just me, if I ran a firm and was hiring a researcher, I would spend the money on a PHD in anthropology, psycology, or socialogy. You can’t bill out a phd in design, it adds no cache. If the person undergraded in design, got a masters in mechanical egineering, and a phd in sociology, now you got a researcher.

Just my two cents, anything is possible with the right attitude though. Like you stated the feild is changing… did you get a MIO (Masters in the Obvious)? :wink:

My studies allow me to think bigger in terms of what design is and what design can do. I am not limited to think of design as the creation of a 2D or 3D product. I guess, one would rather describe my current work as working in 4D.

So basically the PHD program will bring you full circle and return you to that original dreamy eyed, un-jaded, blue-sky thought process of freshman year?

Ok i don’t really mean that, but that was the first thing that popped into my cynical head when i read that line, no offense intended i was just joking.


I’d like to think that a phd in design would incorporate all those disciplines with regard to design, thus adding to the mix and adding billable “value”