RISD ID and employability

Hi, I’m a sophomore in RISD ID program. I know there’s been a lot of talks about how RISD ID program is ‘traditional’ and philosophical compare to other ID credited schools like ACCD and UC, thus incapable of teaching students to be ‘employable’ or ‘successful’ designers.
I know it’s actually all up to myself and my portfolio but it still really worries me because I hear so many people saying ‘RISD students’ portfolios suck’.
Is RISD ID program (compare to other schools’) really THAT useless in the real world?
And is this theory-based program going to change at all?
(Although I want to stay at RISD, I might decide to transfer to ACCD or UC if I think it’s necessary…

Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated:-)

I have this very same problem at my school. Except we also have faculty stuck in twenty years ago and for advanced design classes still are adamant about having marker and chalk final renderings. I’ve found, as a few others of us have, that really there is a fine line between what the teachers want, and what the industry wants. So for example: for refinement renderings a teacher will give us an assignment of twenty fully rendered marker and chalk refinement sketches. Because this method is so dated, especially for junior and senior level classes, I would go talk to them, explain the situation, and ask if I can do it digitally instead. Even though he then says he wants us to do it with markers and chalk, I still do the amount of sketches-and more just to try to make them happy with putting in more effort-but all done in either sketchbook pro or Photoshop.

Also what will really help you figure out what professionals are looking for, is to just ask them. Send emails out to designers that have work you like, tell them that, then ask if it would be alright if they could give you feedback on some work

Talk to Rene when he gets back this fall. I think he is a Junior or Senior and just interned here at frog.

Like any place, it’s about what you put into it. The things you learn at risd are very valuable, a certain entreprenurial spirit that I’ve seen missing from students in other schools. There is something to be said about learning things the manual way, some things that you don’t learn by doing it the most efficient way. I know quite a few risd grads, some here on the boards that are doing pretty well for themselves.
A big thing that helps though is having exposure to other schools, internships, etc…to fill in the gaps that are in the risd program. When you get to put it all together it can make you very skilled. The people I know from risd that are doing the best are ones that also had training at anther school, whether it was just for a semester or for undergrad or masters.
Back when I was there, there was no core, design blogs, etc…all we had was ID magazine and Design World. So it was hard knowing how things were done in the real world to supplement our training. But now you guys have access to portfolios from students at all of the different schools, lots of examples of what’s expected from you as a new graduate, lots of things to be able to benchmark yourself against. So if you stay up on what’s going on in the design world outside of risd and make sure that you fill in the gaps (mostly in the technical skills and business aspects), then you should do fine.
Someone posted that other schools prepare you for your first job, while risd prepares you for your last. I think that’s a pretty good statement. So you’ll have to be proactive and make sure you have the right skills for that first job. Luckily there are a lot of resources around for you to do that for yourself, you won’t be probing in the dark. Good luck, keep up on your portfolio, and try to get internships to see how it’s done in the real world as soon as you can.

Skinny, above has pretty much covered it. RISD teaches an overall creative thinking process approach, not focused on the narrower band of the traditional entry-level ID job. (I am a RISD grad) Depending on what you want to do after you graduate, you should start to supplement what you are learning at RISD with acquiring some very specific skills, techniques or contacts useful in the field where you want to go. You will need to get feedback on your portfolio multiple times from someone in industry, and ideally get an internship. You should spend a lot of time after the term is out on revising your portfolio and targeting it at what you want to do, even doing new projects on your own just to show what you can do. This must be self-directed, you can’t rely on the school to do this for you. PM me with any specific questions. Good luck

I graduated from University of the Arts ID. I am not using any of my design education. It just doesn’t apply anywhere…yet. I’d like to think I can pull from it somewhere down the line, but it’s not looking good. The funny thing is that it has a very strong foundation program where Illustrators, animators, and fine artists can transition from and graduate with successful employment. The problem was that when I entered ID, the program got rid of all technical design training other than Adobe Illustrator. Even then, it was still learn on your own. The majority of graduates all transition into graphic/web design. All the design firms in Philly have no and or little respect for Uarts ID education. From what I have learned though, RISD is doing the design theory and application successfully. But I still haven’t come across a list of highly successful graduates with the likes of ACCD. I think AC advertises their successful graduate more successfully…any thoughts

Advertising might be a part of it. Just from my own network of risd grads I personally knew from school, I know a superstar freelancer that does work for herman miller, knoll, alessi, senior designers and directors at microsoft, a few seniors at ideo, continuum, proteus, nike/converse/frog :wink: , designers and directors at 4 major luggage and soft goods accessory companies, owners of a medical design consultancy, senior/director at bose, design director/managers at a few major car companies, 4-5 that have successfully put out their own products and turned them into companies, design director of a major disposable consumer goods company, senior designers at sketchers, new balance, lugz, bodyglove, lego and hasbro, one who does fine cutlery and household goods, director/manager for target, and 2 that started their own successful design firms. That’s just off the top of my head out of mostly students I knew from my 5 years there, along with 3 that were teachers (super-freelancer, medical consultancy, and one of the ideo seniors/directors).
So we get work, lots of managers, directors, and entrepreneurs on that list, people guiding the bigger vision. You won’t find too many risd folks working on what the next hot cell phone form factor will look like or many of the more “flashy portfolio” jobs so the advertisement of what risd grads are doing isn’t out there as much as the accd guys with all of the entertainment and car work that comes from there.

I also think other schools might do a much better job at actively maintaining their alumni network. Most RISD grads have a weird bond, we speak a common language because we went through the same intense program. While that can unify us, it also tends to make us very separate from the school itself and I think more can be done to bridge the gap.

I think then, just as you are doing, is to join as many design forums and communitites as you can. Honestly I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to go talk to professionals to see what is required of you. Put up your projects on these forums ad often as you can as well to get the most feedback you can. Don’t be discouraged because the school may not seem to be as good as others in one way or another. It’s a crappy answer, but supplement yourself with as much as possible. there are a group of us at the school I go to especially because of our demanding schedule: 17 credits in 11 weeks year round :{)

Right, I think it kind of bonds us together individually as survivors, but not towards the actual school. I’m sure nam vets get together and share a lifelong bond but I doubt any of them are in any rush to go back and visit, :laughing: But the ones who are still living near the area do help out with training the new recruits so that’s a plus.

Having just graduated the RISD ID program (2010) I can speak to what the current situation is like. Having interned and worked along designers who have went to other design schools, UC, CCS, Artcenter, ect, I have some insight into how a RISD ID education differs.

I had a great experience at RISD and would not have changed anything about it. If I could go back four years I would however have told myself to be more conscious of the design world outside of RISD. I truelly believe that RISD provides you with the timeless tools of a designer, and will provide you with an experience unique to any other design school, but it is very easy to lose track of industry trends, and the skill sets design firms are looking for in recent grads. I did four internships during my time at RISD and gained good insight as well as made great connections with people outside the RISD bubble.

The ID department in particular does not have a great Alumni relationship, and many of the professors are RISD grads themselves, not the best scenario. This however does not stop you reaching out to ID professionals and making connections outside of RISD. Persistence and work ethic can go a long way.

I graduated about three months ago and while finding jobs and internships was tough, I was able to find a job and am now happily employed. While at RISD it is important to remember that hard work does not guarantee success, but without it you have no chance to succeed.

this question has come up before, (not only for RISD) why would a big name art school be less unconcerned with the employability of new grads?

Schools are selling a product to students, and tailor that product to meet thier needs. There’s a lot of rich kids at RISD who don’t really need to earn a living right out of school. (as opposed to UC where students are demanding jobs upon graduation).

Obviously thats a sweeping generalization and there a lots of contradicting examples, but I think that explains their reputations and current placement percentages.

If you make getting a job your priority, nothing at RISD should hold you back.

Just wanted to say as someone who graduated RISD 2 years ago I completely agree with what’s been said. Keep an eye on what’s coming out of other schools and what companies are looking for, then tailor your advanced studios curriculum to best help you get there. One of the worst things about RISD imo were a select few advanced studios, if you were to take all of those you could walk out with a rather questionable portfolio, but at the same time there were plenty of strong studios to choose from as well. Just actively be aware of what you need to better your work and seek out whatever classes/professors to accomplish it - the resources are all there.

I used to ask about that all the time when I was there and was straight up told that they’re not trying to train you to get a job. I thought it was weird at the time. The explanation was that, the things that you’ll get out of the risd program, you probably won’t be able to get while you’re on the job. The rest of it like technical knowledge, computer programs, etc…are things that you can get on your own or are easily found elsewhere. So they focus on what you probably won’t be able to get anywhere else.
I though that was a little too extreme but I do understand where they’re coming from. You can learn cad at a community college, but generally, you wont’ be able to do the type of forward thinking and exploration that you can at risd in most other places including the workplace where there are a lot more limitations.

I think you just have to have a good mix of the pragmatism and the exploration, too much in any one direction is limiting.
So they’re not trying to be an ID factory churning out designers you’ll find everywhere. It’s more structured like a lot of grad schools are, pushing for “first of it’s category” and game-changing types of ideas as opposed to 100 pages of styling cell phones.

There is a middle ground approach. I have not seen anyone taking it, but I do think it is possible to teach employable skills as well as conceptual, idealistic, aspirational thinking.

I don’t know that RISD needs a balanced approach.

someone here once said, not sure who, but certain schools prepare you for your first job but places like RISD prepare you for your last. And if you look at the difference between, who has best job placement upon graduation, and who ends up holding all those Awards and Senior/Director/VP positions, there are some clear differences…
(Or at least there used to be)

A talented driven kid who can float student loan payments without a job until they have a successful career should have the option of a program tailored towards long-term success. wouldn’t you agree? We’re really only talking about 2-3 relatively small programs.

No, I don’t agree. I think that 1% kid might not even need a degree.

And if a program was going to tailor to that, then the program should articulate itself as that and not wait until students are in and paid 1.5 years of one of the highest tuition fees in the nation to divulge their true aim.

99% of graduates from that program are not employable as industrial designers. The 1% that are, tend to be very good, and they would be very good no matter where they went!

Do I value my RISD education? Yes, I had a great time there, met my wife, loved the freshman year foundation…
Would I be the same designer had I gone to CCS, Art Center, or anywhere else? Probably. RISD did not define me as a person or a designer. In fact I’d say the influence went the other way while I was there.

I’m going to love running an ID program some day. I have so many ideas as to how to tailor the curriculum, select instructors, select, weed out, mentor and grow students… all in due time.

I also went to RISD and it’s a great school, but at 5X the $ of in-state tuition it’s already excluding most of the middle class.
(Non of whom are here asking about whether or not they should go to Cranbrook for a good job after graduation ,right?)

RISD is a victim of it’s own success and unless it’s going to follow Cooper Union and Harvard and offer free tuition to anyone accepted, I simply suggest they (as you pointed out) promote themselves for what they excel at and not try to be something they’re not. Allow underfunded state universities to reap some of the benefits of top-talent students.

Hybridizing the curriculum dilutes their strength, just as it would at Cranbrook.

While I don’t think serious changes should be made to the program, the department really needs to state its mision and make it clear what it believes in, and what it expects out of the students.

A simple awarness to what it takes to make it as an industrial designer and the steps and skills needed to accomplish this is what is needed. I believe many students go through the program oblivious to the harsh reality of the real design world.

As yo says, I really do believe both trains of though can be taught. I met some extremely talented and motivated people while I was at school who were truelly pasionate about what they were doing; the right direction, or even just opinion on how to succede as an industrial designer is what is really missing.

I agree that it’s goals should be clear before students go into the program. When I went, I had just heard about ID for the first time my freshman year. So all of my ID exposure was strictly from them. I wanted to learn more about the business/practical side since I heard that was one of the few majors that people actually get real jobs when they graduate. But to have so little of that gone into was a shame. So you have to try to learn something with no end goal or benchmarks to compare to. That makes it very difficult to judge yourself objectively when you have no criteria to go against.
When I started teaching, I tried to bring in a balanced approach. I asked my students what other classes they would be taking during their time at school, I asked some upperclassmen about their time there, what they learned and didn’t learn. Looking at that info, I wanted to fill in the gaps because it seemed like they were going through a similar route that I did in school with a high emphasis in one area and a big area being very neglected. I tailored my classes to what I saw were the neglected areas and that seemed to work out very well for my students.
As mentioned, I think it can be done, I’m just not sure why it isn’t as much as it should. There seems to always be a tendency to be really heavy on one side or the other. Who knows.