Which Product Design Program to Choose?

Hello everyone,

I’m looking for thoughts on some schools I’ve been considering for a Master’s program. I have my BS in Mechanical Engineering and wanted to branch into more of a product design role in the vision and functionality of products as well as how users interact with these products and the aesthetics.

Currently I work as an engineer in a team of 3 at a lighting company. It’s given me experience with CAD work, technical skills and design for manufacturing, and working with the designer to create new products.

I’ve been looking into a mix of design schools, from pure ID to more technical.
If you all had any thoughts about these (strengths, weaknesses, etc) or knew of any other schools to consider, please let me know, thank you!

-SFSU (San Francisco State University), Masters in ID
-CCA (California College of the Arts), Masters in ID
-UW (University of Washington), Master of Design
-University of Glasgow, Product Design Engineering
-Northwestern, Engineering Design Innovation
-CMU (Carnegie Melon), Masters of Integrated Innovation for Products & Services
-University of Pennsylvania, Integrated Product Design
-UC Berkeley, Masters in Engineering/Masters Mechanical, Product Design
-Stanford, Product Design (on hiatus currently)/Masters Mechanical, Product Design Focus

Appreciate all the help!

Hi Byron,

Same as you, I have a BS in mechanical engineering and got the ID bug after working with designers. I completed my MS in ID at Philadelphia University in 2014. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much love on this forum for MS programs that are targeted at students wanting to get into ID from other disciplines. I think half of it is that ID is a very competitive field, and its hard enough for undergraduate ID students to get jobs with their 4 years of design education. Being shorter in duration, many MS programs tend to skimp on the foundation skills necessary in ID, which is not good for the students or the industry. The other half might just be pride :wink:

Unfortunately, I don’t have any insight into any of the schools you mentioned. The main schools I looked at when I applied were PhilaU, ArtCenter, Pratt Institute, and NC State. I don’t really know why I applied to those schools. At the time (2011), I think there were less MS programs in ID. And after completing an MS program, I’m not sure I would have chosen the same path. However, I did gain a few insights from the experience:

  • Look for programs that offer an introductory year, where you take basic design courses to get you prepared for the MS level courses. In order to make the most of your course work, you need to have the basic set of skills for sketching, rendering, and design visualization. 3 year programs will be more expensive in the end. However, it is not as expensive as completing a 2 year degree, and then not being able to get the job that you want because you don’t have the skills!

  • Think about what kind of company you would like to work for in the long run. Do you want to completely switch roles and just be an industrial designer? Try to get into one of the “pure ID” programs. Or do you want to retain your engineering skills and work in product development for a larger company? Maybe choose a more engineering oriented program.

  • Once you get accepted to a program, but before deciding on one, try to get in contact with some alumni from the program. See what their experience was and what they’re doing now. If their story is similar to what you’d like to see for your future, then it will probably be a good fit.

  • If getting the title of “Industrial Designer” is your dream… start sketching now and never stop. Take a look on the forum for the threads about design sketching books and websites. Don’t get discouraged when your drawings don’t look like the ones you’re trying to emulate. It takes years of practice to even become halfway decent.

Best of luck on your journey! Feel free to PM me if you’ve got any specific questions about my experience.

At this point the only ones I could recommend are CCA, CMU, and Stanford. CMU especially has been doing some great work with human-computer interaction and really having the nuts-and-bolts of product systems covered. I can’t recommend UW until they get their program more exposure and relevance. And if you can go abroad for school I’d definitely recommend that, Glasgow would be cool.

If you’re open to coming to the UK then I have two comments to make.
First is that one major benefit is all MA MDes and Msc are 12 months only here. So you could do 2 in the same time as 1 in USA (I believe). If you do come here then you need to go to Loughborough really.
The second comment is that if you are fine with self funding for up to 2 years then there is a MFA in Edinburgh that is 18 months which sounds interesting.

What about Cleveland Institute of Art? Designers from that school have worked for the big three, Fisher Price, Continuum, Microsoft, Essential, Astro and many other great places.

I suggest getting a minor in ID as opposed to a Masters in ID I find that Mechanical Engineers w/ Masters in ID struggle. I could elaborate. Those that I meant that have both Minors seam stronger.

Please elaborate.