Product design and development is the art form of the industrial designer. Material goods everywhere begin in the minds of these creative professionals. Experts in innovation, industrial or product designers can work in virtually any industry, dreaming up the machines, processes and goods that will move society forward to the next level, from biotechnology to children’s toys.
Some industrial designers can succeed without a college degree in the subject. For most people, however, the best way to launch a career as a product designer is with a high-quality education and solid portfolio of work. Most industrial designers get started with a bachelor’s degree. Degrees in Industrial Design should be accredited. A total of 64 Industrial Design schools are accredited by National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) in the United States.
U.S. News & World Report provides a ranked list of the best product design programs in the country. All are accredited by NASAD. Take a look:
1. Rhode Island School of Design
A world-class fine arts and design school on the East Coast, RISD — or “Riz-Dee” — was founded nearly 140 years ago in Providence, Rhode Island, located right alongside Brown University of Ivy League fame. One of the oldest fine arts establishments in the country, the private school offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Industrial Design and a Master of Industrial Design (MID).
RISD has an impressive alumni roll call, such as Karim Rashid, Time magazine’s “most famous industrial designer in all of the Americas.” The school is known for its challenging coursework, considerable professional networks, and stringent admission rates – less than 30 percent in 2013.
2. Art Center College of Design
Although the tuition is steep, the experience at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design is worth the price, students say. This West Coast college is known for turning out ready-to-create graduates with ample multidisciplinary experience. Students call it the ‘Harvard of design schools,’ although its 80%+ acceptance rates are much less stringent than the Ivy League.
Art Center has a history of humanitarian involvement that has earned it recognition by the United Nations, a heritage reflected in its motto: ‘Influence change.’ The Southern California private school offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Product Design and three Masters of Science (M.S.) in Industrial Design, Environmental Design, and Transportation Design.
3. Carnegie Mellon University
Located near downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, prestigious Carnegie Mellon University maintains strong technical ties to industry while idealizing a holistic, liberal arts model of education. As a globally recognized research institution, the school boasts elite Business and Computer Science programs which heavily influence Industrial and Manufacturing Management studies, as seen in cutting-edge specialties like human-computer relations and artificial intelligence.
Carnegie Mellon has a wide selection of ID degrees. As an undergraduate, you can get a Bachelor of Design (B.Des.) in Products, Communications, or Environments. Graduate degrees include:
- Master of Product Development
- Master of Design in Design for Interactions
- Master of Arts in Design
- Master of Professional Studies in Design
- Master of Integrated Innovation for Products & Services
- Doctor of Philosophy in Design
- Professional Doctorate of Design
4. Cranbrook Academy of Art
A tiny, graduate-only private school in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, the elite Cranbrook Academy of Art has a unique apprenticeship-based model of teaching that many students find attractive. Instead of traditional classes and grades, designers-in-residence provide mentorship and guidance to small groups of students for the duration of their studies on a pass-or-fail basis.
There is no part-time or off-campus attendance. Industrial Design is taught in the innovative 3D Design Department. Cranbrook’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in ID is best-suited to designers who appreciate the school’s noted emphasis on architecture and “objects for the interior.”
5. California College of the Arts
Not to be confused with the California Institute of the Arts, the California College of the Arts (CCA) is based in the Bay, with campuses in San Francisco and Oakland. CCA is known for its experimental and multidisciplinary approach and is considered one of the world’s best Industrial Design schools.
With close ties to industry in America’s venture-capitalist mecca, the West Coast school regularly graduates ID rock stars who draw international recognition for their work. CCA offers a BFA in Industrial Design, an MFA In Design, and an MBA in Design Strategy.
6. Pratt Institute
A Brooklyn-based arts school on the East Coast, Pratt Institute is a perennial reputable choice for commercial product designers. Although the campus and facilities are not as expansive as some of the other schools on this list, students benefit from close proximity to New York City, one of the world’s premier urban destinations for product designers.
Like RISD, Pratt offers an MID for graduate students of product design. For undergraduates, a Bachelor of Industrial Design (BID) is available. Industrial Design is one of the biggest and most popular departments at Pratt.
7. Ohio State University
The only public school on this list, Ohio State University has the extensive resources of a large research university to extend the value of its award-winning Department of Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communication Design.
Undergrads who want to pursue ID must enroll as Pre-Design majors their first year, after which they can compete for one of the limited spots in the Department leading to a B.S. in Design. Additionally, there is an MFA in Design for graduate students. Both the undergraduate and graduate ID programs at OSU have been recognized for their high caliber.
8. Rochester Institute of Technology
A five-hour drive from New York City, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is considered a great school at a great price for undergraduates and graduates alike. With its state-of-the-art Vignelli Center for Design Studies, RIT is a good pick for students interested in the science, engineering, and technology sides of industrial design, as seen in its wealth of 3D printing resources.
RIT is one of a few colleges in the United States that has been formally recognized by U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its internships and co-op programming. The school offers a BFA and MFA in Industrial Design.
9. School of Visual Arts
Like Pratt Institute, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan benefits from its location in bustling New York City, an international hub for design professionals. SVA boasts more studio courses than any institution in the world, the school says. Students who attend the challenging program must be independent and self-motivated students.
Graduate students at SVA can pursue an MFA in Design, Products of Design, Design Criticism, Design for Social Innovation, or Interaction Design. Undergraduates can earn a BFA in 3D Design.
10. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The non-profit School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has a reputation for professional-grade facilities, highly engaged professors, and strong support for student exhibitions. Located in the vibrant urban ‘Loop’ of Chicago, SAIC has an open curriculum model that has produced more Fulbright scholars than any other arts/design school.
The historic institution, founded in 1866, has the largest school-museum campus in the United States. A BFA and MFA in Industrial Design and a Master of Design (M.Des.) in Designed Objects are available to aspiring product designers at SAIC.