Industrial Design

Industrial design blends the art with the science of product design and development. Also known as product designers, industrial designers are experts at the tactical planning of product concepts, prototypes, and models, mainly in commercial contexts. These artisans are among society's most productive inventors, brainstorming the ideas for items from mobile apps and school campuses to weapons systems and children's toys.

Like other designers, industrial designers create draft representations to support product modeling, either by hand or via Computer-Aided Design. They work both as self-employed consultants and on teams for major manufacturers, large corporations, and design firms. Successful industrial designers, whether employed or entrepreneurial, enjoy rosy salaries and benefits. Despite their title, less than one third of these professionals are directly employed by manufacturers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

To get into this field, the U.S. BLS recommends students earn a college education at least to the bachelor's level. Relatively few industrial designers acquire graduate degrees, but doing so can enhance job applicants' employability. It is recommended that students attend an ID program accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) or another government-approved institutional entity.

Degrees in Industrial Design

Bachelor Degrees

Associate degrees in industrial design are available, especially online, but a sub-baccalaureate degree may lead only to an assistant or technician position. A 4-year bachelor's is considered entry-level for industrial designers, and can be used to obtain gainful employment. After graduation, success for bachelors is a matter of acquiring solid experience through years of hard work.

Industrial design overlaps a great deal with mechanical engineering, and professionals in both fields may compete for the same jobs. More often, however, they work together, with mechanical engineers developing internal components and technology based on product specifications written by industrial designers. This close professional relationship makes mechanical engineering coursework at the bachelor's level an asset for fledgling industrial designers.

Applicants may need to attend a portfolio interview in order to gain admission to some programs. The choice of undergraduate major is somewhat flexible. Students may major in, for example, Commercial Art, Design and Visual Communications, Product Design—even Packaging Science. Bachelor-level classes in Industrial Design typically include:

  • Fundamentals of Design
  • Modeling & Prototyping Techniques
  • Advanced Rapid Visualization

A Bachelor of Industrial Design (BID) can enter the workforce as a:

  • Staff Industrial Designer
  • Product Developer
  • Industrial Design Coordinator

Master Degrees

Industrial design is notably open to those with no design experience at even the graduate level. Students can enter many master's programs in ID as long as they have a bachelor's degree, regardless of their background—although this may extend how long it takes to finish school. Of course, having a bachelor's degree in industrial design can be beneficial, allowing students to begin building on the fundamentals and deepening their designing skill set right away.

Regardless of one's undergraduate background, graduate school is a uniquely in-depth opportunity to build a professional portfolio that will appeal to employers and clients. Additionally, industrial designers commonly focus their expertise on a very specific niche. The master's level is an excellent opportunity for developing advanced skills in one's desired specialty.

Master designers learn how to move from concept to prototype to mass manufacture or real-world implementation, one step at a time. Moreover, industrial design is becoming computerized, and good jobs can be had in the digital space. The best industrial design schools teach students to create systems, software, and digital tools as much as manufactured objects.

Master programs usually take 2 years to complete, including both structured coursework, studio time, and independent research. The top industrial design schools expose students to quality internship experiences and offer a variety of electives from which to narrow down a specialization. A master's thesis with a portfolio presentation is typically required for graduation. Some programs provide students financial support through assistantships, grants, or scholarships.

ID coursework at the master's level may include:

  • Business Principles: Design & Entrepreneurship
  • Usability & the Digital Interface
  • Designing with Solidworks

Which jobs are available to graduates of a Master of Industrial Design (MID) program?

  • Analytic Product Developer
  • Senior Product Design Consultant
  • Industrial Design Product Development Specialist

Doctoral Studies

The doctorate in industrial design is a new degree in the field, first introduced in the 1990s. It is designed primarily for those who wish to conduct design research. The Ph.D. credential also qualifies one to teach in a university setting as a professor. Doctoral programs take from 4 to 6 years to complete and require students to defend a dissertation before earning the doctorate.

Core doctoral courses at the Ph.D. level may focus on:

  • Current Research in Design
  • Current Research in History, Theory & Criticism
  • Interdisciplinary Research Methods

Someone with a Ph.D. in Industrial Design can become a:

  • Strategic Innovation Executive
  • Industrial Design Professor
  • Creative Director of Industrial Design

We found 56 schools offering industrial design degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 56 Industrial Design Colleges in the U.S.

Top Industrial Design Schools Ranked By US News and World Report

1
Rhode Island School of Design
Providence, RI  |  Total Enrollment: 2086

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's
2
Art Center College of Design
Pasadena, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 1459

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Master's
3
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 8514

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's
4
Cranbrook Academy of Art
Bloomfield Hills, MI  |  Total Enrollment: 141

Degrees Offered: Master's
5
Pratt Institute - Main
Brooklyn, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 4272

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's
5
California College of the Arts
Oakland, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 1180

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's
7
Ohio State University - Main Campus
Columbus, OH  |  Total Enrollment: 47952

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
8
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 14106

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's
8
School of Visual Arts
New York, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 5286

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's
10
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, IL  |  Total Enrollment: 2578

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's

Browse All 56 Colleges With Industrial Design Programs


Title City State Enrollment
Appalachian State University Boone NC 13227
Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus Tempe AZ 44126
Art Center College of Design Pasadena CA 1459
Art Institute of Colorado Denver CO 2090
Art Institute of Philadelphia Philadelphia PA 2516
Art Institute of Seattle Seattle WA 2561
Art Institute Pittsburgh Pittsburgh PA 2497
Auburn University Main Campus Auburn University AL 21860
Brigham Young University Provo UT 32554
California College of the Arts Oakland CA 1180
California State University - Long Beach Long Beach CA 30918
Campbell University Inc Buies Creek NC 5880
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh PA 8514
Clemson University Clemson SC 17465
Cleveland Institute of Art Cleveland OH 553
College for Creative Studies Detroit MI 1086
Columbus College of Art and Design Columbus OH 1416
David Wolcott Kendall Memorial School Grand Rapids MI 744
Fashion Institute of Technology New York NY 10813
Georgia Institute of Technology - Main Campus Atlanta GA 14805
Highline Community College Des Moines WA 6327
ITT Technical Institute San Bernardino CA 817
ITT Technical Institute Fort Wayne IN 510
ITT Technical Institute Murray UT 503
Jackson Community College Jackson MI 5069
Massachusetts College of Art Boston MA 2328
Metropolitan State College of Denver Denver CO 17688
Middlesex County College Edison NJ 10398
Milwaukee Institute of Art Design Milwaukee WI 646
North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh NC 28619
Northern Michigan University Marquette MI 8427
Northwest Technical College Bemidji MN 4638
Oakland City University Oakland City IN 1418
Oakland Community College - Bloomfield Hills Campus Bloomfield Hills MI 23188
Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus OH 47952
Philadelphia University Philadelphia PA 3316
Pratt Institute - Main Brooklyn NY 4272
Rhode Island School of Design Providence RI 2086
San Jose State University San Jose CA 26698
Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah GA 4923
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale Inc Fort Lauderdale FL 3145
The Art Institute of Portland Portland OR 666
The University of the Arts Philadelphia PA 2037
University of Bridgeport Bridgeport CT 2973
University of Cincinnati - Main Campus Cincinnati OH 27327
University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago IL 24942
University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign Champaign IL 38465
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lafayette LA 15742
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor MI 38103
University of Washington - Seattle Campus Seattle WA 36139
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg VA 27869
Wayne County Community College District Detroit MI 9008
Wentworth Institute of Technology Boston MA 3187
Western Michigan University Kalamazoo MI 28657
Western Washington University Bellingham WA 12307