Question of the week: What sort of Industrial Design Education should I take?

Our budding young Industrial Designer David is back this week with a new question on his education and training in Industrial Design. He asks:

If I were to take up a course such as Engineering/Industrial Design double degree or take something up like Product Design Engineering, would it give me a better edge in the competitive world of jobs?
Or would taking up a Bachelor of Industrial Design be sufficient to get jobs?
Right now I’m tossing up between the two. Problem is that my maths is average and my chemistry is no better. (They are subjects required to get into the engineering courses)
Oh, also, sorry to be intrusive, but what course did you do and where? Like did you just do a Bachelor of ID or did you take a double degree as well?

First off David, not to worry my design background is not a big secret so I don’t mind sharing it with you. I graduated with a Bachelor of Industrial Design (Hons) from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia. I was one of their first few graduates. Currently I believe the course is doing well with a few notable award winning graduates with big name brands or employed in the design consultancies in Australia. If you like more information do check out their course website here.

Types of Industrial Education

There are essentially 2 types of Industrial Design courses or degrees. One is an art based approached and the other is a multi-disciplinary approach.
The Art School or Art based approach focuses on the styling and form creation and the nuances that come with such creative approach to design. They are also very craft base with lots of exploration with materials and different manufacturing processes. Often such degree courses require you, as an admission criteria, to have a portfolio of strong varied work done while you were in high school or during your past time.
Some of the art school advantages are that graduates are very strong in their understanding of form and in form development. However these students may need a lot of tutoring when it comes to making their designs more commercially viable or fiesable in manufacturing. These days though the art school graduates have become a lot better those aspects, but purely technical design work, such as case part design, will not be their strong point.
The other type of Industrial Design course focuses on a more multi-disciplinary approach, and is the approach that I studied at UNSW. This course structure finds it roots from a more European approach toward Industrial Design which believes that a successful product needs to consider all aspects of its success including marketing, ergonomics, engineering, manufacturing and design constraints. The students often take, in addition to design subjects, classes in the schools of Business and Engineering. This often results in design graduates that are well suited for commercial environments. Entry into such courses often don’t require a portfolio, but may require some ability in maths.
The advantage of a multi-disciplinary approach is that graduates get a strong understanding in what it takes to create a successful product as well as strong research and analytical skills. The down side is such graduates may not always be sensitive when it comes to form or design languages.


At the end of the day, David, you need to look at this from a stand point of what sort of design career you want to have of the type of products you want to design. If you like to do boutique design work, the likes of Marc Newson or Karim Rashid, then an art school approach is for you. If you prefer are more commercial approach like working for brands like Nokia or Philips then a more multi-disciplinary approach will give you the skills you need.
Engineering work is also a good entry point, and creative engineers are in very high demand. But the scope of engineering often focuses on detailed work that considers manufacturing and materials processes. The reason for high math is the amount of calculations required to do those work.
I like to close this post to say that you might like to study the product development process in detail and identify which level you might like to “play” at. In fact there is one other degree you might like to consider which is a business degree in Marketing. At the end of the day though, I personally picked a multi-disciplinary approach simple because I wanted exposure and skills in both marketing and engineering as if I had failed as a designer, at least I would have the skills to move in those other directions!

  • Saikat

    November 21, 2007 at 3:23 am Reply

    I have experienced two apparently very different design schools…. and I feel there is only one recognized approach of design education and that’s the multi-disciplinary approach.
    It’s the personal attitude towards design and area of interest/passion which make someone a ’boutique designer’ and the other a ‘corporate designer’.

  • Mike

    November 19, 2007 at 8:47 am Reply

    Hi there, it’s always important to be as informed as possible when trying to decide on an educational track. That may mean doing as much reading as you can, being as exposed as you can to industry events. Basically knowledge is power. You may wish to check out the Singapore Design Festival 07 website for more informationon different types of design and the experts who influence them…

  • David

    November 17, 2007 at 9:31 pm Reply

    Wonderful, Thanks again DT. You’re post are always really useful! =]
    Well, Ive decided, Im going to head towards the art designer. I have taken subjects heading in that direction. Ive got a local industrial designer I know who will probably help me with my folio next year. Thanks again DT. Appreciate it all =]
    Keep up the good work.

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