What do you get when you throw a bone to a pack of hungry hounds? What do you get when you throw solid money-making potential to a group of artists? In both cases, you get chaos.
Attending an industrial design school is one path toward a successful career as an artist and you can bet that it will be appealing to a number of people like you who are willing to do anything for a shot. Industrial design schools have been rejecting qualified applicants for years because their halls are bursting at the seams with talent already. How do you take your best shot?
This section will describe some of the requirements of industrial design school – courses, expertise, focus, and devotion. You may notice that ID schools demand more of their applicants than most programs. The advice provided here outlines general considerations as well as some solutions to the most common obstacles students of industrial design face.
This resource will communicate the nature of industrial design in terms of its competitiveness, as well as its focus on real-world potential. It is not an academic field, but rather an area devoted to process, production, and elegance. Long-term career development is essential. But do not feel as though you will be trapped into the first path you choose. Plenty of designers begin in a subfield before finding they have more talent in another later down the road. The important thing is seeking that focus that will keep your technical skills developing as quickly as possible.
High School Diploma or GED
Applying to an undergraduate institution for industrial design requires more of the applicant than a “normal” college. Not only do you need to have the essays, SAT scores, diploma, etc., the best programs often also require a portfolio to be submitted.
The best way to develop a portfolio in high school is to knock out some of the components with your courses. In each of the courses outlined below, focusing on how you will use the expertise you are learning will help facilitate your application to industrial design school. Which part of the design process will you use clay models for? At what point will you need to start thinking about how to put together a project.
Find below the courses that you can take in secondary school, which will help your application to industrial design schools. The better your portfolio, the better the chances for scholarships, awards, and more, so focus early and stick to it. You may just end up with a free ride to your first pick!
- Drawing: Industrial designers need to have a solid foundation in drawing. In your drawing classes, tell your teacher you want to be a designer. The best-case scenario would be for you to have a different curriculum than the rest of the class devoted to industrial design-like projects. But teachers may not be willing to make exceptions or take a special interest. If they do not, then you will need to devote some extra time to your own design projects.
- Industrial arts: Woodworking, shop, and similar courses will have you solve the kind of problems designers solve every day. How will this product function? How will the pieces fit together in a beautiful, fashionable way? Working in three dimensions will add valuable expertise to your portfolio, and it will prove particularly useful should you opt to specialize in toy design.
- Painting: Painting may not be as crucial as drawing but it is extremely useful for a wide variety of specialized fields. Industrial designers need to understand how to work with color schemes, and painting serves as great preparation.
- Sciences: Industrial design requires familiarity with the physical characteristics and behavior of materials, so industrial design schools look deeply at your grades in the sciences. Even demonstrating some mathematical aptitude will help.
SAT, ACT, and Other Standardized Tests
Applying to undergraduate industrial design schools requires standardized tests just like the process at any other institution. For foreign students or for students whose native language is not English, TOEFL or other English tests are required in addition to the standard SAT or ACT requirement. These tests are important to the application, overall, so we will discuss some general strategies that may help prospective industrial design school candidates receive the best scores possible.
First, let’s put things into perspective. Pretend you are looking at a course syllabus that outlines the various requirements of the course – tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc. Each of these has some number of points associated with it and each assignment fulfills a certain percentage of the overall grade in the course.
Now, imagine that you are comparing two applications, one to a liberal arts college and another to an industrial design school. The industrial art school has one significant addition to the syllabus: the portfolio. What effect would that addition have on the importance of the other aspects of the application?
The portfolio takes a sizable chunk of the admission committee’s attention, so you can be sure that the rest of the application will not give you as many points toward admission. Standardized test scores are less important, for one.
However, that does not mean that you can blow them off! High school students interested in applying to industrial design schools are more focused and driven than average students. As a result, in order to be competitive it is still important to prepare for the SAT/ACT as well as you can.
One of the best and most effective ways to prepare is to buy a prep book. These are relatively inexpensive; you can buy them used, if you want; and they provide vocabulary, practice tests, and some important advice. If you are not a born test-taker, then they will provide you with the mental skills needed to achieve a great score.
Even if this aspect of the application is less important than it would be for other types of colleges, achieving a higher score signifies that a student has abilities that will help them succeed. Industrial design is one of those fields that blend the two aspects of intelligence, quantitative and qualitative. Standardized tests represent an assessment of these aptitudes. For this reason, regardless of the portfolio, low scores are unnerving to admissions committees.
No matter how prolific your portfolio, industrial design schools are not going to accept your application unless you have excellent standardized test scores. Your scores will not be weighed as heavily as they would be at more generalized institutions but the applicant pool will be more impressive. Your competitors will be talented, focused, individuals who will outperform the national averages easily. In order to be chosen over them, your SAT/ACT and TOEFL/IELTS results need to be in the same ballpark.
We have some advice about how to prepare for test day, which are proven to improve scores.
- Which test to take?
Industrial design schools typically accept both SAT and ACT test scores, so choose the test most appropriate to your abilities. The SAT is different from the ACT in that the questions are more like puzzles. There are answers to throw you off base, use your intuition against you, and innocuously provide solutions so simple they make the test taker wonder if they are missing something.
As an engineer, you may favor this test for its labyrinths and logical solutions. As an artist, you may despise the traps and mocking simplicity. The ACT is more like a normal history test. Knowledge is king for this examination, and there is no real substitute for knowledge. If you are unsure which you would be naturally inclined toward, take a practice test or two in both and choose your best performance. Be absolutely certain that you recreate the perfect test-taking environment each time! That means harbor no interruptions, follow specific time schedules, and do not take any more or less time for breaks than the test allows. Be sure to take the practice tests as seriously as you would the real thing, and your results will be dependable.
- How to prepare?
Before you take any standardized test, you will need a program and study-guide. These not only improve knowledge of the test, but there is also invaluable familiarity to be gained that will make test day easier to handle on the nerves. No matter the test, vocabulary is one area in which everyone can improve. Be sure to start a regimen early, learning between 25 to 50 words a week. Even if you do this for months ahead of time, you will still probably see some words you do not know but you will gain more effective communication skills in the meantime.
Basic Design and Art Coursework
You may need to know how to navigate the design and art course requirements for undergraduate industrial design schools. Sometimes it is impossible for high school students to meet these requirements before graduation, and the expectations can seem too high, or unfair. But there are solutions, and these may actually be better for you than jumping straight into an industrial design school. Here’s how:
A number of industrial design undergraduate programs require basic design and art classes. These can force some students to make a difficult choice, regarding the next step in their education. They can either: a) suck it up, not apply to their dream schools and settle for something less than they believe they are capable of; or b) apply to schools for a more run-of-the-mill, liberal arts program in order to take the design prerequisites, develop their expertise, and apply the following year.
We think that if you have the financial wherewithal to handle option b, then it is a better choice.
Industrial design schools are extremely competitive at every step of the way. Students are focused, talented, and driven to succeed. Often the design and art course requirements are in place more for the protection of students than the prestige of the program.
What can be learned from these requirements is not that design schools do not want you to walk their halls. Rather, they want you to have the necessary expertise to shine, which requires some definitive experiences, such as drawing, designing, and other components fundamental to industrial design. To succeed in such a competitive environment requires advance knowledge of the field as well as the skills you will be practicing on a daily basis.
Taking courses, such as wood shop, drawing, and design will provide additional focus and drive toward a career in industrial design, or it will show you that you do not really want to be a designer. Either way, you will be more prepared for the next step in your education.
So, if you do not have those prerequisite courses under your belt, then it is wise to balance out your application with some other undergraduate institutions that may have decent industrial design programs but which allow for some flexibility in what you will decide to do. Take the first year to figure out specifically what kind of designer you want to be, gain some expertise and focus, then apply to transfer to a specialized education.
If you have decided to pursue a master’s degree in industrial design, then you need to make sure you take the right courses in college to support that goal. Drawing, design, painting, sculpture, and wood shop classes would be a great start.
However, the courses you take will depend upon your chosen area of specialization. One of the advantages of pursuing a master’s degree is your ability to specialize more than you did as an undergraduate. Another advantage is the experience you gain from your previous pursuits in industrial design schools. To use these in the best possible way, you may want to take advanced drawing classes, sculpture, painting, wood shop, drafting, and digital design courses. These will not only look good to potential master’s programs; they will also develop the skills necessary to grab the attention of the top ID firms in the country. Use the time to develop as a collaborator, as an artist, and as a problem solver.
Work experience also has an enormous impact on one’s application to advanced education programs. During your undergraduate years, try to land some summer internships with design studios in the field of your interest. If automotive design is your dream, then apply to the car companies and develop your work in that area. If product design is your cup of tea, then reach out to individual companies, inquiring about internships to see if you have something important to add to their workplace.
Master’s programs will require an entirely new level of sophistication in their applicants, which only significant experience will bring. Enrolling in drawing classes is a must, no matter what subspecialty you are aiming for. In addition, art history classes will help establish your expertise in product design and fashion. Tailoring your course load to specific products, in particular, will provide you with the most enticing educational portfolio. These classes are typically higher-level courses, and you will need to take the base courses early in your college career in order to reach them.
As you pursue your undergraduate degree, it is important to be making progress toward a more specific idea of what you would like to do. Try to gain exposure in whatever you are interested in, from toy design to ergonomics, and shape your course load to suit those interests.