The 10 Best Industrial Design Schools in the US

When you hear the words “industrial design,” you might think of cold and empty warehouses, in which sweaty builders bend metal and iron into shape, lit only by the glow of sparks from their machinery.

While that very much can be part of the industrial design experience, the truth is that the field involves so much more. The shape of your cell phone, the quality of your chair, the contours of your car. All these things were brought to life by industrial designers. 

Industrial design brings together technology and art. Practitioners look for ways to make the everyday objects we use, whether they be toys or computers or furniture, more pleasing to the touch and to the eye. 

A good industrial design school, then, needs many things. It must have a faculty of teachers who know how to combine form and function, with experience in the industry. 

It needs to have resources and state-of-the-art technology where students can bring their work to life. And it needs to have space in which students can display their work. 

You’ll find all those things at every school included on this list. Each of the schools here has been recognized by the Industrial Designers Society of America.

We’ve ranked all these schools according to their resources, faculty, and student achievements. So take a look and find the institution that will help you begin your journey into design.

Here are the 10 best industrial design schools in the US.


10. Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)

Drexel University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re looking for a degree that will prepare you for a career in everything from toy creation to the development of medical tools to even starting your own company, then Drexel University is the choice for you. 

Housed in the Westphal College of Media, Drexel’s production design major allows students space to learn and experiment in a studio setting.

Although the program encourages students to direct their own learning, the curriculum remains focused on educating participants in the fundamentals of design. 

In addition to courses in basics such as applied design visualization and computer-aided imaging in product design, Drexel offers advanced elective courses, including design for soft goods and toy play design. 

Students can show off the work they create in these classes in events such as the STAR scholars presentation ceremony

Each year, a specially selected cohort of motivated students works with faculty mentors to create their own design projects. These projects then are showcased at the event, which brings greater attention and support to the student. 


9. San Jose State University (San Jose, CA)

San Jose State University
Eugene Zelenko, San Jose State University-Tower Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

For over thirty years, the industrial design program at San Jose State University has been giving students the tools they need to make their designs come true. One look at the latest senior design show proves that the school has no intention of slowing down. 

From custom electrotherapy solutions to innovative takes on the classic walking cane, the school’s most recent batch of graduates proves that they have what it takes to rethink and improve upon our most oft-used items. 

The projects displayed at the show also demonstrate students’ pursuit of the school’s most important goals: to meet the evolving needs of humans and to solve our most pressing problems. To that end, San Jose State students learn to be excellent observers and brave creators.

Students develop those attributes not just in the classes they take, but in the connections they form in the department’s clubs. These associations allow students to bond with like-minded thinkers and to support one another as they change the world, one object at a time. 


8. Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)

Arizona State University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Although industrial design programs need to allow students to exercise their creativity, they also need a strong faculty of experienced designers. 

With a talented teacher, innovative students gain the skills and confidence they need to locate and address important problems. 

The Design School at Arizona State University features some of the most impressive faculty you’ll find in any program. 

With experience designing both high-end corporate office furniture and daily use residential furniture, associate professor Lauren McDermott is a leader in the field of design education. 

In addition to serving as a site visitor for the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, professor McDermott has a strong history of working with students. 

Professor Dosun Shin is at the forefront of design research, as demonstrated by the 40 articles he has published and the 16 grants he has received. 

That research work focuses on the humanization of technology, a passion and focus he also brings to his teaching.


7. University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN)

University of Notre Dame
Michael Fernandes, Alumni Hall, University of Notre Dame, CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite its somewhat mechanical name, industrial design is all about the human elements of technology. Students learning the trade must always keep in mind how real people feel about the technology they’re designing. 

The University of Notre Dame understands that principle and works it into every part of its program. But none so clearly as the school’s Max & Emma lecture series, named after professor Rich Jensen and his dear and departed pet cat Max. 

The series brings to design students some of the most innovative thinkers in the field, regularly reminding them to keep the human aspect at the forefront of their work. 

That same human focus drives all the work at Notre Dame, including the courses students take. 

From basic classes in 2D and 3D foundations or drawing to advanced courses in digital solid modeling and art history, Notre Dame teaches its students to focus on the intersection between personal need and technological innovation. 


6. Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)

Virginia Tech
Eric T Gunther, Harper Hall Virginia Tech, CC BY 3.0

To be a successful industrial designer, students need to have a creative spark, a curious mind, and a sense of empathy. But they also need to have space and resources to do their work. 

Part of the School of Architecture + Design, the industrial design program at Virginia Tech brings together all of those elements. 

In Burchard Hall, students have studio space and workshop facilities, including everything they need for working with metal, wood, and plastics, as well as photographic darkrooms, print-making resources, and more. 

The computer labs in Burchard include 3-D prototyping devices, large-format scanners, and high-quality printers. 

In Cowgill Hall, students can not only access the department library and shop facilities, but also an exhibition space. 

In this space, visitors are invited to experience student work, providing critiques and helping students continue innovating and working. 


5. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (Champaign, IL)

UIUC
Daniel Schwen, UIUC Illini Union and Main Quad, CC BY-SA 4.0

Even the most creative person needs helping to find inspiration sometimes. A good program not only provides instruction and support, but also helps with finding ways to generate new ideas. 

Fortunately, students in the industrial design program at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have many options at their disposal. 

Students can drop by the Krannert Art Museum (KAM). At KAM, students can find 8,000 pieces of art, including many from graduates from the program. 

These pieces will remind museum-goers of the fundamentals of design, helping them find new ways of approaching their work. 

At the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art, students have access to scholarly journals, blueprints and maps, books, and other holdings. 

With access to these materials, future industrial designers can keep abreast of the latest findings, situating their work alongside those of the greatest innovators. 


4. Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)

Rhode Island School of Design
DanielPenfield, RISD College Building, CC BY-SA 3.0

Given their stellar reputation for all things involving art and design, it’s no surprise that the Rhode Island School of Design would show up in the top half of this list. 

RISD is the home for some of the most influential designers in the nation, and they are ready to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation. 

Those faculty members include RISD graduate Khipra Nichols, who has returned to become an associate professor at his alma mater. 

Between his stints at RISD, Professor Nichols was the lead product designer at Hasbro Toys, working on mainstays such as Mr. Potato Head and My Little Pony. Professor Nichols brings both his keen eye and his industry experience to teach his students. 

Winner of Japan’s Good Design Award (G-Mark), the Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Award, and many other accolades, associate professor Ayako Takase emphasizes respect for materials and nature. 


3. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)

Purdue University
JMoga11, Purdue University from Hawkins Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want to know the quality of Purdue University’s industrial design BFA degree, you need to look no further than the school’s undergraduate student gallery

There, you’ll find numerous examples of the exciting and valuable projects students have designed. Examples include an easy-to-transport one-man kayak and a compact showerhead for women. 

How can Purdue’s students produce such outstanding work? Of course, the answer includes excellent faculty and a fantastic cohort. But creations of this quality also require resources and spaces in which students can bring their ideas to life. 

Purdue students can enjoy those resources in the Yue Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts. There, they’ll find things such as personal design studios, to which they each have 24-hour access. 

In addition, advanced students can work with technology such as CNC rapid prototyping. Solidworks, and Keyshot for computer modeling and rendering. 


2. Carnegie Mellon University School of Design (Pittsburgh, PA)

Carnegie Mellon University
Dllu, Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University, CC BY-SA 4.0

How confident in its design students is the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design? They let their students design their new logo

CMU makes students’ work be the face of the program, showing the world the excellent designs they produce. 

A logo is just the latest in the outstanding work created by CMU industrial design students. 

At the latest meeting of the Relating Systems Thinking & Design Symposium (RSD10), held at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, several CMU sophomores have been invited to present. 

Topics that students are presenting on include declining pollinators in central California, Automation and the value of work, and more. 

In each of these presentations, students offer ways that industrial design can address and alleviate these problems. 

In case after case, CMU students use their education and knowledge to make the world a better place. 


1. Georgia Institute of Technology School of Industrial Design (Atlanta, GA)

Georgia Tech
Davidhermanns, Kessler Campanile, Georgia Tech, CC BY-SA 4.0

The secret to the success of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Industrial Design comes down to one word: technology. 

With access to the latest in design technologies, GIT empowers its students to bring their ideas into the real world. 

Technology is the focus of the Institute’s several research centers and labs. 

In the Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation, researchers and students work to make the world more accessible. Taking advantage of the resources provided to them, participants develop the latest in user-centered research, products, and services for individuals with disabilities.

For more than two decades, the Center for Spatial Planning Analytics and Visualization has been a leader in the field of geospatial technologies. 

Working alongside experts from institutions across the world, students and researchers in the Center help governments and nonprofits improve and evaluate critical infrastructure for responsible urban growth.

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