Study Industrial Design: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an industrial design master's degree or a Ph.D.? Find out master's and doctorate degree program requirements, online options and information on courses and careers in industrial design.
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Industrial Design Master's and Doctoral Degrees at a Glance

Industrial design is a combination of art and science applied to improving the usability and visual aesthetic of various products. Industrial designers can potentially work with anything, from furniture to electronics to vehicles. A degree program in industrial design typically combines expressed creativity with a firm understanding of industrial and manufacturing processes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of job growth for industrial designers would be below the average of 14% at 10% between the years of 2010 and 2020. This rate would rise to 13% for jobs in the arts, entertainment, sports and media. If you want to make a living teaching industrial design, the rate of growth for educators and trainers would be at 15% for the same time period. Jobs for postsecondary teachers were projected to grow by 17%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People interested working as industrial designers in the private or public sector or teaching below the postsecondary level Individuals who want to work in postsecondary education as professors or in high-level industrial design positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Commercial or industrial designer ($64,000)*
- Community college teacher ($78,000)*
- Technical and trade school teacher ($58,000)*
- Commercial or industrial designer ($64,000)*
Community college teacher ($78,000)*
- University professor ($72,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 6-8 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis
- Master's exams
- Portfolio requirements
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- About 4-6 more graduate level courses
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Portfolio requirements
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in industrial design or a related field Bachelor's or master's degree in industrial design or a related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Industrial Design

When choosing an industrial design master's degree program, it can be helpful to select it based on its balance between creativity and problem solving. Most programs allow for students to concentrate in a particular area of industrial design, such as furniture, product or transportation design. When selecting a program, be sure to bear in mind what programs cater to what types of design.

Courses will tend to develop your mastery of industrial materials, model-making and construction procedures and many programs conclude with the completion of a final project that is intended for public display. Engineering and industrial manufacturing firms often look for graduates of such a program to demonstrate both creative problem-solving skills and managerial knowledge. Some of the most vital qualities you'll typically learn to exhibit include a familiarity with manufacturing and engineering, an understanding of the principles surrounding design, computer applications skills and a knowledge of the materials used in engineering and construction.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree in professional design will educationally qualify you for the majority of available positions
  • You'll gain the ability to balance your creative instincts with practical purpose
  • A master's degree program will enable you to put together a professional portfolio that you can show potential employers


  • Many industrial design positions only require a bachelor's degree in the field
  • Many available jobs require a considerable amount of experience and may not hire you if your degree commands too large a salary
  • A master's degree program in professional design can be expensive and time-consuming

Courses and Requirements

Courses in a master's degree program in industrial design will usually vary based on which area of specialization you choose to pursue. Some of the more common courses you'll encounter may include:

  • Industrial design studio
  • Creative thinking
  • Drawing
  • Methods of production
  • Designing furniture
  • Financial management and marketing
  • Industrial design directed studies
  • Professional practices and ethics
  • Strategies for design
  • Designing tabletops

In addition to exams and coursework, many programs will require you gain experience in the field as well. You may also need to complete independent study and a master's thesis. This typically can be a written research project, a multi-media presentation, a design project or a combination of the aforementioned.

Online Degree Options

If you're employed or unable to attend an on-campus master's degree program in industrial design for other reasons, then an online or hybrid program may be what you're looking for. Bear in mind, however, that this is a highly technical and hands-on field of study. Hybrid programs will usually require you to attend seminars and certain on-campus events on top of your online coursework. You'll also be required to use real-world facilities in order to complete your design projects.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS projected that industrial designers who can demonstrate computer aided drafting or engineering expertise, in addition to design skills, will have the best job prospects. Computer and software skills are required in the vast majority of industrial design positions. If you have an expertise using Adobe Photoshop, SolidWorks, Dreamweaver and other interactive software packages useful for industrial design, it will often help you get ahead in a competitive job market.

Ph.D. in Industrial Design

Although there are few (if any) doctoral programs in industrial design specifically, there are many in design and design science. After earning a bachelor's or master's degree in industrial design, you could enroll in a design program and choose to specialize in industrial design for your independent study and research.

Getting into a doctoral program in design tends to be more difficult than getting into a master's degree program. You'll typically need to have a GPA of at least 3.5, have high GRE scores and may need to present a portfolio of your previous work, as well. Because doctoral programs in design tend to be exclusive, class sizes are usually small and you will have a lot of advisor and faculty interaction.

Pros and Cons


  • A Ph.D. in Design will qualify you go into academia as a professor or researcher
  • As a university professor, you could potentially earn tenure and the job security that comes with it
  • You will receive a well-rounded design education, covering from art to business to design psychology


  • Few jobs in the industrial design industry require a doctorate degree
  • It's enormously competitive and difficult to get into a Ph.D. program in design
  • Most academic job searches are nationwide, so there's a very fair chance that you'll be required to relocate

Courses and Requirements

The design courses that you take often depend largely on your chosen area of expertise and independent study. In this case, your course load would be relevant to industrial design and research. A few classes design programs may offer are:

  • Research methods and techniques
  • Research paradigms
  • Visual thinking and conceptualizing
  • Digital 3-D rendering
  • Color and metal

Coursework and tests are typically only a fraction of what you'll be required to accomplish. You'll usually also have to complete your independent study and often, design projects as well. You'll present your dissertation proposal before a board of advisors; after you'll research, write and defend your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

At this time, doctorate degree programs in industrial design are extremely rare online, although you may be able to complete some of the coursework this way. This is because earning a Ph.D. in Industrial Design is a hands-on, research intensive process that requires a campus, real-world experience a great deal of faculty interaction.

Stand Out With This Degree

While you're still earning your Ph.D., there are numerous steps that you can take in order to stand out in the industrial design and academic job market. The following are simply a few for you to consider:

  • Staying abreast of the most current industrial design technological developments can not only help but also be essential when seeking employment.
  • As is the case with a master's degree, you can stand out by mastering and gaining an expertise in the many types of software packages used for industrial design.
  • Try to get your research (or portions of) or your dissertation published in a peer-reviewed design or scientific journal. This is a solid way to build your resume and stand out from the crowd.