Through random circumstance, I recently met an engineer with two teenaged children. The older of the teenagers is a junior in high school and interested in pursuing industrial design.
After learning what I did for a living, the engineer sent me an e-mail asking advice about ID schools. I tend to give non-traditional advice, and here's what I wrote back to him--please tell me what you think I missed (I'm sure there's plenty), and what I may have gotten wrong. It was a bit off the top of my head.
(The only background you need to know is 1) We're in the American South, 2) The teenager had asked about SCAD, and 3) The teenager has a strong aptitude for doing a specific type of technical drawing by hand. I won't reveal more than that, for privacy's sake.)
First off, schools to look at with strong/reputable ID programs:
SCAD is a great school, and I believe they were recently ranked best design school in the South. And from what I've heard their ID department has great facilities. If I had to do it all over again I'd strongly consider SCAD.
Probably the best ID schools in the country are:
- RISD (Providence, RI)
- ArtCenter (Pasadena just outside of L.A., CA)
- Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY)
Other schools with good ID programs include:
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
- Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
- College of Creative Studies (Detroit, MI)
There are plenty of others, those are just off the top of my head.
Factors to consider (besides price, which is obviously personal):
1. Does [Teenager] want to go far from home or stay close to home?
If close, I'd say SCAD is a no-brainer. If [Teenager] wants a totally opposite environment, ArtCenter or Pratt would be good targets.
2. Is [Teenager] okay with cold weather, snow, winters?
If not, RIT, RISD, CMU, CCS and maybe even Pratt are out.
3. Employability & Geography
Any good design school has faculty that consists of working professionals. What I did not realize going into design school, is that those professors often use the schools as recruiting grounds; when I graduated I had two jobs lined up for me at the firms of my professors, as did many of my classmates. We had each essentially passed a multi-semester job interview, and I think it's a good system as both parties already know what to expect from the other.
That being said, faculty tend to teach and work in the same city. I.e. if [Teenager] has no interest in ultimately living and working in New York City, I'd say pass on Pratt and look at a school in the region where they'd like to end up (though I realize it's probably impossible to ask a teenager to make such a decision).
4. Is Employment Pressure a Factor?
In my time at Pratt, I had friends of all majors. Some were under familial pressure to immediately get a job, clear up any debt and start pitching in for their families. These folks were limited to practical majors like ID or Construction Management. Other friends had the financial luxury of simply seeking creative growth, and could have more indulgent majors like Printmaking or Fine Arts. Depending on which category [Teenager] falls into, it might be important to look at a school that offers a variety of creative majors, and offers the opportunity to move between them. Speaking of which:
5. Moving Between Majors
From what I recall, [Teenager] is talented at [specific technical drawing], which is a rare skill that, sadly, is no longer in demand from architecture firms today, who seek CAD fluency. However, if [specific technical drawing] is their true passion, they might find work as an illustrator. So again, it might be worth looking into schools that offer multiple creative majors that [Teenager] might gravitate towards as their development becomes more granular.
6. Is [Teenager] sure of exactly what they want to do for a living?
If the answer is yes, then your choices will be simpler, as you can simply aim for schools that are the strongest in that particular major.
If the answer is no, then there is again an argument for finding schools with a diversity of majors and a strong Foundation program. To explain, most art/design schools begin with a Foundation year. Whether students intend to major in Architecture, Fashion, Photography, ID, Fine Arts, Interior Design, etc., they are all thrown in together for the Foundation year, where they try their hand at every creative medium that school offers. (The focused studies within specific majors typically begin the second year.)
Foundation year will be a wonderful time for [Teenager] to meet a wide variety of creatives. I believe that this is a very important and mind-opening experience with benefits that may not become obvious until after college.
Important to note is that a subset of students will decide to switch majors after Foundation. This is because artistic talent often spans multiple media, and Foundation is an opportunity for students to discover innate skills or passions that they previously had no exposure to; for example, an intended Photography major might discover they have a natural facility for sculpting in clay, an intended Fashion major might learn they prefer Textile Design over draping models, an intended Graphic Design major might find they prefer building furniture by hand. If [Teenager]'s focus is not narrow and/or if their creative exposure to date has been limited, a school with a variety of creative majors might be desirable.
7. Lastly I'll say:
Visiting schools first might be the most important thing. I find that creatives, more so than those of other inclinations, are more sensitive to the "vibe" of a place, and I think it would be good for [Teenager] to walk through the facilities and get a sense of the region in person. I made the mistake of not first visiting the first college I attended, and when I got there, I found the environment miserable. After a year and a half I was able to transfer to Pratt, and I consider that year and a half wasted time and money.