New and exciting products are the cornerstone of any growing business. To stay relevant and on-trend, all while surviving highly competitive markets, companies need to understand their customers and create seamless products. It’s the responsibility of talented product designers to handle this whole process.
Product designers are creative professionals that perform market research, identify customer needs, generate product ideas, develop prototype products, validate ideas, supervise user testing, build final products, and update existing products. They’re essential to any product-based business and aim to solve problems, reduce costs, and make a profit for the company. Most importantly, product designers keep customers happy.
By playing such a pivotal role in the success or failure of a company, good product designers are highly sought-after within the business community. As a result, careers in product design provide excellent job prospects and high salaries.
If you’re a creative problem-solver with an eye for design, a career in this space should be perfect for you. This article will discuss how you can get started and ask the question: are product design degrees worth it? We’ll also cover alternative, more focused design-based education programs that might suit you better.
Make a Difference with Product Design
Besides the excellent compensation package, job security, and wide choice of career options available, a future in product design gives you the opportunity to make a real difference to the world.
You’ll experience job satisfaction like never before. Watch your product grow from a mere idea, into a mass-produced end product potentially reaching millions of users.
Experienced product designers working at large multinational firms become highly recognized in the field, almost gaining a celebrity-like status for their achievements. There’s no better example than Steve Jobs, who was a master at creating beautifully designed computers, portable music players, tablets, and smartphones for Apple.
But even Steve Jobs had to start somewhere. Here are your education options if you want to get your product design career off the ground.
Bachelor’s Degree in Product Design
Many universities and institutions around the world offer bachelor's degrees in product design. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree is the traditional route taken for many aspiring product designers. A bachelor’s degree from a well-recognized university is respected globally.
Product design bachelor’s degrees teach a wide range of skills necessary to carry projects from the initial concept to the final end-product. You’ll learn fundamental concepts of product design, tools and techniques used, prototyping, CAD, mechanical and digital production systems, and the study of materials.
To give you a better idea of what’s involved, here’s a list of some universities offering product design degrees:
- Bachelor of Science in Product Design from Stanford University
Offered by the university’s mechanical engineering department, the program follows the curriculum of mechanical engineering, with additional course work in studio art and psychology. The course concentrates on design thinking, visual thinking tools and rapid prototyping to foster innovation. The designers graduating with a Stanford University degree can synthesize business and technological factors to frame new product systems.
Duration: 4 years
- Bachelor of Arts in Product Design from NewSchool of Architecture and Design
The mission of this program is to shape students into professional designers and prepare them for real-world projects in global markets. The program will equip you with strategic and creative thinking abilities. After graduation, you’ll be ready for an entry-level position at a design and manufacturing company where you’ll be able to solve challenging design problems.
Duration: 4 years
Cost: $ 23,000
- Bachelor of Design in Industrial Design from The University of Illinois
This program trains students to bring together aspects of material and conceptual fabrication to create product systems. Most importantly, the program focuses on user-centricity and optimal product vision as the main principles to be followed while creating products and services.
Duration: 4 years
Cost: $ 49,000
- Bachelor of Science in Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering from Wichita State University
This program concentrates on systems engineering, product engineering, computer-aided design, supply chain and analytics, manufacturing quality, and productivity. If you envisage a career in product design and manufacturing, the bachelor’s program from Wichita State University is a good choice for your career.
Duration: 4 years.
Cost: $ 16,800
Master’s Degree in Product Design
A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree awarded by an accredited university. It allows students to master a specific domain of study. A product design master’s degree will provide a deeper understanding of design concepts and can enhance your earning potential.
There are several universities that offer master’s degrees in product design.
- Master of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from Rochester Institute of Technology
The curriculum is project-oriented, which requires students to conduct extensive research in design technologies and methodologies. The program encourages cross-disciplinary collaborations, thereby providing students with an experiential dimension, along with abundant opportunities for career advancement.
Duration: 2 years.
Cost: $ 49,709
- Master of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from Parsons School of Design | The New School
This is an innovative program designed to prepare students to negotiate the apparently paradoxical forces at play in the design industry. Students learn how to produce goods in localized as well as global contexts.
Duration: 2 years.
- The Master of Fine Arts in Lighting Design from Parsons School of Design | The New School
Parsons was the first to come up with a program in Lighting Design. The school has been training leaders in this field for the last three decades. The curriculum concentrates on the relationship among theory, technicalities, energy conservation, socio-economic and environmental aspects of natural as well as artificial (electric) light.
Duration: 2 years.
- Master of Arts in Decorative Arts & Design History from Columbian College of Arts and Sciences | George Washington University
The program curriculum is based on cultural and historical design topics. Students gain expertise in the history of material culture, architecture, and interiors. The program also offers internships with historical organizations, which help shape students for a career in decorative product design.
Duration: 2 years
Validate Your Skills with Product Design Certifications
Certification programs give you the opportunity to validate your skills in a particular field. Compared to degrees, they are much more affordable and can be completed within weeks. They’re generally suited more to existing professionals that need a refresher, rather than beginners that want to learn from scratch.
Having a product design certificate proves your competency and shows that you’re committed to the profession. A certification also aids in career advancement and demonstrates to prospective employers that you’re keeping up with design trends and staying relevant.
Some popular product design certifications include:
- Innovation Through Design: Think, Make, Break, Repeat by The University of Sydney.
- UI/UX Design by California Institute of Arts.
- Running Product Design Sprints by the University of Virginia.
- Prototyping and Design by the University of Minnesota.
- Introduction to User Experience Design by Georgia Institute of Technology.
- How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Udemy.
- UX/UI Design Bootcamp, Thinkful.
Career-Oriented Product Design Bootcamps
Bootcamps are fast-paced learning programs designed to teach students everything they need to land a well-paid job. They’re perfect for individuals with a clear career direction in mind. Unlike a 4-year degree program, product design bootcamps focus on only the necessary design skills. This makes them a more affordable, more focused, and faster-paced alternative to degrees.
To kickstart your career enroll in our UX/UI design bootcamp. It’s put together by experienced professionals to streamline your learning.
Can You Become a Product Designer Without a Degree?
Yes! For a future in product design, there’s no formal requirement to hold a degree. Some employers may even prefer alternative education, with focus on hands-on learning and relevant skills training.
Degrees have a fixed curriculum and last 4 years, which means they can sometimes be slow to keep up with changing design trends. Students enrolling in more focused programs demonstrate they’re highly motivated in product design and have clearly defined career goals.
Hopefully, you now better understand your options, and are ready to become the next Steve Jobs (one step at a time). To prep for your career ahead, check out our product design blog, where you’ll find other articles on the subject of UX and UI design. You’ll hear first-hand accounts from professional designers, such as one of our mentors who also works as a UX designer for Apple.