Eric Anderson
Carnegie Mellon University

1. Introduction

In the early days of industrial design, the work was primarily focused upon physical products. Today, however, designers work on organizational structure and social problems, on interaction, service, and experience design. Many problems involve complex social and political issues. As a result, designers have become applied behavioral scientists, but they are woefully undereducated for the task.” Don Norman

The reoccurring discussions held within the US industrial design education community about the opportunities and challenges of preparing industrial design undergraduates for industry practice is age old. Although some programs are still working to confront societal, industry and technological changes, arguments from some voices in industry seem to be anchored in a mindset where the sole purpose of industrial education is to serve industry in specific ways. While this may have been the focus of many industrial design programs in the past and some presently, like industry, more industrial design programs have evolved to respond to dynamic changes and are producing graduates with core industrial design skills while acknowledging diverse interests and desired education profiles. It is in these programs, where unique graduates are educated and not just trained, are more likely to flourish and offer broader value whether in industrial design practice or within different positions across business and social sectors. The latter is not surprising when you consider the small percentage of industrial design graduates that the industry is prepared to employ annually.

In the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) report on “Valuing the Art of Industrial Design Education”, data and projections across 2010 – 2020 forecast that industry would be prepared to employ only about 1/3 of graduates from undergraduate industrial design programs.  Though the NEA has for the first time produced a data driven report that describes a view of the landscape of industrial design, it is difficult to determine all the ways one might practice with an more.