College of Design builds on course offerings

College of Design adds Industrial Design program for fall 2009.

Aspiring product designers may not have to go out of state to get a degree.

The College of Design is looking for staff and working on a curriculum for an industrial design program it plans to offer to graduate students by fall 2009. The nearest industrial design program is offered at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

“We’ll be starting a program largely from scratch that will make a contribution nationally,” said Thomas Fisher, dean for College of Design.

The college’s program will compete with other schools that have had industrial design programs for decades.

In a nutshell, industrial designers, also known as product designers, take a company’s concept of a product and design it – they make the product visually appealing as well as physically practical. But some say that for a program to be successful, it has to set itself apart from others.

“They need to find something that makes them different from other programs,” said Neil Amundsen, the director of design at Eden Prairie-based Whiteboard Product Solutions .

Fisher said the University program will focus on the idea of design, health and well-being to distinguish itself from other universities.

“One way to immediately be a competitor internationally is to go with what we’re already strong in, and focus on areas where we have strengths,” he said, referencing the connection between the medical, business and engineering schools.

But Melissa Cicozi, assistant head of design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said the challenge for the University will be building a reputation.

“It’s not so much the competition as it is getting some validation for your program,” she said. “Usually, it helps if you have a couple really strong names, or if you have another program in place that people are already familiar with.”

Carnegie Mellon has had an industrial design undergraduate program for 75 years and a graduate program for about five. The school employs six full-time industrial design faculty members.

The College of Design has hired two faculty members for the program who can teach other courses until the discipline is officially offered. Fisher said the college is looking for a third faculty member to add to the program.

“Industrial design is a discipline that blends the needs of users, marketing and technologists together,” Amundsen said.

He said an industrial designer needs to have enough knowledge to make a product useful, to sell a product effectively and to produce a product efficiently.

Whiteboard has designed a variety of products, from products for Medtronic to foaming soap dispensers to silicone bakeware .

Because product design involves several areas of study, the Institute of Technology , the Carlson School of Management and the College of Design have representation on the board setting up the program.

Mechanical engineering senior Jesse Kakstys said he would likely consider the new program when it begins.

“I’m looking at different design companies, now, and just trying to get a general engineering job,” he said. “(The program) sounds interesting.”

Fisher said he plans to build the program incrementally until the college can also offer an undergraduate program.

The graduate program will cost “a couple hundred thousand dollars” per year for salaries and fringe benefits for faculty, Fisher said. The design college is still considering shop space and equipment costs.

The job market for the industry is also expected to grow by about 7 percent from 2006 to 2016, an average increase relative to other careers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor .