Guide to Design: Factors to Consider

by Frederick H. Carlson
Guide to Design: Factors to Consider

Design students should also consider admission requirements, design program facilities, and accreditation when selecting a design school.

Admission Qualifications/Criteria

Certain design schools and programs will place great value on college admissions tests such as the ACT and SAT, while other schools lean more toward the content of a prospective student's portfolio, or consider the portfolio almost exclusively. Certainly, basic excellent overall academic and extracurricular performance in high school is a plus, especially in admission to highly competitive design programs.

Request more information from the design schools that interest you for more information on admission requirements.

Design Departmental Facilities

This is a key variable, especially in the area of emerging technologies. Touring both individual studio spaces and communal computer labs is a must for the discerning design student.

Good student spaces show care for the student's progress once they are enrolled. One cannot create in a tiny space. In the design field, specific equipment and facilities are a must. A good program should have computer labs with a decent number of printers, A/V rooms, a specific design library, well-lit crit spaces, and a good and well-ventilated model-making studio with a variety of materials.

Ask about equipment that is required for what you want to study! Sometimes a design program with a reputation has invested more heavily in faculty rather then technology, or has sacrificed basic principles for the latest (often easily outdated) equipment. The right balance is not only an issue for the schools, but for the decisions of the incoming students. No program is perfect, but try and come to a feeling of the balance between theory and presentation in the design program curriculum you are looking at.

Reputations of Design Programs

Design programs and design departments always have detailed resumes and vitae of their full and part-time faculty. This should be easily available on request.

Course descriptions and curriculum tracks should also be easily available and understandable. Researching both the instructors' reputations in their field and the overall impression of the school within the particular design trade or design industry group is well worth the trouble. One should speak to a professional in the design field with no bias for another level of advice. Some design schools' programs and reputations are so strong that employers interview students every graduation season. These reputations often mean higher tuition, reflecting a purposeful investment in faculty and facilities alike, but most likely it's the right investment for the career-driven design student.

Accreditation of Design Schools and Programs

An accrediting institution is a governing organization made up of the participating programs that periodically examines the instructional program at a design school to determine its merit within specific disciplines. If the visiting accrediting committee sees that set standards are met, the accrediting institution approves the school's right to grant degrees in the various design subject area.

A school's design program will be accredited by one accrediting board, and another academic program by another board. If you're considering a particular design school, find out who accredits the programs that interest you and research this accrediting institution and any public reporting it may have on your school. Design school accrediting bodies are nationally respected and are known for approving good programs, while some regional boards will approve the less competitive programs. Accreditation organizations include:

  • College Arts Association (CAA)
  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
  • New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC)
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC)
  • European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA)

Related Career Fields

Unlike the art education world, where you can choose to make your art a vocation (specialize and concentrate on making a career track from your art) or make your art a self-fulfilling hobby (work at something else while you do your art on the side), design education is more focused and career conscious. The width and breadth of the design field does offer many different vocational roles and responsibilities of varying competitiveness and compensations, as we have seen in this introduction to the design field. However, the young creative person investigating career options should range their research across many disciplines, including these:

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