MFA in Industrial Design

The MFA program has been constructed to allow designers to position themselves at the top of the industrial design field. Working hand-in-hand with professors and peers, you will engage with the philosophies and practices that shape contemporary industrial design.

Lijang Fu, self examination test kit for breast cancer

Lijang Fu, self examination test kit for breast cancer

Industrial Design at Illinois

Industrial Design is the human centered design activity that determines the nature of products, services and experiences produced by industry. This approach to design reconciles the needs of the user and the producer, combining desirability, viability, feasibility and responsibility. Industrial designers also champion the use of design thinking, a user-centered approach which has broad application in many social and business contexts.  Our definition of Industrial design extends to include the design of interfaces, interactions and user experiences.

The degree of Master of Fine Arts (MFA) with specialization in Industrial design prepares you for a professional career in design practice, management and higher education. The program of study is highly individualized in order to help you achieve professional excellence by matching your interests, skills, and career goals with the challenge of higher-level study in design, also acknowledging the range of opportunities for interdisciplinary study at the University. The program is international in scope and stresses the development of design solutions that are human-centered and culturally appropriate. Two or three-year study options are available.

The three-year MFA is recognized as a terminal qualification in design which enables you to teach Industrial design at University level. That program includes the opportunity to assist faculty and to teach courses to undergraduate students. It also acts as a preparation for advanced research degrees. There are some funds and scholarships available for study in that program.  Study on the program is limited to 12 credit hours per week to allow for the demands of TA appointments. It is also possible for students to take this program without funding and with no guarantees of teaching experience.

By contrast, the two-year MFA is an advanced professional qualification suited to developing your future design career in practice. The content of both programs is largely identical and students on both programs are in the same classes and studios. However, there are no funding opportunities for students on the two-year program except for occasional GA and RA appointments. Internships with local or national companies are possible and encouraged, subject to visa stipulations at the time.

Both study options are available for those with undergraduate degrees in industrial design or a relevant discipline (Graphic design, Architecture, Engineering or Business ) and ideally with appropriate professional experience.

For people who are not ready to make the commitment to a two or three year program, you should consider the Graduate Certificate in Advanced design thinking which comprise the first two studio courses of the MFA done in an intensive semester, giving credits which can be use towards the MFA.

Industrial Design graduate students have workspace in the Graduate studio in Flagg Hall with access to workshop facilities. The electronic technologies laboratories located in the Art and Design Building provide the opportunity to work with a full range of computer software and output devices. Access to other specialized facilities across the university may be possible.


As an MFA student at the School of Art + Design, you’ll enjoy an array of resources assembled to enhance your education:

  • Individual studio spaces
  • Well-equipped presentation areas and seminar rooms
  • Cutting-edge technology facilities stocked with more than 70 computers and advanced software packages for 2-D, 3-D, CAD, computer modeling, rapid prototyping, and animation programs
  • 3-D printers and laser cutters
  • A modern engineering and woodshop facility
  • The 8,000+ pieces in the Krannert Art Museum archives
  • The extensive holdings at the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art
  • Partnerships with design-oriented businesses, manufacturers, and other relevant professionals
  • In addition, you can access labs in other mediums, including metals, ceramics, graphic design, and photography.

Course of Study

The MFA in industrial design requires 64 hours of graduate credit for both the two and three year MFA study options, distributed as follows:

  • ID studio courses – (all 6 credit hours each)  ARTD 501, 502, 503, 504, 505 & 506 are required plus ARTD 599 Thesis preparation.
  • Elective courses totaling 24 hours are required, of which 8 hours must be Design studio electives from Art and Design, Architecture or Engineering ( approved by Graduate Coordinator )
  • Seminar courses can be taken to make up the Elective total, if available. Four hours of electives  ( one course ) must be an academic course ( rather than a studio course )

The ID Graduate Coordinator will advise you from the outset to develop a plan of study including elective and seminar courses. This plan will be a working document updated as you go through your graduate studies following periodic meetings and reviews with the Graduate advisor. More information and a sample course of study schedule can be found in the MFA ID Handbook.

Course Credits and Degree Requirements

You must register for at least 12 hours of credit each semester to maintain fulltime student status (particularly important for visa status). The two-year program averages out as 16 credits a semester to make up your 64 credits required for graduation. The three-year program involves study for 12 credits for five of the semesters and only 8 credits for Thesis completion in the final semester, often taken on a part-time basis. Requests for part-time status must be made before the semester needed by contacting Ellen de Waard in the School Graduate office.

Semester Three-Year MFA Credit Hours Two-Year MFA Credit Hours
Semester 1
ARTD 501 6 ARTD 501 6
ARTD 502 6 ARTD 502 6
Elective 4
Semester 2
ARTD 503 6 ARTD 503 6
Design elective 300/400 (counts for enrolment not credit) 0 Design elective 4
Seminar/pedagogy 2 Elective 4
Seminar 2
Semester 3
Design elective 4 ARTD 504 6
Design elective 4 ARTD 505 6
Elective 4 Design elective 4
Semester 4
ARTD 504 6 ARTD 506 6
Elective 4 ARTD 599 4
Seminar / IS 2 Seminar 2
Elective 4
Semester 5
ARTD 505 6
ARTD 599 2
Elective 4
Semester 6
ARTD 506 6
ARTD 599 2
TOTAL 64 Credit Hours
Studio & Thesis Total of 40
Design Electives Total of 8
Electives & Seminars Total of 16

Core Courses

ARTD 501 From inquiry to insight

After a quick benchmarking exercise to determine your current level of design skills, this course focusses on the first stages of design thinking using research and analysis to determine user needs and going on to ideation and creative thinking strategies to respond to those needs

ARTD 502 From ideation to implementation

This course continues to include user involvement for feedback, and on to prototyping of design solutions in resolved design proposals. Due consideration will be given to responsible and sustainable manufacturing. Additionally we will consider communication strategies involving users and other stakeholders

ARTD 503 Design project formulation

This course puts all the aspects of the research and design process together into a holistic design project intended as a rehearsal for your Thesis investigations and a beginning to establishing a personal direction for your work

ARTD 504/505/506 Thesis project

This sequence covers all stages of the Thesis project development, with 504 being devoted to Research, 505 to Ideation and design investigation and 506 to Implementation and detail execution

ARTD 599 Thesis completion

This academic course covers the production of the written Thesis document which describes the research, investigation and execution of the Thesis project. This is a substantial document which fully describes the process and significance of your thesis work, prior to deposit in the graduate College when it becomes part of the academic record and available publicly. The thesis will normally be submitted at the end of the last semester of attendance


Our ID faculty members combine research expertise with professional design practice. Their work ranges from the design of bicycles to sustainable and accessible consumer products and explores empathy, designing with users, and the emotional relationship to the products we use. You will work closely with these professors as you articulate your own questions and, through your design work, propose your own answers. You will also work with a variety of faculty from different disciplines across the University. View the full Industrial Design faculty here.

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