Product Design | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Product Design: Degree Information

MCAD emphasizes a collaborative process and working with students from all majors. For this Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, you will take courses in several different areas, including a core focus, adding up to 120 total credits required for graduation.

Core Required Courses - These are the core courses that every Product Design student takes.

Foundation Studies - These classes help you build a solid art background to become a well rounded student.  

Studio Electives - Throughout your studies you can choose from several studio electives that will give you hands on time.  

Humanities and Sciences Electives - These classes round out your experience at MCAD, deepen your creative practice, and fulfill non-studio requirements for a degree.  

Learning Outcomes

  • Clarify design objectives, define project parameters, and evaluate their own and peers' work based on these objectives and parameters.
  • Confidently perform designer’s core function as form-giver, creating fully resolved, inspired, and context-appropriate form, shape, texture and color.
  • Use two-dimensional media (drawings, renderings, production documentation, etc.) and three-dimensional models, prototypes and other visual and spatial representations to develop and effectively communicate design intent.
  • Develop designs using industry-standard digital tools, platforms, and processes.
  • Identify common materials and manufacturing and assembly processes used in the mass-production of designed objects and assess the economic, social, cultural and ecological impact of each material and process.
  • Utilize research methods to understand market sectors and evaluate market viability of a particular product or design.
  • Document the design development process and deliverables for portfolio and/or marketing use.
  • Present work visually and verbally in a manner that is compelling to the intended audience, competently utilizing industry-specific language and technical terminology with specialists, and more general language when speaking with non-specialists.

Core Required Courses

48 credits

PD 2000 Introduction to Product Design
3 credits

This studio course introduces modes of thinking and practices employed by product designers. Through a series of hands-on projects and research assignments, students use product design methodology to identify and define problems, then develop solutions with real-world applications. Using a variety of materials and techniques, students explore ideation, iteration, model making, and form development. Faculty provides an overview of topics such as ergonomics, sustainable design, user interface/experience design, manufacturing processes, and design in social context.

Prerequisites: Completion of 12 credits

PD 2300 Design Drawing
3 credits

Designed objects begin with ideas, which have long been visually initiated and communicated through quick, expressive sketches. Subtle changes to the emphasis or quality of line, shape, and/or value can be the difference between a successful takeoff or a failed launch. This course introduces techniques used by product designers that are useful to a broad range of creative professionals. Manual drawing and rendering techniques enable students to effectively and efficiently communicate design ideas, convey context and operation of a product, develop form, iterate, and present design intent. This approach prizes clear, compelling communication intended to represent realistic, manufacturable, three-dimensional objects that do not yet exist, but could!

Prerequisites: Completion of 12 credits

PD 2600 Digital Visualization: 3D CAD, Rendering, and Communication
3 credits

This course introduces digital visualization techniques employed by product designers. Students will learn to use industry-standard parametric CAD software (Solidworks) and digital rendering (Keyshot, etc.) to create and render three-dimensional models. Exercises will teach students to use the tools to explore form and mechanisms, build physical models and prototypes using digital fabrication techniques, communicate detailed specifications, and create photo-realistic images of a design. No prior CAD experience is required.

Prerequisites: Foundation: Media 1 or instructor permission

ES 3430 Human Factors
3 credits

Human behavior is at the center of all art, design, and business. This interdisciplinary course combines physical, psychological, social, and cultural aspects of the human animal. Students in this course apply this information to find new ways of expression in their personal work. Throughout the second half of the semester, students test this new knowledge by collaborating with clients on real projects, ranging from product design, to communications, to community and environmental wellness.

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing

PD 3010 Models and Prototypes
3 credits

Products can be made of just about any material—from textiles to ceramics to circuit boards—so product designers have developed numerous techniques for making physical models and prototypes to develop, test, and communicate their ideas. Students will learn these techniques—and when to deploy which ones—as they design a series of simple, everyday products. Using the models and prototypes they build, students evaluate their design solutions on the basis of function, performance, mechanical feasibility, appearance, usability, and context-appropriateness.

Prerequisites: Foundation: 3D, Introduction to Product Design, or faculty permission

PD 3020 Forms That Make Us Feel
3 credits

Whether we are conscious of it or not, the products around us cause emotional reactions and confer the character of a place. This studio is focused on determining and creating appropriate forms for a given context and intended expressive attributes. Projects will include a mix of abstract form studies and real-world products, such as tableware, home decor, personal accessories, lighting, etc., in which appearance is a primary consideration. Assignments will focus on developing appropriate expressive qualities, techniques for form generation and development, iterative refinement of form, appearance models, and attractive presentation of work. Students will integrate new sketching, model-making, and prototyping materials and techniques. 

Prerequisites: Foundation: 3D, Introduction to Product Design, or faculty permission

PD 3030 Design for the Human Body
3 credits

The phrase “human-centered design” gets a lot of play in the design world, but often that “human” is an abstract, functional unit: a consumer, a user, a person who has an experience. Actual humans have actual bodies that come in all shapes and sizes. This studio course is about designing non-apparel products that require significant and prolonged physical interaction with users’ bodies, and addresses topics including ergonomics, anthropometry, universal design, body-fit, and fashion.

Prerequisites: Foundation 3D, Introduction to Product Design

PD 3320 Design for Viability: Design for Long-Term Ecological, Economic, Cultural, and Personal Integrity
3 credits

How are today’s environmental, social, and economic demands conditioning and shaping today’s product design mindset? With a component of readings/discussions and a small component of prototyping different ideas into 3D sketches, students will generate their own questions and individual perspectives on materiality in the context of socially responsible product design. The course will have an emphasis on ecological sustainability, and will provide an overview of various sustainability frameworks in the context of product design. Systems thinking and product life cycles are presented as the basis for product, industry, and social innovation. Students explore big-picture philosophical questions and ethical concerns through specific designed objects.

Prerequisites: How It's Made (PD3340), Digital Visualization (PD2600, or equivalent); or instructor permission

PD 3340 How It's Made: Materials and Manufacturing Processes
3 credits

In spite of the many products, services, and experiences now provided via digital devices, product designers still require fundamental knowledge of tangible materials and the means to shape them. From raw materials to finished products, students will learn to identify and understand the materials and processes used to make familiar products. The manufacturing portion introduces students to the materials and processes used in mass production. In particular, the course will focus on how to design for each material and manufacturing processes (design for manufacturability). This course discusses sustainability, defined as the economic, ecological, social, and political impacts of their production, processing, use, transportation, and disposal. The class includes field trips to local manufacturers and independent research.

Prerequisites: Digital Visualization, any Product Design or Furniture studio course, or faculty permission

PD 3360 Understanding Marketplaces and Users
3 credits

This studio is about designing for an unfamiliar context or user. Assignments will include products in which meaning/identity/cultural context is a primary consideration. Students will be required to conduct design research into a user group with which they have no prior experience. This might mean designing products for users from a culture, spiritual practice, subculture, gender identity, socioeconomic, physical or cognitive ability status other than their own, or an industry or class of products with which the student is completely unfamiliar. Emphasis is on developing design solutions that reflect an appropriate awareness of cultural context and empathy for an unfamiliar user while avoiding unconscious bias, stereotypes, and cultural insensitivity. Students will work with “clients” from the unfamiliar user group to evaluate and develop their design solutions via sketches, models, and prototypes.

Prerequisites: Ethnography for Artists and Designers

PD 3600 Advanced Digital Visualization
3 credits

This studio course advances the skills and principles from Digital Visualization and introduces students to advanced 3D modeling, rendering, and presentation techniques employed by product designers. Through a series of exercises, students will learn the advanced use of parametric CAD software (Solidworks) and digital rendering (Keyshot, etc.) to communicate design ideas to peers, clients, and consumers.Outcomes:Demonstrate proficiency in solid and surface modeling techniques, rendering, animation, and mechanical design in Solidworks.Demonstrate written communication through technical documentation to convey design intent to professional standards.Quantify estimated cost, ecological impact, and other product considerations through simulated mass, volume, and material properties.Apply industry best practices for model-building, file management, and documentation.Apply parametric controls to automatically create families of related products and manage configurations.

PD 3700 Product Design Client Studio
3 credits

Students work with external clients to develop and respond to a project brief describing a complex challenge that is strongly conditioned by its context (commercial, social, civic, environmental, etc.). The main premise is to have an overview of the complexity of operating in broad contexts of systems and flows that condition how to bring impactful products to mass markets. In developing a working understanding of the role of the product designer in systems-driven, market ecosystems, students are encouraged to think critically about the role of the designer in the multi-disciplinary contexts in which products are developed. Students will continue to learn and integrate new sketching, model-making, and prototyping materials and techniques.

Prerequisites: Any Product Design studio or equivalent; or instructor permission

PD 3800 Design for the Future: Product Strategy
3 credits

How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be in five or ten or 30 years? This course introduces the strategic side of product design. It explains product innovation and product strategy broadly, and provides an overview of the professional roles that product managers, product executives, entrepreneurs, etc. play in organizations committed to the design, development, and commercialization of innovative products. Students will become familiar with strategic foresight, product roadmaps, and other frameworks for product development and differentiation.

Prerequisites: Completion of 60 credits (junior status)

PD 4010 Internship: Product Design
3 credits

PD 5100 Senior Project 1: Product Design
3 credits

Product Design Senior Project consists of two sequential studios. It is the culmination of the program and a requisite for graduation. Each student works with a departmental advisor and a number of in-house or external advisors to develop a project resulting from a self-generated investigation. Results are broad and far-ranging, from products to furniture, services, culture-driven explorations, products for social impact, etc. This is an independent endeavor to demonstrate that students have acquired the fluency necessary to join the professional world of product design. The emphasis during this first semester is on research and ideation to develop an original and innovative solution to a real-world problem.

Prerequisites: Digital Visualization (PD 2600)

PD 5101 Senior Project 2: Product Design
3 credits

This studio is the continuation of Product Design Senior Project 1. Although the structure of this studio is similar to Senior Project 1, the emphasis in this course is in iterative development the design concept, through the use, testing, and revision of sketches, models, and prototypes. Students will research and make a compelling case for the strategic, economic, social, and environmental appropriateness of their design solutions, culminating in a fully-staged senior exhibition.

Prerequisites: Product Design Senior Project 1 (PD 5100); Advanced Digital Visualization (PD 3600)

Foundation Studies

13 credits

FDN 1111 Foundation: 2D
3 credits

Foundation: 2D is an introduction to creative thinking that develops students’ skills in research, observation, interpretation, and self-expression. An emphasis is placed on exploring new ways to read and see the world, as well as new ways to report on it. Students learn basic two-dimensional principles through the use of various media, tools, materials, and processes. As a result, students develop a visual and verbal language for analyzing, organizing, shaping, and communicating two-dimensional form and meaning.

FDN 1112 Foundation: 3D
3 credits

This course is an introduction to understanding of visual creation for the development of knowledge, imagination, and perception. Students are introduced to basic three-dimensional concepts as well as materials and technical production processes. Classroom activities include shop demonstrations of tools and techniques, information, lectures, and discussions appropriate to promote the balanced fusion of practice and theory.

FDN 1211 Foundation: Drawing 1
3 credits

Foundation: Drawing 1 is an introductory drawing course designed to prepare students for study in all majors of the college. Students develop basic drawing skills, including the ability to perceive and express visual relationships, organize a two-dimensional composition, and depict and manipulate form, space, and light. Students work from direct observation of still life, interior space, and landscape.

FDN 1311 Foundation: Media 1
3 credits

Students are introduced to digital resources at MCAD while exploring digital media. Areas covered include the Service Bureau, Gray Studio, and Media Center, along with other digital resources. Students use a variety of software and hardware to learn the basics of working with recorded media, including video, sound, and photography, as well as developing critical language for discussing media and media artists.

FDN 1412 Sophomore Seminar: Contemporary Practice
1 credits

Practice is more than working methods: it’s the context, marketing, and creative space that maintain creative work. Contemporary Practice introduces students to the foundations, variety, and tools of a professional practice. Students upgrade websites and documentation, enter contests, and create professional presentations of their work. Classes consist of lectures, student presentations, and guest speakers from a wide range of disciplines.

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing

Studio Electives

20 credits

varying BFA Studio Electives

Choose BFA studio courses to take as electives; amount determined by your major.

Humanities and Sciences

39 credits

AH 1701 Introduction to Art and Design History 1
3 credits

The objective of this course is to familiarize students with the major stylistic, thematic, cultural, and historical transformations in art history from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. This course helps students develop critical tools for the interpretation and understanding of the meaning and function of art objects, architecture, and design artifacts within their original historical contexts. Class sessions consist primarily of lecture with some discussion.

AH 1702 Introduction to Art and Design History 2
3 credits

This course introduces students to issues in modern art, popular culture, and contemporary art and design. Topics may include the expanding audience for art, the transformation of the art market, the impact of new technologies, the changing status of the artist, and the role of art in society. This course is taught as a seminar with some lecture.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Art and Design History 1 or faculty permission

varying Art History Electives
6 credits

Take 6 credits of art history courses

EN 1500 Writing and Inquiry
3 credits

Key to the creative and critical growth of the engaged, successful artist is participation in a culture of writing and inquiry. Students in this course focus on the kinds of writing they will encounter and produce in their coursework at MCAD and as creative professionals. Regular writing workshops allow students to concentrate on experiential and practical approaches to writing. Students explore a variety of texts and objects through class assignments, and then develop clear compelling essays employing a variety of rhetorical and narrative strategies.

SO/ES 3853 Economics for Artists and Designers
3 credits

This course combines basic economic principles with tools from the discipline of urban and regional economics. It focuses on ways in which artists and designers contribute to the prosperity of their city, and shows how their work can contribute to the economic success of potential employers, customers, or clients. 

SQR/ES 3025 Creative Analytics: Seeing Numbers
3 credits

We are surrounded by endless amounts of data. In nature, we can see inherent rhythms that can be appreciated numerically. This course uncovers the process of gathering and analyzing data from known sample sets such as websites, market research, government agencies, and more. Students will explore the theory of analytics, identify sources of data, and practice the methods of visualizing data in a variety of contexts including applications in communications, marketing, and as applied in a creative practice. 

CPW/ES 3370 Funding Creative Ventures: Writing Grants and Project Proposals
3 credits

Funding creative ventures requires developing proposals that are clearly, concisely, and persuasively written. This course covers the essential skills needed for effective proposal writing in creative and commercial settings. Students concept, write, and revise project proposals using grant templates, crowdfunding platforms, and proposal documents as references. Through case studies, students examine various funding channels, then develop project proposals with matching budget projections that are delivered through writing and presentations. 

Prerequisites: Writing and Inquiry or permission of faculty

varying Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning
3 credits

Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning classes increase students’ appreciation for the power of scientific and quantitative approaches to knowing the world.

varying Histories, Places, Philosophies
6 credits

6 credits of histories, places, philosophies electives

HS 5010 Liberal Arts Advanced Seminar
3 credits

The Liberal Arts Advanced Seminar enables students to pursue their own research and writing goals within a seminar setting. Projects are student-originated and consist of both a written piece and a public presentation. Class sessions are discussion-based and interactive. Group learning is emphasized

Prerequisites: Completion of Cultural Awareness Requirement (4000-level course), Junior standing
Total Credit Hours