Which Niche Should You Focus On in Design School?


For those of you who aren’t self-taught designers and prefer the rigors of a solid education to jumpstart your career, there are a number of great schools worldwide to receive a thorough education in the design industry. When investing your time and money it’s best to assess each school programs and discover just what area of design interests you the most. The design world is ever changing and a ‘Graphic Design’ major definitely  has its usefulness in the business world, but there are a number of other concentrations within the design world that may spark your interest. In this article I will present some up and coming design concentrations that may have you thinking more clearly on what area you would like to focus on in design school.

Whether you’re just starting out and wish to pursue your Bachelors or looking to explore the possibilities of an MFA, there are very notable design schools based in the U.S. – each offering their own unique perspective, content, and approach in their programs. One thing they all have in common is they all offer a valuable experience that impacts professional lives and the society we live in.


Service Design

Service Design is gaining traction in the design world as services become a significant part of the global economy. A service design program is structured to take a holistic approach to improving the service experience in a wide range of sectors including retail, health, military, public services, and entertainment. Its goal is to improve the interaction between service provider and customers.

For instance, a restaurant might hire a Service Design Consultancy to change the layout of their space to enhance the customer’s experience.

Several schools are proposing service design as a focus in their Bachelors of Masters programs in Interaction Design or Industrial Design.


Design for Sustainability

Sustainability has gained traction in the last decade as individuals seek to eliminate negative environmental impact. Sustainable design can also be referred to as environmental design or environmentally conscious design and is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability.

Sustainable graphic design has gained popularity of the past few years as companies seek to reduce their carbon footprint in their various marketing and advertising. Packaging, printed materials, and publications are considered for their environmental impact throughout their life cycle including raw materials, transformation, manufacturing, transformation, use and disposal.

Programs for Design for Sustainability intend to equip their students with the knowledge to be agents of change for economical and ecological prosperity. By addressing personal and global challenges to the world for the 21st century, students will become advocates for beneficial economic and sustainable practices.


Data Visualization

With vast amount of information out in the world, it can be hard to wrap one’s head around all of it. Data Visualization can make that much easier, allowing you to see the concepts before you in an easier and more compelling manner. Data Visualization simply means the visualization of quantitative data. Students in any data visualization program will create a wide range of applications that use different approaches to deal with large amount of information.


New Media

New Media is an exciting and emerging field that utilizes the latest powerful tools for communication. A typical degree concentration in New Media should contain a variety of courses such as Web and Interactive Design and Production, Motion Graphic Design, Contemporary Visual Design and Communications, Print Design and Production, Photography and Imaging, Typography, Digital Video, Digital Audio, Art Direction for Digital Media, and Flash.


Interaction Design

Interaction Design is another critical area of focus for the designer as technologies progress rapidly. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond. Business success depends on the presence of a well-designed, engaging experience and interaction design has the capability to shape everyday life.


The following are some top rated schools in the U.S. You can click on each to view their website to obtain more information about their programs, courses, and faculty. With the abundance of schools out there dedicated to the art and design field, the best choice for you is to do your research to see which program is the best fit for you.

Savannah College of Art & Design

Academy of Art University

Maryland Institute College of Art

School of Visual Arts

Carnegie Mellon University

Pratt Institute

Art Center College of Design

Rhode Island School of Design

Art Institutes International

Words of Advice

In an effort to impart sage advice to those of you that intend to go onto design school I’ve compiled some helpful tidbits I’ve learned from my own experiences. Hopefully this advice will help you in going forward.

Do your Homework

As mundane as it sounds, what you get out of design school is what you put in. Those who work long hours and immerse themselves tend to get the most out of it.

Get Your Money’s Worth

Stay late and seek out all the information you can obtain from classmates and professors. Ask questions. Find out more than what is just covered in class. Higher education isn’t cheap so the most you get out of it will be so much more worth it to you down the road.

Hone Presentation Skills

Write and then write some more. Practice public speaking and be active in design critiques. Presentation skills round out a designer’s education and can set out apart from the rest.

Work Together

Team up with classmates to practice getting along with others. It’s also fun and allows you to see your work from another perspective.

Take any Job

Don’t just wait a year after graduating to find the ideal, perfect job for you. Do your best to get some practical training onto your resume – even before you graduate. Freelance, freelance, and freelance some more. Practical, real world experience can set you apart from other designers who just have a degree to their name and nothing else. Future employers will respect you much more when you have some valid experience under your belt.

There are a vast amount of educational opportunities available to the designer these days. As you can see from this article, the traditional commercial design path isn’t just relegated to a degree in Graphic Design anymore. If you’re interested in pursuing higher education examine these opportunities before making a big financial commitment. In the end, what you’ll enjoy the most is contributing your talents to the betterment of business and society as a whole.

Do you know of any design schools outside the U.S. that are worth mentioning? Feel free to leave comments telling us which ones!



  1. Wendy Jedlicka

    I was disappointed to see you didn’t include Minneapolis College of Art and Design in your list. Now going on their 8th year, this groundbreaking Sustainable Design program was one of the first of its kind in the US. Unlike most programs at design schools, MCAD’s SD program is not limited to designers — business and government decision makers find they not only learn how to apply sustainability systems thinking, but learn creative out-of-the-box thinking as well.

    While “niching” allows you to really hone-in on your craft, cross-pollination allows for really innovative thinking, as well as leaving you open to more opportunities. So the lesson here is: be really good at your craft, but stay open to new skills and thinking.

  2. Students interested in “New Media” design might check the new Digital Design program at the University of Colorado @ Denver.

  3. Dan

    You article is excellent and quite in derived oriented for everybody. You did great job and put nice point and energetic view.

  4. cassia

    Great article.
    I really really really like these articles, Like to read them while I drink my coffee every morning.
    And yes, I´m a self-taught freelancer web designer and programmer, and I wake up early. =)

  5. Kavya Hari

    This article would be more helpful o think very clearly and have to design nicely. superb one :o