3D Department

Nina ChoIdeal HomeWood, Upholstery, Ceramic, 10 ft. diameter

Nina Cho
Ideal Home, 2015
Wood, Upholstery, Ceramic, 10 ft. diameter

3D Design Department 2017-18 Newsletter

3D Design Department Philosophy

Cranbrook 3D Design is the leading program in America for emerging intellectual and artistic voices in design. The department is an experimental laboratory to explore human needs as expressed in the furniture and products we live with.

Thirty years ago the field of design was primarily about mass production. Since then, we’ve seen design discourse expand to include significant areas of overlap with the fine arts, crafts, architecture and fashion. If the industrial era gave us industrial design, then our current postindustrial era has given us an expanded field of ‘design culture’ that offers a wide range of perspectives on the man-made world. This wider scope recognizes that human needs are multi-dimensional – they can be practical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, social, real or imagined. As design’s scope expands, the central question of human needs remains, but with a wide lens on the aesthetic and critical potentials for a creative authorship that may find an audience through mass production, craft production, one-off gallery works or conceptual proposals. It is the designers and artists themselves who will position their work within this expanded field of ideas, audiences, and industries. It is imperative, then, that they understand their cultural context, their methods, and the intentions of their work.

Accordingly, Cranbrook 3D is committed to the idea of design authorship – where good design comes from an informed designer with a mature vision. Like an author of literature, a designer must clearly understand her subject and let a strong concept drive the form of her work – carefully aligning form and concept to give the work a human voice. This approach recognizes that today’s products should express a strong point of view and tell a meaningful story. More broadly, it also views culture as a system of linguistic, visual, and behavioral codes that designers use to mix, mutate, and re-imagine our shared objects, spaces and stories.

Evan FayVine ChairSteel, Brass, Foam, Scuba Knit Fabric, 60"w x 36"d x 42"hPhoto by Charlie Schuck

Evan Fay
Vine Chair, 2016
Steel, Brass, Foam, Scuba Knit Fabric, 60″w x 36″d x 42″h
Photo by Charlie Schuck


Cranbrook 3D straddles the contexts of industrial design and fine design – industrial design relates to mass production and fine design relates to areas of overlap between design, fine art and craft. Work in the studio covers both of these approaches, so the program is best suited to designers with an interest in both practices.

Our program is for designers who wish to develop an architectural and spatial awareness in their work, so there is an emphasis on objects for the interior, including furniture, lighting, and electronic products. The program is best suited to hands-on makers who have already demonstrated some facility in crafting materials. This focus builds on Cranbrook’s legacy of teaching design – from Charles Eames in the 1930’s to Michael and Katherine McCoy in the 1980’s – but also fully updates the discussion to reflect the complexities of today’s context. Our group is a deliberate mixture of industrial designers, architects, craftspeople and sculptors so that a diverse set of critical perspectives can inform the discourse. Our conversations draw on theories and strategies from related disciplines including literary theory, psychology, philosophy, and the social sciences – all fields that provide essential tools for expanding the parameters of design thinking. Through a process of questioning, making and discussing, our graduates develop a broad critical framework for evaluating design, and the cultural maturity and creative vision required to lead the emerging design professions.

The program is free of the formal course structure typical of most art schools and universities. Instead the studio environment is the core of the curriculum with emphasis on developing an individual body of work. The highly motivated group of students that comprise each year’s class provides a vital network of resources with which to engage in dialogue and critique. Because of this open course structure, students are strongly motivated to enter the department with a purposefulness that fuels the pursuit of independent growth. A highly charged studio environment allows individuals to work in the spirit of an ongoing experiment, with the focus on rigorous interaction among fellow designers and other Academy students.

Weekly critiques and discussion groups form the core of the department’s activities with periodic all-faculty, Academy-wide reviews. The department head consults with students to build individual programs based on their specialized goals and interests. In response to student needs, faculty coordinate projects that vary in duration and conduct reading and discussion groups with students. Additionally, designers and critics of national and international stature visit the department to conduct critiques and occasionally assign short-term projects.

The work undertaken by design students over the course of their two years of study is a combination of self-initiated research, grant-funded, team and collaborative projects, faculty assignments and industry-sponsored projects. In addition students develop an independent reading and writing program that requires the critical analysis and creative synthesis of ideas.

As part of the only school devoted exclusively to graduate art education in the U.S., the department places great emphasis on the work undertaken by graduate students with the objective of adding significant contributions to the creative and intellectual bodies of design knowledge. Ending a two year period of study, outgoing students mount a museum installation of their thesis work for faculty review, and subsequently enter all areas of design with the critical skills necessary for generating meaningful contributions to our complex social and material culture.

Frank McGovern
Oxidation Table, 2016
Steel, 48” x 30” x 18”
Photo by Charlie Schuck


All students are assigned studio spaces with 24-hour access in a community atmosphere with a central presentation and critique room. Studio spaces are hardwired with network ports to the Academy’s T3 data line and wireless access is available.

The department’s computer facilities include a shared Apple workstation, a shared Dell workstation and laser printer. The department’s computer resources are augmented by the Academy’s Central Media Lab with its large format plotters and color output devices. Digital fabrication facilities on campus include a 4’x8’ CNC router, a digital plasma cutter, a laser cutter and a 3D printer. Major technological resources in the Detroit metropolitan area provide other rapid prototyping services and opportunities for outsourcing.

The shop facilities include an industrial-size spray booth for finishing large-scale work and a model shop. Students also have access to equipment in other departments at the Academy, with a wide range of woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, printmaking and photography facilities.

Vineta Chugh
Global Population: Year 0 / 1986 / 2050
3D printed plastic, copper, electrical components

Austin Swick Danh Circled the World, 2016 Solid White Oak, 18" x 20" x 114" Photo: Charlie Schuck

Austin Swick
Danh Circled the World, 2016
Solid White Oak, 18″ x 20″ x 114″
Photo by Charlie Schuck