Between the various product design entrepreneurs and hardware startups that continue to find success without formal industrial design or mechanical engineering training – as well as the increasing costs of college tuition, the line between needing to have a formal product development education or not for striking it out on your own is becoming increasingly blurred.

While having a foundation in everything from market research and tolerances to CAD software and material science is clearly an advantage, modern product development tools – such as Kickstarter and TechShop – have proved time and time again that a formal education in design or engineering isn’t necessary to successfully launch a product design or brand that is capable of lasting long after the noise of the crowdfunding campaign has died down.

A new continuing education course from MIT just might be a taste of what’s to come as an increasing amount of people turn away from college in favor of learning new skills on their own – including hardware development.

The course, which is titled “Rapid Prototyping Technology” runs all day over the course of one week in July and covers the basics of hardware design and multiple manufacturing technologies including 3D printing, laser cutting, waterjet cutting, CNC milling, thermoforming, foam cutting, silicone molding and the use of a CNC router.


For $5,000, the course – which is being taught by MIT department head and manufacturing expert Martin Culpepper – has boiled down what some might argue are the most important parts of a formal industrial design or mechanical engineering: turning a napkin sketch into a physical object that can then be used as a communication tool either for a modern-day crowdfunding campaign, a presentation for investors or a sample prototype to be used as a reference for a formal manufacturing order.


“This course is directed at individuals who need to understand what dominates and limits the capabilities of the rapid prototype fabrication processes that will be covered in the class, and is designed for professionals that are looking to gain knowledge and insight that enables them to select appropriate processes/technologies and then make good design/fabrication/assembly decisions when utilizing the processes,” reads the course description.

“The course would be useful for individuals seeking to better understand how to prototype items, for example: designers, design engineers, directors of engineering, technicians, researchers, makers, model builders, and hobbyists. The lessons learned are highly useful in fields related to design, manufacturing, the arts, architecture, and Research & Development.”


As for how Culpepper plans on filling full days over the course of a week with rapid prototyping technologies and modern product development skills, the classroom time will cover basic principles of not only the technologies themselves but also how to best design for the various methods. Between the daily lectures and lab time, students will work in groups to design and model parts and assemblies that are then fabricated during lab time using the various rapid prototyping technologies that the course covers. Ultimately, the students will go home with an armful of parts and/or assemblies that were all designed, modeled and fabricated using a variety of rapid prototyping technologies over the course of five days – not bad.

While $5,000 over 5 days certainly isn’t cheap … making that back on Kickstarter should be a piece of cake.


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.