Graduate Programs

MDes in Integrative Design

Healthcare. Global Warming. Terrorism. Food Justice. Poverty. The 21st century is rife with multi-causal, socio-culturally complex issues where a true-or-false rationale is disingenuous, unproductive, and even detrimental.

These issues are known as “wicked problems.” Applied as a verb, design can help us deconstruct and respond to the most challenging “wicked problems” of our time.

Through deep collaboration with our constituents, stakeholders, and partners from the corporate and non-profit sectors, integrative designers in the Stamps MDes program address wicked problems through hands-on, real-world projects. With its project-based curriculum, the Stamps MDes program erases traditional boundaries between design research and design practice to create a new process-oriented curriculum.

2018 Cohort Focus: Equity and Access

Equity is a state in which all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and various other markers of social disadvantage, have fair and just access to the resources and opportunities necessary to thrive. Equity disparities often reflect reciprocal influences between biased or unfair policies, programs, practices, or situations that contribute to a lack of equality in expectations, circumstances, and quality of life. Improving equity begins with improving access. Major questions for the 2018-20 cohorts will include:

  • How might we use integrative design methods to intervene in our education systems, food systems, and housing networks to address inequities?
  • How might we use integrative design methods to compensate for preexisting biases and prejudice in American society?
  • How might we use integrative design methods to disrupt cycles of low expectation that are reinforced and perpetuated by social and cultural stereotypes?
Our Method: STEEPV

Integrative design starts with deep inquiry and research. MDes candidates examine “wicked problems” using a methodological framework called STEEPV, interrogating the Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Political, and Values-based issues surrounding the challenge at hand.

STEEPV is an effective, human-centered methodology for addressing the complex, provocative issues of our world — and its applications are endless.

STEEPV Equity and Access Snapshot

  • Social: Impoverished families exhibit more chronic physiological stress, more deficits in short-term spatial memory, more feelings of helplessness and more antisocial conduct. Source: Gary Evans, PhD, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016
  • Technical: If the 4.1 billion people without internet across the world were given access, 500 million people could be brought out of poverty. Source: Price Waterhouse Cooper
  • Economic: To afford a two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., individuals must earn a "Housing Wage" that is $13.96 higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition
  • Ecological: In 2013 lead exposure accounted for 853,000 deaths due to long-term effects on health, with the highest burden in low- and middle-income countries. Source: World Health Organization
  • Political: Minimum wage has not been raised in the US since 2009, yet 2016 data indicates cost of living has increased by nearly 12 percent. Source: US Department of Labor
  • Values-based: We believe that people deserve equitable access to the resources they need to live healthy, safe, and dignified lives. Communities as a whole thrive when all members are able to have fair and just access to quality education, food, and housing.
Our Approach: Real-World Collaboration Through Integrative Design

Over the course of the two-year graduate program, each MDes cohort forms a pro-bono integrative design firm of sorts, collaborating as a team on hands-on projects alongside real-world stakeholders, constituents, and partners. Centered in research, Integrative Design is not locked into one disciplinary design strategy. Instead, we are adaptive, utilizing multiple tactics as the project or problem requires.

In the first two years of the MDes program, students have worked with:

  • Hundreds of faculty, researchers, and healthcare professionals
  • Thirty-two University of Michigan Schools and Departments
  • Twenty-six hospitals and clinics, conducting over 500 hours of clinical observations
  • 242 total workshop and charrette participants at the MDes studio

At key moments throughout the program, MDes students conceive of and host Design Charrettes with partners and stakeholders. These intense systems and strategy design sessions lead to tangible outcomes and recommendations that address vital elements of the cohort’s wicked problem.

Past project partners include the Kellogg Eye Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Guardian Industries Corp., Steelcase Health, IBM Watson Health, Patient and Family Centered Care (PFCC) at Michigan Medicine, and the Michigan Program on Value Enhancement (MPrOVE).

Our Outcomes

Across industries, employers recognize the distinct benefits of deep collaboration with integrative designers to identify, envision, and co-create the systems-based products, services, and environments of the 21st century.

Stamps MDes graduates will possess a unique set of cross-disciplinary skills and demonstrable evidence of those skills in action, creating true professional distinction and meeting the growing employer demand for creative, nimble, strategic collaborators.

Take a look at stories about the 2015-16 MDes Cohorts, their projects, and research here.

The MDes Cohort

The cohort is composed of professionals who wish to transform their careers through critical thinking, analysis, and an unflinching examination of complex, real-world problems.

Hand-picked with an eye for diverse global perspectives and knowledge from across the design disciplines and beyond, the MDes cohort is small in size, ensuring optimal collaboration in an environment where all members are seen, heard, and active.

Successful applicants will be:

  • experienced designers wishing to transform their career path or professionals in other fields who want to transition to a design-engaged practice
  • career changers proficient in specialized, complementary skills they would like to incorporate into an integrative approach
  • researchers prepared to revise and expand their understanding of research, design methods, and design practices
  • collaborators interested in a design-centered approach to solving complex problems
2017 MDes Brochure