Graduate Programs

MDes Curriculum

The two-year Master of Design program requires 60 credits of studio, seminar and course-work, including 6 credits of fieldwork during the summer between the first and second years. Students will complete a thesis project in the final semester.

The MDes curriculum includes both design education and engagement training. Within the structure of the umbrella topic, the first year is focused on identifying problems and the second year on proposing solutions.


Design Studio 1 is focused on Inquiry. What is known? What is not known? Who do we know? Where is the opportunity? The cohort will be exploring the territory and looking for open areas where contributions can be made. That effort is supported by the Research Methods and Integration Design seminars that delve into the resources of the University and beyond. How do other units go about doing their work? What can we bottle and add to that? What are we integrating? How are we going to integrate it?

In second semester, Design Studio 2 centers on prototyping. It’s about taking what we’ve learned from the first semester and trying to deploy it. We want to capture some information and data about how our ideas operate in the world. What works well? What needs to be fixed? This is backed up by Design for the 21st Century, a design seminar that explores this new program in Integrative Design and how it operates in the world. How is it different? And why?

The summer Fieldwork Studio takes the things that we’ve learned and the ideas that we’re exploring and moves them into different contexts. For example, we might start our summer as part of a collaborative pop-up studio with another university design graduate cohort, then move to working in a corporate context, and then to working in a small consultancy. It’s all about integrative design - trying out different models in different contexts.

Third semester is the ramp-up towards the thesis. The Co-creation Studio focuses on finding your constituents, your stakeholders, and your partners; beginning the process of getting buy-in on the identified opportunity; and actually beginning to build a project. This is backed up by Thesis Prep, which hones in on tackling the research that is necessary to undertake the project. Professional Practice looks toward the future, when you'll have your Masters of Integrative Design. How do you make a case for having such a unique qualification? What are the opportunities? What will the ladder be post-graduation?

Fourth semester is primarily your Thesis Project. You'll work together as a team, with faculty, and with your networks to define, refine and present your thesis to the world.


MDes Course Descriptions
Design Seminar 1: Integration 3 credits
Design now interacts with increasingly complex cultural, technological, and economic forces; traditional design disciplines are no longer adequate to address complex global challenges. In this course, literature and precedents are used to argue that design can play a role in reshaping cultural practices. Students investigate not only cultural theory but also design case studies that have impacted cultural practices, and vice versa.
Design Seminar 2: Design for the 21st Century 3 credits
This course is an exercise in thinking out the likely underlying tendencies of this century and the potential and limits of design as a mode of action in relation to these tendencies. The underlying design question is: what roles can or should design play in relation to what could emerge of us? The course uses the question of how we should design in the light of the demands the future makes on us to begin a process or re-thinking what design can be.
Design Seminar 3: Professional Practice 3 credits
This advanced seminar explores contemporary topics in Integrative Design with an emphasis on how integrative designers define their practice in relation to traditional design fields. It also considers future design scenarios.
Design Studio 1: Studio-based Inquiry 6 credits
This course introduces fundamental integrative design issues including a series of design and analytical investigations drawn from the general topic of the umbrella project. Coursework focuses on gaining a broad understanding of the umbrella project, identifying specific areas of interest, and exploring the inventive and conceptual dimensions of design. Students will research and set the terms (individually and collectively) of the basic problems stemming from the general topic area, and articulate those problems as design-based inquiries.
Design Studio 2: Prototyping 6 credits
This course presents a practical framework and tools to help designers accurately frame design problems; a proper problem frame will address root causes, not just symptoms of the problem - in relation to the umbrella project. This course introduces graduate students in the MDes program to a range of prototyping methods – from paper to interactive prototypes. It approaches prototyping as form-finding, thing-through-making and analysis, and builds on the content of Design Studio 1: Studio-based Inquiry.
Design Studio 3: Co-creation 6 credits
Co-creation happens when two or more people work directly on the same deliverable. In this course, students investigate ways of triggering small-scale social change. Students are expected to research, analyze and develop strategies for fostering new kinds of communities and networks. This course may be understood as explicit application or different approaches to group dynamics:
• Creative Collaboration: to be able to achieve what an individual cannot, either because it’s too much work for a single individual, or, as is more common, it requires a multitude of skills or perspectives to achieve.
• Connective Collaboration: connecting with a broader community - to connect dots, and discover relevant information, resources, insight and expertise that exist elsewhere in the system.
• Integrative Collaboration: to ensure that the majority of insight from the project is not lost because only the most formal knowledge is captured, documented, valued and recognized (and can only be found if someone explicitly thinks of looking for it).
Fieldwork 6 credits
The Fieldwork design studio allows students the opportunity to work as a group on projects with stakeholder organizations and students from partner institutions. The Faculty Advisory Group work with partners from outside communities and industries to develop a topic that is forward-looking, speculative, and open to multiple outcomes. This may be an externally sponsored project that involves teamwork, collaboration, and client interaction - critical skills for any designer; or a national or international engagement studio - related to the umbrella project.
Research Methods 3 credits
This course will present an opportunity to examine and discover practice-led research in a studio context. The course focuses on project – specific research and on the designer – researchers who advance the field. Students will also be exposed to a range of research strategies from other disciplines, in particular the relationship between quantitative and qualitative research. This may be a combined course with the MFA program, so that all students take the same course.
Thesis Preparation Studio 3 credits
This thesis preparation course requires students to develop a large but focused design-led research project, which emerges from the intersection of their interests and the concerns of the umbrella project. In tandem with Design Studio 3, this studio concentrates on prototyping and team building. Thesis projects in the MDes project may be collaborative; thesis students may form a team - whether with other students or with people outside the program - that serves as the basis of this collaborative effort. If they chose, students at this point can petition to produce a Research-based Thesis rather than the Umbrella Project Thesis.
Thesis Project 9 credits
This course is a culmination of each student’s experience in the Integrative Design program. Students conduct design research on an identified aspect of the umbrella project (or a research-based thesis) in a way that focuses on an emerging aspect of the design field. Theses are expected to advance the theoretical, technical, material, or formal state of knowledge in design.
University Academic Electives 12 credits
Students should explore their elective options with the project faculty to create a coherent study plan. With faculty advice, these courses may be selected from other design-related departments throughout the University.
Total Credits Required 60 credits