Doctoral Research Foci

Doctoral research at the School of Design is situated in Transition Design, a new area of design practice, study and research that refers to the role of design in enabling systems-level societal shifts to more sustainable futures. Doctoral researchers have the option to conduct Practice-based research in which they critically reflect on and through the process of designing.

About Practice-Based Research 

Academic Research concerns the creation of new knowledge and research methods are designed to ensure the validity of the knowledge that is created and the School’s doctoral programs are leading the introduction of practice-based design research to North America. This means that all candidates will be encouraged to include designed artifacts, design project documentation, or documentations of exhibitions and/or performances as part of their submissions for examination.

The programs aspire to be a source of leadership to the design profession, advancing the practice of design toward being an enabler of more sustainable futures. To do so we would like to see: 

1) More design practitioners undertaking Doctoral Research degrees, especially if they are interested in maintaining their practice after completion

2) More design practitioners learning from the research undertaken in Design Doctoral programs

The second requires that doctoral work be available in forms that are more likely to be engaged with by practitioners. This means multi-modal documentation of projects and cases, rather than conventional dissertations. By encouraging more creative forms of research dissemination, we hope to also meet the first ambition, of encouraging more practicing designers to undertake doctoral work.

Doctoral Research in Transition Design

Transition Design is a new area of design research that refers to design-enabled, system level change. Transition Design involves working at multiple levels of scale, over time, so that social, economic and technological systems co-evolve toward more sustainable futures. Transition Designers combine the tools and processes of design with new understandings of living systems, innovation diffusion, and community organizing. The result is a capacity to identify the leverage points for reconceiving lifestyles and the infrastructures that resource them.

Transition Design is a research focus available to both PhD and DDes candidates with a previous design degree or experience in the practice. In both cases, the school encourages practice-based research approaches to test Transition Design strategies. Candidates without a previous design qualification will be directed to our Master of Arts in Design (MA) degree, the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree or the Master of Design (MDes) degree.

More information about Transition Design can be found here: Transition Design Monograph,, Transition Design Seminar Website, and Transition Design Medium page.

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