Frequently Asked Questions

Undergraduate Program: 

I’m interested in graphic design; do you offer that?

Our undergraduate design program offers a track in communications. Communication design is often used interchangeably with the term graphic design. Both refer to the design of visual and graphic communications but graphic design is more closely associated with print materials, whereas communication design encompasses the design of messages and their delivery within a range of both analog and digital media in a globally connected world. 

I’m interested in industrial design; do you offer that?

Yes, we offer an undergraduate degree track in Products, built on the same foundation and strengths of our former BFA Industrial Design degree. The curriculum remains similar in approach and skills taught, while being broader in scope as a response to the changing needs of industrial design practices today.

What is the difference between a BFA and BDes degree?

We have recently changed our undergraduate degree designation from a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) to a BDes (Bachelor of Design). Design programs around the world are moving to this distinction which acknowledges that Design has become a discipline that is separate and distinct from fine art. Just as Architecture offers a Bachelor in Architecture (BArch), design degrees are designated at the undergraduate level as a BDes, the masters level as MDes (Master of Design) and professional doctorates as DDes. The academic accreditation of the BDes is the same as the BFA with the same number of credits awarded.

What is design studies?

Design studies refer to the non-studio courses that address the theory, ethics and practice of design. These courses are ‘about design’ rather than ‘how to design’. They examine the context within which design happens and introduces designers to related fields and disciplines. Design studies courses ask questions about the past and future of design, examines the ways designers work in different parts of the world and discusses the responsibility and ethics that involved in designing in and for changing environments.

Our new curriculum is based upon a robust sequence of Design Studies courses teach students to conduct thorough research and think strategically in complex situations. In contrast to traditional Design Studies courses that are often involve lectures and term papers, our courses involve creative projects and applied research.

What types of jobs do your graduates get?

Our graduates remain in great demand by organizations of all kinds and are qualified for a wide variety of positions within the design disciplines. Some students take positions as interaction, information, communication or product designers within design firms such as Smart Design, IDEO or Siegal & Gale. Other students work within design departments of large companies such as Facebook, Google, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, while others go into design thinking or design strategy within a wide variety of firms such as business consultancies or think-tanks within companies and design firms. The number of incubators and accelerators are increasing which is providing another career path for design students. Two seniors in our program are currently working with investors to bring a new product to market that began as a classroom project. The career possibilities for designers are expanding exponentially as organizations of all kinds recognize the value of design. 

Below is a list of areas that graduates of our program might work within: 

  • Book and publication design
  • Type design
  • Multimedia, video and motion graphics
  • Web design
  • Interaction design
  • User experience design
  • Design of apps and interfaces for mobile devices
  • Service design
  • Environmental graphics (signage and wayfinding)
  • Product design
  • Communication design
  • Information design
  • Corporate identity and brand strategy
  • Package design
  • Exhibition design
  • Design of physical and digital environments
Is your undergraduate program in Interaction Design?

In our undergraduate program, students study Design for Interactions, which takes a large, inclusive view of design. Our curriculum focuses on the quality of interactions between people, the things we design (products, communications and environments) and the natural world (as the larger context for everything). These interactions are situated in both analog and digital contexts and frequently involve both. 

I’ve only taken art classes. How is a design portfolio different from an art portfolio?

At Carnegie Mellon, the Schools of Art and Design are separate and very different. Most high schools do not yet offer classes in design, so it is not uncommon for students who wish to apply to the School of Design to have art-based portfolios. In the ‘Apply’ section of this website we have detailed instructions on how to create a portfolio. In general, design portfolios contain examples of concepts for solving a problem or meeting a ‘need’ as opposed to examples of artistic expression. We like to see examples of your creative potential and understand how you think, so it is a good idea to include examples from notebooks or process books that show the evolution of an idea or concept. Designers frequently ‘sketch’ in a combination of drawings/diagrams and notation, so if you have examples like this it would be a good idea to include them. 

What if I can’t draw? Do I still have a chance to get in?

Our program places emphasis on the ability to visualize concepts  and therefore drawing is an important skill taught in our freshman curriculum. We believe everyone can learn to draw; many students come to us with no previous drawing experience and there are many different styles of visual notation and drawing. Our freshman year curriculum helps students find their own particular style or vocabulary for representing their ideas in visual form. As you prepare your portfolio, begin to practice drawing and diagramming. A good book to look at is ‘Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design’ by Mark Baskinger, who is a member of our faculty and chair of our foundation (freshman) program. This will give you a good idea of the range of styles and the ways in which designers use drawing to conceptualize and communicate their ideas.

I want to do game design. Is this a good program for that?

Our program does not offer courses in game design, game design employers tell us they are looking for students with majors in related areas such as design, art, computer science and screenwriting. Students in our program learn the  conceptual and technical skills that serve as a foundation for game design, but there are other programs that offer specific courses in this area. The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon (ETC) offers masters degrees in this area.

Can I take 2 years at a local college and then transfer in?

No, because of the sequential and interconnected nature of our curriculum, transfer students with rare exceptions are only considered for first year admission. Despite your previous studies and coursework, a BDes from CMU will take 8 semesters of study (4 years). You can read more about this in the transfer application section

Graduate Programs: 

I am interested in your Communication Planning and Information Design degree...do you still offer it?

We have made several changes to our graduate programs to better serve the variety of students interested in pursuing careers in design. We have combined our two previous degrees, the Master of Design in Interaction Design and the Master of Design in Communication Planning and Information Design, into a single degree: MDes in Design for Interactions. An emphasis on communication and information design remains an integral component of the new MDes, in Design for Interactions, both through required coursework, electives and electives within and outside the program.

I don’t have a design degree or previous design experience and want to do a masters degree...is that possible?

Our postgraduate programs offer several pathways for students with no previous design experience. Our one-year Master of Arts in Design (MA) degree is intended for students with no previous design experience who would like to transition into a design career or add design as a complement to their existing professional profile. Our MA degree followed by our one-year Master of Professional Studies  (MPS) degree would qualify a student with no previous experience for a variety of design-related positions. The MA can also serve as a gateway to our MDes degree or our three-year professional doctorate (DDes) or other degrees at CMU. More on the graduate pathways for non-designers.