Master of Design

The Master of Design (MDes) in Design for Interactions is a two-year professional degree for students with an undergraduate degree in design or previous design experience. The MDes is currently considered the terminal degree in design.

CMU was one of the first programs in the world to offer a master’s degree in interaction design (IxD). Twenty years ago, the program focused primarily on screen interfaces for computer applications and websites. Since then, the boundaries between hardware and software, device and user, have blurred considerably – a trend that continues to accelerate. Our two former degrees in Interaction Design (IxD) and Communication Planning and Information Design (CPID) have been combined into a single degree, the MDes. However, an emphasis on communication/information design remains an integral component of the new MDes in Design for Interactions, both through required coursework and electives within and outside the program.

Our new curriculum situates research within the larger context of the interactions between people, organizations and the natural world. Students in the MDes program engage in research-based design for services and social innovation that aim to catalyze the transition to more sustainable futures.

Program Structure

Fall Semester Year One: Core seminars and studio courses provide the intellectual and practical foundation of the program by:

  • Familiarizing students with design for interactions, design for service and design for social innovation
  • Demonstrating design’s impact in both the business and public policy sectors
  • Strengthening students’ skills in communication and interaction design

Spring Semester Year One:  Students continue to investigate service and social innovation design opportunities within the business and public policy sectors through:

  • research-based team projects 
  • study of the essential elements of communication for designers

Year Two: A unique feature of the MDes program is the second year thesis project, an independent research and design project developed by students under the mentorship of a faculty advisor. The thesis year is complemented by elective coursework from the School of Design and other departments across the CMU campus.

To supplement the degree, we strongly encourage summer internships between the first and second years, facilitated through our annual career event, Confluence.

A complete listing of MDes course descriptions is available for download in a PDF.

MDes: Year One

Students are introduced to design for interactions through services and social innovation with potential impact in business and policy, while expanding their skills in communication and interaction design.

1 Fall First Year

Seminar: Interaction & Service Design Concepts

Investigate the history, current state, and future of interaction design practice and research.

Studio: Designing for Interactions

Envision preferred futures by giving form to the behaviors and interactions of products, services, and systems.

Interaction Design Lab

Prototype for interaction design using sketches, wireframes, storyboards, video, animation and code.

Communication Design Studio: Theory & Practice

Use design strategies to decode complex information and to communicate messages clearly.


Lectures from faculty about their research.

Thesis Prep

Frame your research project.

Students investigate business and policy opportunities in design for services and social innovation through research-based team project work, and prepare a thesis proposal.

2 Spring First Year

Seminar: Transition Design

Explore new frameworks, mindsets, and processes through which designers can catalyze environmental and social change toward more sustainable futures.

Studio: Research-Based Design for Interactions

Tackle a client-sponsored team project using an integrated research and design process.

Design Research Methods

Learn and apply a range of participatory methods for exploratory, generative, and evaluative research and design.

Thesis Prep

Investigate your personal interests, identify an advisor, and construct a researchable question to frame your project. Plan and propose the research and design approach you'll follow in your second year.


Recommended in business, policy, service, social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

MDes: Year Two

Students may opt for a generalist degree in design for interaction, or craft a concentration in design for services or social innovation through their thesis project work and choice of electives.

3 Fall Second Year

MDes Thesis Project

Build on the foundation of coursework and studios through thesis research with your advisor.
Conduct research and develop creative concepts to address a significant problem of unique interest to you. You might choose a topic in the area of design for service or social innovation.
Engage with stockholders in the real world to inspire and evaluate your ideas.
Review progress and your evolving body of work with peers and your advisor.

Seminar: Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts

Survey new models and approaches to interaction design and design for service in professional practice.


Recommended in business, policy, service, social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

Students bring their thesis projects to fruition and develop expertise in design for interaction, and design for services or social innovation, through electives.

4 Spring Second Year

MDes Thesis Project

Model, test, refine, and document solutions from your year of deep research and design exploration.
Synthesize your findings and apply what you learned to finalize your project.
Present and defend your thesis to a panel of experts.
Showcase your project as a unique feature of your design portfolio, demonstrating your ability to take on a significant research and design project.


Recommended in business, policy, service, social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.


Recommended in business, policy, service, social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

© School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, 2014

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