Doctoral Studies Program

The School of Design at CMU is a longtime leader in doctoral design education and in fall of 2014 will launch an expanded program for doctoral studies. The School will offer two types of doctoral degrees: a Doctorate of Design (DDes) and a PhD, within three areas of research foci: Practice Redirection, Transition Design, and Design Studies.

Both degrees are part of a new, modular graduate program, which provides multiple pathways to designers and non-designers alike. The doctoral studies program at CMU aims to elevate the careers of those with design experience, as well as those looking to transition into the design profession or academia from other disciplines.

Students in this program have the opportunity to engage in Practice-Based Research that uses the tools and methods of professional design practice to create and communicate new knowledge. This type of research attracts and is ideally suited to practicing designers because the outputs are more directly relevant to how design is practiced.

DDes Degree

The Doctorate of Design  is a three-year full-time or five-year part-time degree with bi-yearly residential workshops and a structured research process designed for working expert professionals. Its aim is to create the time and process through which experienced designers can reinvent their own practice and generate shareable knowledge about innovative practices of designing. For most candidates, this will be a reduced, but tuition-based, program.

PhD Degree

The PhD in Design is a four-year full-time residential degree program designed for those seeking to have an academic position in their future. The program involves one year of coursework in Design Research, Design Studies, and Design Education, followed by a three-year research project. For most candidates, this will be a tuition-free degree program that includes a teaching fellowship stipend for teaching no more than two design courses a year.

The PhD can also be undertaken as a five-year, part-time degree program, following one semester’s residential coursework. This version of the PhD has been designed for currently employed faculty at design schools throughout North America. For most candidates, this will be a discounted tuition-based program.


To undertake doctoral research, students must work with advisors who are qualified in their research area. The School of Design faculty available for advising are leaders in the fields of Design for Interactions, Communication and Product Design, and Design for Services and Social Innovation.

We welcome prospective candidates with backgrounds in other areas of design such as architecture, fashion, interiors, planning, design management, and allied areas such as art, engineering, media, robotics; however, acceptance to our program will be dependent upon the identification of appropriate external advisers. Preference will be given to candidates with capabilities for and interest in the areas of Design Studies, Transition Design and Practice Redirection. Visit our Research Foci page to learn more about these important areas of design research.

About Research Degrees

Our Doctoral Degree Programs are Research Degrees. This means that the programs aim to be a process in which faculty and peers assist candidates in the creation of new knowledge about the nature and practice of design.

A research degree program stands in contrast to other kinds of taught degree programs where faculty members are the knowledge-content experts. The reason someone undertakes research is to find out things beyond what academics currently know. As a doctoral candidate, you will become the expert, and so it is expected that your faculty will learn as much from you as you do from them. The reason someone undertakes a research degree, rather than doing self-directed research, is because they want to ensure that they come to know significant and valid things through their research. The faculty and your peers in a doctoral research degree help you to ascertain and articulate what you discover.

The School of Design’s doctoral degree programs are therefore not only intended for people wanting to become academics. Rather, they are rich opportunities for anyone wanting to develop research-based practices that make a difference to the field of design, and our futures.

Contact us for more information

Prospective candidates should email Anita Kulina Smith for more information about the Doctoral Programs.

Candidates should email Cameron Tonkinwise to explore possible research topics and identify appropriate School of Design faculty to approach for possible advising.