Undergraduate Degrees

The School of Design has changed its undergraduate degree distinction from a BFA to a Bachelor of Design degree (BDes). The new degree is equivalent in rank to a BFA, but acknowledges the growing importance of the design disciplines as separate and distinct from Fine Art. Our undergraduate program prepares students for entry-level employment across a diverse array of design professions.

Students can choose between an undergraduate degree with specialist focus (products/communications/environments) or a broad liberal arts emphasis.

Undergraduate Degree in Design (BDes):  Students are introduced to three areas of specialty; Product (Industrial) Design, Communication (Graphic) Design and design of physical and digital Environments. They may choose to specialize in one of the three areas, or pursue a more interdisciplinary focus that combines two of the three.

Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Degree (BXA): The BXA program provides students with the ability to evenly balance their study of humanities or sciences with design.

Undergraduate Minor in Design: The design minor is for students admitted to other programs on campus who are interested in gaining fundamental design skills and/or exposure to design.

IDeATe: Integrative Design, Arts and Technology (IDeATe) provides an interdisciplinary experience in one of eight areas of concentration such as Game Design or Intelligent Environments.

Undergraduate Framework

Our undergraduate program enables students to develop specialized skills in the areas of Product (Industrial) Design, Communication (Graphic) Design and Environments (design for physical and digital environments), while providing them with a solid foundation in design studies. Students study systems thinking; the ability to see and solve problems at multiple levels of scale, and situate their work within larger social and environmental contexts.

The over-arching theme of the curricula is design for interactions, which acknowledges that ‘ecologies’ of products and communications often come together within complex physical and digital environments. Coursework balances making and theory with the integration of new, emergent technologies. Students are encouraged to explore the scope of design as well as the responsibility and ethics involved in the design of interactions between people, the built world, and the environment.

The new curriculum is one of the only undergraduate programs in design that provides students with the ability to customize their degree: they may choose to specialize in one of three areas offered (Products, Communications, Environments), but also have the option of combining any two, to create a unique, interdisciplinary design degree.

The undergraduate curriculum also introduces students to three important areas of design focus: design for service, design for social innovation, and transition design. These represent both new and established design approaches to framing and solving problems. In their senior year, students bring their disciplinary specialty (communications, products or environments) to projects that are situated within the areas of design for service and/or design for social innovation.

Foundation Year

CMU’s School of Design is known for its strong undergraduate foundation program. In their freshmen year, students are introduced to all three areas of design specialty: Product (Industrial), Communication (Graphic) and digital and physical Environments. Here, they explore these unique and complementary areas of design and gain a wide range of skill sets such as systems thinking, iterative process, collaboration and visualization, and work in both two and three dimensional materials as well as digital media. Ours is one of the only programs that teaches drawing from a design perspective and many different approaches are explored; we want our students to be as comfortable conceptualizing on a napkin as they are on the computer. 

At the end of their freshman year, students are given the opportunity to begin to focus their interests in two of the three areas (products/communications/environments) and will eventually decide upon a single area of focus or a dual path of study.


Students learn to design products and their interactions within the context of human needs and they develop a deep understanding of the ways in which products shape behavior. Our curriculum acknowledges that no product exists in isolation—it is always part of a larger system comprised of people, communications and environments. Within the context of design for service, products exist as ‘touchpoints’ in a service ecology. For this reason, students learn systems thinking and engage in an iterative, multi-disciplinary and collaborative design process that involves research, observation, modeling/prototyping and rigorous evaluation. 

Students are introduced to current production and manufacturing processes as well as sustainable approaches, such as cradle to cradle, lifecycle analysis and the use of new, more environmentally friendly materials. The School has a well equipped analog and digital prototyping facility where students work with traditional materials such as wood and metal and learn to design and prototype using CAD software and 3D digital printers.

Product design can include the design of computer devices, mobile phones, medical and sports equipment, tools and safety devices, shoes and functional apparel, soft goods (such as bags and fabric shelters), ticket and vending machines, domestic and consumer goods, furniture and the interaction mechanisms for all of the above. Our alumni have been associated with the design of many well known products such as: the Apple iPhone and iOS interface, Adidas, PUMA and Nike footwear, Nike Fuel Band, BMW’s bobsled for Team USA in the 2014 Olympics and the Nest thermostat.


The ability to communicate and shape meaning is one of the most powerful and ubiquitous forms of design in today’s world. Students learn to design effective communications across a wide variety of media that always exist within complex webs of interactions between people, products, and environments. Areas of study include narrative and storytelling, information design, and a variety of analog and digital visualization techniques. Students develop the ability to identify specific audiences and communicate to them through effective visual, verbal and aural communications that educate, inform and delight. 

They study the dynamic and ‘emergen’ characteristics of communications in a globally networked society where technologies and modes of individual and mass communication are constantly changing. Students learn systems thinking and engage in an iterative, multi-disciplinary and collaborative design process that involves research, observation, prototyping and rigorous evaluation. Students develop the ability to identify and communicate to specific audiences through effective visual and verbal communications that educate, inform, delight and invite participation.

Communication design finds expression in the commercial, social, public and political arenas and influences the impact of: posters, corporate identity systems, books, exhibitions, signage and wayfinding and all manner of print communications. It also includes the design of websites, computer interfaces and apps for mobile devices, the concept and design of social networking communications and the design of multi-media communications. Our alumni have been associated with the design of many well known communication design projects including: the Starbucks logo, the Pinterest interface design, the title sequence of the movie Spiderman, and custom typefaces for The Guardian newspaper.


In this new design track, students learn to design for complex environments that exist in the digital, physical and multi-modal realms. Most of the products and communications we interact with are situated within complex physical spaces (our homes, classrooms, places of business, shopping malls, even amusement parks). We also interact with complex online environments such as large websites, social networking and virtual reality environments. And increasingly we interact in ‘smart’ physical spaces with multi-modal communications in a combination of the analog and the digital. 

In our curriculum, environments are seen as integrated and dynamic systems that require the design of interactions at multiple levels of scale. Students acquire a diverse set of skills that includes a deep understanding of spatial relationships, designing with and for emerging, multi-media technologies and an understanding of the cognitive challenges presented by multi-modal spaces. 

Students who focus on the design of environments delve deep into systems thinking and systems dynamics and spend time learning to collaborate and lead within multi-disciplinary teams (solving large problems involving complex spaces almost always involves teams of people from different disciplines).

Like students in our communication and product design tracks, students in environments engage in a design process that involves research, observation, prototyping in both analog and digital media and rigorous evaluation. Designers with the ability to work in multi-disciplinary teams designing useful, delightful, educational and surprising experiences for users will be in ever greater demand in the coming decade.

Design for environments can include the design of large corporate environments where furniture, products and multi-media/computer devices must work together to support productivity, the design of multi-modal entertainment facilities, retail showrooms as well as large, multi-media websites, virtual reality spaces, ‘smart’ hospital rooms and the interior of automobiles with ‘smart’ electronics. Our alumni have been associated with the design of exhibitions and ‘smart’ spaces for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, concepts for the redesign of the Hall of Architecture for the Carnegie Museum of Art and automotive interior designs for BMW.