Two master's students working at a whiteboard

Our MDes program supports those with design backgrounds who seek to transform their practice.

The School of Design welcomes students who hold undergraduate degrees in a design-based field and at least one year of professional experience to enroll in our MDes program. If you’re looking to build onto your strong foundation in design by studying the “big picture” aspect of designing for interactions—people, organizations, cultures, contexts, and systems—our MDes program can help you. Throughout the program, you will work with some of the brightest thinkers and most talented practitioners in the field, gaining exposure to approaches, ideas, and methods at the forefront of design. Studies rooted in communication, systems thinking, futuring, speculative design, design technology, ethics, and design research form the basis of the MDes. The curriculum enables us to teach you a rigorous process for documenting, analyzing, and understanding the past and present so that you are well-positioned to propose more desirable systems and interactions for the future.

The diversity of our MDes cohort creates an incredible group of people with whom to learn.

In addition to bringing rich cultural experiences from around the world, our MDes students hold a wide range of professional and academic expertise. Holding undergraduate degrees in design-based disciplines such as communication design, product design, user experience design, architecture, and service design, our MDes students bring their unique perspectives to design coursework, which enriches everyone’s learning. Our requirement for MDes students to have at least one year of professional experience also bolsters our program as students bring valuable lessons learned in practice, such as effective collaboration, to their academic studies.

A group of master's students working at a table

Our rigorous curriculum balances structure and autonomy.

Spanning four semesters over the course of two years, the MDes program will challenge your thinking of the roles design can and should play in aiding various forms of interactions throughout society. Through individual and team-based projects that focus on the design of services or social innovation concepts, you will learn design principles, approaches, theories, and tools that are essential to designing for interactions. Each semester is comprised of thoughtfully-aligned seminars, studios, and labs that equip you with important knowledge and skills that aid your development as a design leader. Despite designers typically working in service of others and responding to specific prompts, our MDes courses provide you with ample autonomy in directing your individual work. We take this approach because we recognize the importance of your individual interests and strive to support you as you chart your personal path that builds on your unique design background and voice. Given that CMU is a liberal arts research university, students may also appreciate pursuing research opportunities with faculty and taking courses across campus to broaden and deepen their education.

The MDes thesis provides an opportunity for you to conduct rigorous design research.

A unique feature of the MDes program is the design thesis, which is characterized as an independent research and design project that you will conduct under the mentorship of a faculty advisor. The thesis is complemented by a required second-year seminar, elective coursework in the School of Design, and other departments across the Carnegie Mellon campus. In the first year, you'll identify possible thesis topics relative to School of Design faculty expertise, investigate ways of conducting a thesis, construct a researchable question that will frame your project, secure a thesis advisor, and write a proposal for your second year of study. In the second year, you'll conduct intensive research that aligns with an appropriate design process and culminates in a robust design project that addresses your research question. You will also write a document that describes your steps and discoveries. Throughout the process you will participate in public sharing sessions of thesis work, where you will give and receive feedback to further your inquiry and understanding. You can peruse masters theses from students in the School of Design online at KiltHub.

Our MDes equips you with important design skills and knowledge that enable you to realize a lifelong career in design.

The MDes is regarded as a terminal degree in design. As a result, graduates are poised to take on leading design roles in professional practice worldwide. Alumni are also well-positioned to acquire entry-level teaching and research positions at universities. As a graduate, you may also seek to deepen your studies through a design-focused PhD program like ours, or continue your education in areas such as business, human-computer interaction, or public policy. However you chart your path, we are confident that our MDes will provide you with a strong design education that builds on your background and strengthens the positive trajectory for achieving your professional goals.

Master of Design in Design for Interactions (MDes) Curriculum

Fall Semester, Year 1

Explore design for interactions, design for services, and design for social innovation and study their potential impact in business and policy. Expand your skills in communication and interaction design.

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

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

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

  • Learn to use design tools for physical and digital environments to support your studio projects.

  • Investigate your personal interests, probe existing theses, and study various ways of conducting a thesis.

  • Learn about faculty research.

Spring Semester, Year 1

Investigate business and policy opportunities in design for services and social innovation through research-based team project work in your studio course. Work with advisors to prepare your thesis proposal.

  • Choose to study either Transition Design, Social Innovation or Design for Service.

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

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

  • Construct a researchable question to frame your project, secure an advisor, and plan and propose the research and design approach you'll conduct in your second year of study.

  • Take a design elective or a course outside of design to complement your skills and knowledge. We recommend courses in policy, business, service or social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

Fall Semester, Year 2

Through thesis project work and your choice of electives, craft a generalist degree in design for interaction, or develop a concentration in design for services or social innovation.

  • Build on the foundation of coursework and studios through thesis research with your advisor. Conduct research and develop creative concepts to investigate a significant challenge, engage with stakeholders in the real world to inspire and evaluate your ideas, and review your progress and evolving body of work with peers and your advisor to inform your subsequent steps.

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

  • Learn research strategies and tools to assist you in your literature and artifact reviews, investigate making as a means of exploring and understanding your topic, and explore ways of visualizing your discoveries to aid your learning and share your findings with others.

  • Take a design elective or a course outside of design to complement your skills and knowledge. We recommend courses in policy, business, service or social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

Spring Semester, Year 2

Bring your thesis project to fruition by synthesizing your discoveries and disseminating valuable insights that have the potential to benefit others. Take advantage of electives to cultivate your expertise in design for interaction, and design for services or social innovation.

  • Model, test, and refine, your design concepts that have emerged from your year of deep research and design exploration to deepen your understanding of your topic, synthesize your findings and apply what you learned to your project, document, present, and publicly defend your thesis, and showcase your project as a unique feature of your design portfolio to demonstrate your ability to take on a significant research and design project.

  • Explore ways of encapsulating your study, synthesizing and structuring your discoveries, and writing and designing your thesis for dissemination.

  • Take a design elective or a course outside of design to complement your skills and knowledge. We recommend courses in policy, business, service or social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

  • Take a design elective or a course outside of design to complement your skills and knowledge. We recommend courses in policy, business, service or social innovation, interaction or communication design, or professional writing.

We invite you to connect with us and learn more about the School of Design and our MDes program.

Check out examples of students’ work. Join us for an online visitors session. Review other areas of our site such as Frequently Asked Questions and Application Process. Plan a visit to Carnegie Mellon and coordinate a tour of the School of Design while you’re here. Contact us to schedule a call with our academic advisor to discuss any outstanding questions that arise. We look forward to meeting you!