Masters Research

Design research is a distinctive aspect of our MDes and MPS programs. Students study and employ a wide variety of human-centered design methodologies which enable them to conduct design research aimed at better understanding people and their needs. 

A unique feature of our Master of Design (MDes) program is the second year Thesis Project, developed through an intensive research and design process under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Projects span a range of topics, with creative concepts proposed in response to research questions in various areas of design for interactions, services, social innovation, and communication. Abstracts and full text documents of recent Thesis Projects can be explored in our Research Showcase.

Our research at the master’s level acknowledges the natural world as the larger context for all design problems. Students engage in research for Design for Interactions and situate their work within two areas of design focus: Design for Services and Design for Social Innovation.

Design for Interactions

Design for Interactions is an expanding field of practice. It can involve product semantics, branding experiences, multi-modal media, smart devices, hardcopy forms, urban wayfinding, large information systems, and more. Designers can work in the fields of healthcare, high street retail, telecommunications, transportation systems, farming, and environmental monitoring, to name a few. The CMU School of Design’s distinctive approach to Design for Interactions has always combined the material craft of product and communication design with a strong backend understanding of digital systems. Our master's level programs now frame those skills within important developments in the field of design: designing for services and designing for social innovation.

Design for Service

In post-industrial economies, services have become more valuable than product manufacturing for retail. Three kinds of services afford new opportunities in designing for interactions:

1) Expert professional services, for example: in medical, financial, and creative sectors

2) Mass-customizable, data-driven automated services such as media filters and online shopping recommenders

3) In-person customized labor, for example: childcare, cleaning, and concierge services.

Designing for services pushes designers to look beyond how users interact with single devices, to the design of adaptive systems as platforms for various service providers with diverse business needs.

In our master's programs, the service context shapes core studio projects, and is explored in seminars, electives, and applied research as a rapidly emerging discourse in design.

Examples of projects with a Service focus:

Design for Social Innovation

Designing product-service systems not only affords new kinds of businesses, but also new ways in which communities can meet their needs. The same technologies that make services customizable allow communities to quickly and easily coordinate activities. As a result, many designers now find themselves working in the domain of social design, developing systems that help meet unmet social needs. Work in this field involves social research and co-creation methods, actively engaging community participants in the design process.

In our master's programs, students are presented with the rewarding challenges of design for social innovation in core studio and research projects, often partnering with community organizations and government agencies.

Examples of projects with a Social Innovation focus: