Master of Design

For designers who want to transform their practice.

The MDes is a two-year program in design for interactions that immerses you in a research-based approach to design within the context of services and social innovation. Ours was one of the first programs to offer a master’s degree in interaction design and is widely considered among the best in the world. We have deep roots in information and communication design, and our graduates enjoy access to a rich variety of career options.

Our program framework acknowledges the social and natural worlds as the greater context for all design problems. Through coursework and research, our graduate students learn a rigorous process for documenting, analyzing, and understanding the past and present—in order to propose more desirable systems and interactions for the future.

We encourage students to take a broad view of design and engage in radical invention as they become active creators of a better future.

Apply design research in your area of interest.

A unique feature of the MDes program is the thesis, an independent research and design project you’ll complete with your faculty advisor as mentor. You might choose to investigate emerging design opportunities in computing or communication technology, or define a topic in design for services or design for social innovation.

In the first year, you'll identify possible thesis topics, 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 that culminates in a robust design project that addresses your research question and a written 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.

Sample Thesis Projects

MDes curriculum

An overview of courses offered through the MDes program is provided below. For more information, please contact us to schedule a call with our academic advisor, or plan a visit and take a tour of the facilities while you're here. Current students should refer to the University’s Schedule of Classes for complete course offerings and descriptions.

Note that elective coursework is an important opportunity to strengthen and complement your unique sets of skills and knowledge. We recommend courses in the areas of policy, business, service and social innovation, interaction and communication design, or professional writing. To supplement the degree, we strongly encourage summer internships between the first and second years, which are often facilitated through our annual career event, Confluence.

MDes: Year One

1 Fall First Year

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.

Seminar: Interaction & Service Design Concepts 12 units

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

Studio + Lab: Designing for Interactions 18 units

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

Communication Design Studio: Theory & Practice 15 units

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

Thesis Prep I3 units

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

Colloquium3 units

Learn about faculty research.

2 Spring First Year

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.

Seminar 12 units

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

Studio: Research Based Design for Interactions 15 units

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

Design Research Methods 9 units

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

Thesis Prep II 3 units

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

Elective 12 units

MDes: Year Two

3 Fall Second Year

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.

MDes Thesis Project 18 units

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.

Seminar: Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts 12 units

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

Thesis Prep III 3 units

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.

Elective 12 units

4 Spring Second Year

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.

MDes Thesis Project 18 units

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.

Thesis Prep IV 18 units

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

Elective 12 units

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.

Elective 12 units

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.

© School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, 2014

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