Design Studies (MA)

The Master of Arts in Design Studies is awarded for completion of 42 credits of coursework, including a master's thesis. No credits can be transferred from another institution. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and fulfill all requirements in a timely manner.

First Year / Fall

PGDS 5115 Discourses of Design Studies 3
PGHT 5600 Design for This Century: Lecture 0
PGHT 5601 Design for This Century: Recitation 3

First Year / Spring

PGDS 5010 Writing for the Public Realm in the 21st Century 3
PGDS 5100 Seminar in Methods and Theory 3
Design Studies Elective

Choose one of these courses: Design and Social Sciences; Thinking the Present; Design, Nature, and Sustainability; or Spatial Design Studies.


Second Year / Fall

PGDS 5200 Advanced Preparation for Thesis 3

Second Year / Spring

PGDS 5210 Thesis or PGDS 5211 Oral Exam or PGDS 5212 Capstone Project 6
Total Credits 42


First Year/Fall

Design For this Century

This lecture course for first-year graduate students is an introduction to comprehending design as a mode of acting in the world. The course considers design without preference to genre, drawing examples from the full spectrum of design professions and activities. The context it adopts is to consider design in relation to some of the major shifts opened in the 21st century, particularly the deep un-sustainability of what is and the emergence of the artificial as the horizon and medium of life. The course looks at design in four ways: 1) in terms of the capabilities of design; 2) poetically, that is the question of design as resonance and attunement; 3) as Meta-Design in terms of the "expanded field of practice" necessitated by the shifting conditions and challenges of the 21st century; 4) as a critical, political and ethical practice.

Discourses of Design Studies

The study of design, in the modern sense, is of relatively recent origin. While we can trace back a lineage of thought about design to the Renaissance and earlier, reflection on design in the modern sense only begins in the middle of the 19th century and does not acquire institutional depth until after 1945. Indeed, many of the various trajectories and lines of research and inquiry opening up today through the increasing global interest in design studies and design research date only from the 1980s. In the context of this seminar, which aims to introduce students to the range and depth of design studies, we concentrate on relatively recent studies, contrasting these, however, with earlier reflections on design seen in the literature on craft, the decorative arts, architecture, and drawing. The overall goal of the class is to provide sufficient context to the fields that make up "design studies" that students can begin to position themselves within the professional arena of design research and design thinking.

First Year/Spring

Design Studies Seminar Elective

Choose one of these courses: Design and Social Sciences; Thinking the Present; Design, Nature, and Sustainability; or Spatial Design Studies.


Graduate Seminar in Method and Theory

This seminar gives students a broad historical and social context within which to understand the trajectory of modern and contemporary designing. The aim is threefold: to explore the balance, that must be made in design studies, between theoretical, historical, and cultural understanding and the understanding of things; to give students exposure to major texts and key theories and approaches to thinking about design, especially in the 20th century history; and to look at the understanding of design in a roughly historical trajectory across the 20th century, especially in relation to major economic, cultural, and technological developments. The issues taken up present an overview of the literature and interpretive models that have been developed, contested, and in some cases overturned, throughout the history of thinking about design. Pedagogically, the aim of the course is to explore not only the content of interpretations but also the question of how arguments are made and what it is, methodologically, that theories and approaches open and close for understanding.

Writing for the Public Realm in the 21st Century

This course is premised on the conviction that, beyond reportage, the role of art and design critics is to stimulate public conversation about cultural production, its reception, and its impact. Today, that conversation occurs variously in newspapers, online media, magazines, and cultural journals. Students are introduced to the particular structural conditions and editorial protocols of each of these media forums and the genres of writing they variously employ, including the essay, the editorial, the review, online discussions, and others. Students are expected to develop fluency in each of these genres. Readings, from various sources and cultural perspectives (Bhabha, Kwinter, Schjeldahl, Yau) are analyzed as models of criticism, and guest critics make presentations. By the end of the course, each student should have a portfolio of written pieces that meet the highest standards of publishing consistent with the role of the public intellectual in the 21st century.

Second Year/Fall

Advanced Preparation for the Thesis

All students must take the Advanced Thesis Preparation seminar, which is designed to assist them in researching and selecting a topic for a master's thesis. This is  a shared seminar for all graduate students in the School of Art and Design History and Theory. Students who have completed their required courses learn how to develop a research subject and follow a work schedule. Both practical and conceptual issues germane to developing and writing a thesis are covered, including information seeking, primary and secondary research, identification of problems, development of critical questions for in-depth engagement with a subject, and the development and structuring of critical arguments that will lead the writing process (to be undertaken in the following semester). The structure of the course combines group meetings led by a faculty member and individual conferences with the faculty member or members who are specialists in individual student's research interest. The group meets six times during the course of the semester for students to present the development of their works-in-progress to the class and participate in peer-reviews. Individual faculty tutorials take place during the intervening weeks.

* Second Year/Spring

The Thesis

The MA thesis is a 80–100 page paper that demonstrates original, previously unpublished, research on a subject related to Design Studies. Note: with advance approval from a faculty advisor and the program director, a thesis project may combine a written thesis (40–50 pages) with a short production piece such as a documentary video or multi-media.

Each student formulates a thesis topic in the Advanced Thesis Preparation seminar in consultation with the faculty member/s who then serves as the thesis advisor/s. To begin writing a thesis, a student must have met the requirements for the thesis petition and have the petition approved. Each student works directly under the supervision of an assigned thesis advisor and may also consult with other members of the faculty as required by the topic.

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