Master of Arts in Design

Our MA program supports those with backgrounds in diverse fields who seek to study design.

The School of Design welcomes students who hold undergraduate degrees in non-design fields and at least one year of professional experience to enroll in our MA program. Whether you’re looking to infuse design into your native discipline or take the first step in transitioning to design practice, our MA program can help you. Throughout the program, you will work with some of the brightest thinkers and most talented practitioners in the field. Studies rooted in the culture and practice of design form the basis of the MA, which enables us to teach you how to see, think, and create as a designer while broadening and deepening your understanding of the field. As a student, you’ll learn timeless principles while gaining exposure to approaches, ideas, and methods at the forefront of design.

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

In addition to bringing rich cultural experiences from around the world, our MA students hold a wide range of professional and academic expertise. Holding undergraduate degrees in disciplines such as journalism, global studies, psychology, economics, engineering, and arts management, our MA students bring their unique perspectives to design coursework, which enriches everyone’s learning. Our requirement for MA 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.

Our rigorous curriculum balances structure and autonomy. 

Spanning two semesters over the course of one year, the MA program will introduce you to foundational design principles, approaches, theories, and tools that are essential to designing for interactions. Each semester consists of thoughtfully-aligned seminars, studios, and labs that equip you with important knowledge and skills that enable you to effectively and ethically practice design. Despite designers typically working in service of others and responding to specific prompts, our MA courses provide you ample autonomy in directing your individual work within project parameters. We take this approach because we recognize the importance of your individual interests and strive to support you as you chart your personal path and define your design “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.

Our MA equips you with a solid foundation in design that enables you to confidently take your next steps.

For some of you, the two-semester MA may serve as a sufficient introduction to design that you can use to augment your skillset, bolster your career in your native practice, or inform your studies in an adjacent field. For others, the MA may function as your first step toward deeper studies in design that will ultimately lead to a rewarding career in the field. You might seek to continue your education in our Masters of Professional Studies (MPS) in Design for Interactions, Masters of Design (MDes) in Design for Interactions, or PhD in Transition Design program. Note, the MPS is a two-semester program that is only available to our MA students. Courses required in the first year of the MDes program, except for Thesis Prep, comprise the curriculum. The MPS offers you a practical and attainable means of developing a strong, forward-thinking design practice. You may also decide to pursue a course of study in areas such as business, human-computer interaction, or public policy; or return to work in your previous field with the advantage of design skills and perspectives. However you chart your path, we are confident that our MA will provide you with a strong design education that will inform your next steps and establish a positive trajectory for achieving your professional goals. 

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

Peruse an overview of courses offered through the MA program below to become familiar with our curriculum. 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!

Master of Arts in Design (MA) Curriculum

Fall Semester

Develop foundational visual and communication design skills. Cultivate an understanding of design thinking, methods, and processes.

Design Minds, 12 units
Discover the way expert designers think and make. Investigate key concepts in historical and contemporary design practice, and learn to articulate the value of design-based innovation.

Visual Communication Fundamentals, 12 units
Practice communication design by giving visual form and meaning to complex information, concepts, processes, and systems.

Design Software Lab, 9 units
Learn to use common design software and basic coding in support of your studio projects.

Design Principles & Practices, 12 units
Learn and practice a variety of design skills and approaches through a focused series of hands-on activities.

Colloquium (optional), 3 units
Learn about faculty research.

Spring Semester

Expand your visual and prototyping skills, and deepen your understanding of interaction design. Gain exposure to the broader role and impact of design in the world.

Design Seminar, 12 units
Choose to either study Transition Design, Social Innovation or Design for Service.

Introduction to Interaction Design, 12 units
Establish the basic skills, perspectives, and working vocabulary of an interaction designer. Apply what you learn to projects that span all phases of the design process.

Prototyping for Interaction Design, 12 units
Develop physical and digital prototyping skills to shape product form and behaviors.

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.