Course Descriptions listed below pertain to the 2014-15 academic year.

Two-Year Program Requirements

First Year (30 units) 

  • Topic Studio (transdisciplinary) (6 units)
  • Design Research (3 units)
  • Design in Context: 1 (3 units)
  • Form Studio (3 units)
  • Advanced Topic Studio (transdisciplinary) (6 units)
  • Business of Design (3 units)
  • Design in Context: 2 (3 units)
  • Elective (3 units)

Second Year (30 units)

  • Thesis Studio: 1 (6 units)
  • Design in Context: 3 (3 units)
  • Advanced Design Research (3 units)
  • Thesis Studio: 2 (6 units)
  • Design in Context: 4 (3 units)
  • Thesis Making/Exhibition (3 units)
  • Electives (6 units)


  • Sound and Image Resonance
  • Interaction Theory
  • Sound, Music & Technology
  • Advanced Type
  • Conceptual Cartography

Three-Year Program

(below classes to be completed prior to starting the two year program)

Industrial Design

  • The Studio (6 units)
  • Contemporary Design Practice (6 units)
  • Design Drawing (3 units)
  • Model Making (3 units)
  • 3D Modeling and Rendering (3 units)
  • Drawing and Building Techniques (3 units)
  • Materials and Manufacturing (3 units)
  • Mechatronics (3 units)

Interaction Design

  • The Studio (6 units)
  • Contemporary Design Practice (6 units)
  • Model Making (3 units)
  • Digital Tools (3 units)
  • Processing (3 units)
  • Visual Inspection Design (3 units)
  • Motion Studio (3 units)
  • Digital Electronics (3 units)

Graphic Design

  • The Studio (6 units)
  • Contemporary Design Practice (6 units)
  • Typographic Systems/Information Design (3 units)
  • Digital Tools (3 units)
  • Processing (3 units)
  • Publication Design (3 units)
  • Motion Studio (3 units)
  • New Tools (3 units)

For current course offerings and descriptions see fall and spring courses or visit Webadvisor.

First-Year Required Courses

Topic Studios (choose one of three)

Topic Studio: Media Matters (seminar and studio)

"Information" has become the new code word for what is largely an overload of fast-paced images and sound bites, infotainment, and infomercials. Countries, ideologies, religions, artists, preachers, youth, celebrities, and politicians alike are branded and sold to audiences as if consumer products. Our analytical goal is to sift through this clutter of logos, slogans, and hidden persuasion in order to unravel some of the contradictions that result from the mediamakers' access to power, knowledge, and financial resources. In the associated studio course, students explore the ideas presented in the seminar context through making. For example, analysis and insights are put to use in the design and making of antidotes, parodies, and other alternative constructions. Likewise, students are called upon to use methods of communication and persuasion in form making for socially positive ends. Prerequisites: Form Studio, Design Research.

3D Topic Studio

The spring 3D Topic Studio will draw on the America's Cup sailing competition slated for the fall of 2013 as a point of inspiration (or provocation). Possible topic areas could be wind powered mobility, micrometeorology, land and water convergence, "extreme" sport, etc... All site specific to the San Francisco Bay. Work will track according to independently defined exploration areas, with reviews and milestones coordinated as a class. The Studio will move through three contiguous phases of work, exploration/research, definition/validation and refinement/execution. Students will learn 3D modeling tools, how to move from digital information to physical output, prototyping techniques, how to collaborate with people from relevant disciplines and translate design strategies into tangible, realized concepts. Outside critics will be introduced as appropriate to the subject. Prerequisites: Form Studio, Design Research.

IxD Topic Studio

Public Interactives: Enlivening Cities, Invigorating Events Worldwide, many cities are making use of physical interactive installations and cell phone or web-based projects as ways of defining, enhancing, and stimulating spaces and places. Neighborhoods become galleries, open 24 hours, using buildings and shop windows as canvases with the artists and interaction designers as collaborators (along with technologists, architects, and myriad others). Museums, retail, dining and entertainment are also sites using interfaces of the everyday as sites of interaction. The studio will begin with a survey and critique of interactive public art. Then, students will work together to define, research, and present group public art projects using their skills independently and collectively (2D/3D Illustration, Photography, Murals, Street Graphics, Arduino, Processing, Max/MSP/Jitter, Java, Maya, Wiring, HTML, Flash, etc.). All aspects of such projects will be touched upon, including topical and site research, project design, prototyping and modeling, budgeting, administrative permits, exhibition design, project execution, and public outreach. The course will involve completion of interactive public projects that will be exhibited during the semester and perhaps beyond. Prerequisites: Form Studio, Design Research.

Design Research (practicum)

Design Research cultivates skills for sensing, observing, understanding, rationalizing and finding patterns in the functioning of the physical, psychological, social and cultural environment in which design lives. This course will help prepare students to develop capacity for managing ambiguity at the front end of the design process. In addition, students will learn to manage the process of gathering insights and translating insights into design. Students will also learn and deploy research methods - including secondary research, quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research, and other participatory design research techniques.

Design in Context 1 & 2 (seminar)

'Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression,' the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer commented. The goal of this writing course is to narrow the gap between what we aspire to create as designers and how we discuss our work, and the work of others, in writing - as well as in class discussion. The course will emphasize writing praxis. We will keep a semester-long design notebook, where we will work through a series of weekly exercises, registering specific ideas about both design and the critical study of design, while also mastering key skills for effective written communication. We will explore and experiment with key forms for the profession: How designers use writing in both the academic and the professional worlds - from critical essays to project proposals, classic to contemporary. We will look at how design is reported on in publications like The New York Times, on the Web, as well as in books like Bauhaus to Our House, by Tom Wolfe. In addition, we will read On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Writing for Design Professional, by Stephen Kliment.

Form Studio

Form Studio is the introductory studio class in the Graduate Program in Design. This class offers students a strong foundation in the making, assessing, and critiquing of visual materials and begins a discussion that will reverberate through the rest of their studies. Students learn the use and structure of materials and media and the development of a rigorous and disciplined process through which they can create and analyze what they create. Much is made of the relationship between intention and reaction and the sharpening of an awareness of physiological sensation as an integral part of design development. Successful students ultimately develop the necessary skills of experimentation, articulate criticism. and constructive questioning necessary to generate remarkable work.

Transdisciplinary Topic Studios (choose one of three)

These "mash-up" studios are unique to the Graduate Program in Design and offer students the chance to explore two design disciplines as they relate to one another.

Advanced Topic Studio: 3D + IxD

This studio explores the intersection of the physical and digital world. In it students will explore contemporary issues, users needs, and cultural ideals. The students will draw on insight and inspiration from user research and design solutions that are both tangible and interactive. As part of the design process, we will take a system approach to the user experience, we will use rapid visualization strategies and we will develop iterative mock-ups. Throughout the course, students will fine tune their process, further develop research capabilities, and advance their interaction design and industrial design skills. The final deliverable is a physical and digital solution that solves a real world problem and tells a compelling user experience story.

Advanced Topic Studio: 2D + 3D

Design in a peak water world: As obvious as it may seem, water is the one thing we can't live without for long. As we face a future affected by climate change, we can expect water to move to the forefront of our concerns: not enough of it where we need it; too much of it in the wrong places; water affected by salination; water dominated by wealthy interests, and denied to those less fortunate. These changes are already well in play, and we can either hide from them, or use our skills as makers and communicators to address this most important of missions. This is a cross discipline class that guides both novices and experienced students to explore design in context with imminent water constraints. Students will work to positive and productive outcomes as they conduct research and form responses to their discoveries, creating work which explores how their own vision and aesthetic may shift with water considerations as a core directive. This class will include: Direct interactions with water experts, scientists, private sector professionals, NGO's, sustainability index developers and farmers. A full-day cotton farm tour in California's San Joaquin Valley. Field trips to companies such as Gap Inc. and/or Levi Strauss and Co. During the semester, we'll look at a series of questions: What climate change predicts for our water supplies. What is happening now, and what will occur soon? What is our relationship to water? What are the social mores around water? How are businesses, farmers, municipalities adjusting to a water-constrained world? How might designers influence attitudes, behavior and water use? What are the new roles for design in a water-constrained world? How do we plan and efficiently complete our projects? What form might the projects take to best communicate and enable shifts - in behavior, and in design practice? Students from all disciplines and with all ranges of experience are welcome in this class. Each student will work on up to three personal or group projects, building upon each other. The class emphasis is on tackling ideas that can be completed and set loose to make a difference within the course of a semester.

Advanced Topic Studio: 2D + IxD

Comings and Goings: Technologies taking notice of who, what, when and where. Humans are social beings-we tell stories, share things about ourselves, and monitor what othe take little notice of having been slept in, our bathroom mirrors don't communicate anything to us, our toasters don't contemplate coordinating their completion time with the teakettles, and the dishwashers don't even negotiate with the water heater about a good time to consume half of the tank's hot water. We will be looking a few years down the road, considering all possible brand, 2D and UX touchpoints and doing "what if" design about how the myriad technologies in our lives might behave differently if they could sense, adapt, identify opportunities and communicate. We'll do our best at fleshing out our designs with today's technology, using sheer determination, sleight-of-hand, and cutting-edge treachery.

Business of Design (seminar)

Designers need to understand the fundamentals of business strategies and economic models to engage their profession in a muscular way. This course introduces students to business models for both for-profit and non-profit constructions as well as individual entrepreneurship. The position of ethics and social responsibility will be studied through case studies and discourse. The rapidly changing landscape of intellectual property - from patent and copyright to open source - will be examined. Students will create speculative business models focused on how they may manifest their professional design goals. This course teaches design students essential business concepts and skills in a relevant and understandable manner. Using a combination of theory, discussion and "hands-on" approaches, we teach students to create sustainable, realistic business models. We explore the role of ethics and social responsibility, along with traditional management functions of marketing, sales, operations and financial management. Students form partnerships to identify and refine an idea for a new business, then create a business plan to deliver that idea. Final presentations are made to a panel of leading designers, VCs and business execs. Students who successfully complete this course will be more capable advocates for design because they will understand how business works and where they can have the most impact within a company, an organization or a community.

Second-Year Required Courses

* Students must successfully complete all third-semester required courses to enroll in fourth-semester courses.

Thesis Studio:1

This course is the beginning of a year-long thesis study that asks the student to articulate, test and demonstrate their notions about WHAT DESIGN IS. The intention is that the student's thesis work will contribute to current discourse on critical design issues and bring continuity and fresh thinking to existing research and/or pedagogy. Prerequisites: Design Research; Business of Design.

Design in Context 3 & 4

Advanced Design Research

Thesis Studio: 2

Thesis Studio offers Graduate Design students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty advisor. During the semester, students also meet with fellow advisees to share critical perspectives and insights.

Design in Context: 4

As part of the comprehensive thesis term, this course will help students delineate the range and objectives of their thesis writing, utilizing research, language, and graphical representation to frame and explain their thesis process and artifacts.

Thesis Making: Presentation

Thesis presentation is an arena focusing on how to build your personal brand. The class will consider how to present ideas, strategies, and made work in a professional setting. How is a job interview and its demands linked to a talk about thesis work? How is a client presentation different than a talk about a personal project? While some time will be spent pondering the final gallery talk on individual student work, this course helps students gather the tools and tricks needed for a polished, professional presentation - across topics. Expect low-stakes exercises that stretch public speaking skills, to include a range of styles and approaches, and ample time to study some of the great speakers in design today. Students will deliver a final presentation and receive feedback from pros.

Thesis Making: Exhibition

Exhibition is the culminating expression of the work and spirit of the MFA Design class. All members of the class contribute to the content and production of the show, and a core group of students research, design, and curate the exhibition, a process which includes readings, field trips, prototyping, and meetings with technical and creative experts. Whether the students choose to think of their thesis exhibition as a gracious showcase for existing work or as a completely new piece, they will test all assumptions about what an exhibition can and should be.

Graduate Electives (GELCTs) offered through the Graduate Program in Design

Sound and Image Resonance

Sound and Image Resonance is a skills-rich class that teaches both novices and experienced students how they can utilize sound in their own work, and how sound synthesizes with images to create new interactive experiences. Students in this course create work to discover how their own vision and aesthetic can be transcribed into systems of sound and image- installations, audiovisual work, sound art, and musical forms. During the semester, we'll look at many questions, emphasizing, How do we use sounds and images to design a resonant experience? In this instance, "resonance" means creating an experience where the student's intent matches the audience's understanding of the work - without didactic explanation. Some of the questions we will investigate include: How do sounds and images overlap in one's mind? What are we creating and why are we creating it? What tools can we use and how do we best deploy them? - Arduino, Premiere Pro, Ableton Live, Max. And how do we plan and efficiently complete our projects? Each student will work on up to three personal projects, with a final show at a local gallery or museum. Students from all disciplines and with all ranges of experience are welcome in this class.

Interaction Theory

Theory of Interaction Design will provide students with a foundational understanding of what Interaction Design is, ways to approach interactive design challenges, and how to evaluate and discuss interactive solutions. The course will combine theoretical readings and discussions with practical hands-on exercises that illustrate course topics. Topics will include history of interaction, interactive modalities, human perception, cognitive and social psychology, emotion and brand, interaction for entertainment, interaction for productivity, and interaction for personal behavior change.

Sound, Music & Technology

Students gain a general understanding of the necessary aesthetics, vocabulary, and techniques to record, edit, process, and organize sound using computers for installation work, live performance and composition, soundscape design, and alternative media. The class includes technical, theoretical, and practical hands-on sections. Students are encouraged to experiment and develop unique sound vocabularies and techniques to fit their particular interests. Each student delivers a final project and presentation that uses techniques and software applications covered in class. Instructor: Guillermo Galindo.

Advanced Type

Advanced Typography will focus on publications and other long-form typography. Emphasis will be placed on relationships between content and form, design as an authorial strategy, and development of complex, rich typographic structures. Alongside this meticulous and rigorous work, you will be encouraged to conduct wide-ranging typographic experiments that involve your topic and may reveal unexpected design strategies.

Conceptual Cartography

Mapping one's surroundings is a primary way in which humans understand the world. By breaking down and organizing information, we can both expand upon and structure our realities. In Conceptual Cartography, students will mine the human impulse to translate experience through mapping - whether it be through the paths we travel, the food we eat, the memories we keep, or the location-specific stories we tell. Students in this interdisciplinary class will explore the act of visualizing information and data through an in-depth study of an array of mapping techniques and presentation methods, all from a basis of conceptual thinking. Over the course of the semester, we will investigate and deconstruct the meaning of symbols, text, materials, and actions, and the ways in which they can be combined to communicate meaning. The course will survey conceptual art and design practices that embody the concept of mapping, from historic projects by the Situationists to current trends and online networks. We will look at the work of artists, designers, scholars, and writers such as Aaron Koblin, Paula Scher, Edward Tufte, Tony Buzan, Rebecca Solnit, Saul Steinberg, Guillermo Kuitca, Joyce Kozloff, Alighiero Boetti, Simon Evans, and Jennifer & Kevin McCoy. Anticipated guest lectures will include artists such as Tucker Nichols, Lordy Rodriguez, Jenny O?Dell, Val Britton, Amanda Hughen & Jennifer Starkweather, and Kate Pocrass. The course will look at 2D and 3D materials and interactivity to explore the myriad methods in which one can convey data visualization through an artistic lens. Each student will complete three personal projects, culminating in an exhibition at the end of the semester. Students from all disciplines and with all ranges of experience are welcome in this class.