Design

CCA design students combine creative risk-taking and the rigorous pursuit of craft and ideas to envision alternative futures and deliver inspired solutions across a wide range of media and industries.

Overview

Where creative risk-takers become inspired future-makers

Four students do a collaborative activity around a table with stickers.

We prepare students for the unknown

Design at CCA begins with a quest, and the designer’s role is to find the best path forward, whether they’re asked to imagine the future of music or replacing plastics with sustainable alternatives. This spirit of inquiry is at the heart of our discipline. As students learn to embrace new methods of thinking and making through hands-on investigations and real-world challenges, they continually add to their design toolkits. They develop, fine-tune, or reinvent a deep set of craft skills, along with the ability to conceptualize solutions that make the world more ethical, sustainable, and enjoyable. With an ever-shifting and exciting landscape before them, our graduates emerge from CCA as interdisciplinary makers ready to take on a range of roles that require visionary thinking and a passion for pushing and expanding the boundaries of design.

View of the Salesforce Transit Center’s bridge between buildings.

The Salesforce Transit Center’s innovative and sustainable design transforms a transportation hub into an urban experience.

Study design in the inspiring Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to innovative technology companies, leading animation and film studios, renowned cultural institutions, world-class museums, and groundbreaking design and architecture firms. Whether exploring San Francisco’s museums and galleries or working collaboratively with partners such as Google, Oracle, and Institute for the Future in sponsored studios, you’ll find inspiration in the boundless creativity and technological leadership that characterize the Bay Area’s unique culture and opportunities. And CCA has its own built-in network of creative practitioners, with a community of faculty and alumni eager to share ideas and offer feedback.

An ethos of change-making theory and practice

CCA’s Design division is a sanctuary for creative risk-taking, where wonder and imagination are amplified through rigor and craft. We equip makers, thinkers, and doers with the wherewithal to envision alternative futures, and the creative capacity to deliver inspired, generative solutions.

CCA advances contemporary practice and the self-realization of the designer as a dynamic agent of cultural, social, and ecological change, while providing strategic access to specialized resources and deep professional networks.

We do so through formal preparation in the art of design, in systems thinking, problematization, storytelling, experimentation, and business strategy, all nurtured by the boundlessness, technological leadership and non-conformity particularly characteristic of Bay Area culture.


Community

Unite ideas and craft

Dean of Design Helen Maria Nugent posing in the MFA design studios.

Helen Maria Nugent, Dean of Design

Meet the Dean of Design

Dean Helen Maria Nugent studied environmental art and design at the Glasgow School of Art. With a portfolio of design-driven public art projects, and encouragement from undergraduate faculty, Nugent decided to pursue a graduate degree in design. Afterward, her path led her to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she taught and founded the renowned Found Objects program. Nugent’s experience co-developing curricula that integrate multiple disciplines has shaped what it means to study design today at CCA.

In addition to her scholarly and academic endeavors, Nugent is the co-founder of HAELO Design with Ron Kirkpatrick. HAELO is an independent, research-oriented studio that pursues speculative and commercial design projects with a focus on furniture, objects, services, and exhibition design. The studio’s commercial and speculative design work has been presented at the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, The Chicago Cultural Center, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, NeoCon, and Devening Projects + Editions.

Three separate portraits of Design Chairs Katherine Lam, Erin Malone, and Gregory Climber.

Design Chairs Katherine Lam, Erin Malone, and Gregory Climber.

Faculty are creative practitioners and design leaders

Our dedicated faculty create a vibrant studio culture that unites ideas and craft. The hands-on, digital, and hybrid tools we use in our studios impact the ways we investigate and create solutions. Faculty foster collaborative experiences that help students expand their analytical skills and their ability to practice artistry in design. Ethical, elegant, sustainable, and profound design solutions inspire our daily research, prototyping, and speculative work with students.

Faculty expertise intersects broad fields of practice, including game design, publishing, global branding, enterprise applications, fashion illustration, photography, mixed media sculpture, user experience design, consumer electronics, and motion graphics, among many others. Some faculty work for top companies like Apple, IDEO, Facebook, and Google, while others run their own design studios or consultancies. What they all have in common is their commitment to providing an exceptional design education at one of the most exciting art and design schools in the United States.


Events that span disciplines with experts from around the globe

As a center for thought leadership in new and emerging design practices, CCA is a magnet for today’s most compelling voices in global design. Through our year-round lecture series, you’ll have opportunities to learn from the design world’s leading practice-oriented business leaders, graphic novelists, interdisciplinary artists, architects, filmmakers, and other designers who approach their work from a wide spectrum of perspectives. We also regularly curate and present exhibitions that foster collaboration among CCA programs. An exhibition could, for example, incorporate interactive media, digital fabrication, kinetics, and generative art. Our goal is to explore how different methods of inquiry and modes of making can drive real cultural, social, and practical change.

Black and white graphic with yellow lettering CCA Design Lecture Series.

Fall 2021 Design Lecture Series identity by Adjunct Professor Ana Llorente.

Watch, listen, and learn with us

Bringing global voices to CCA—whether in person or virtually—enables our students and faculty to come together with a broad network of practitioners to discuss, debate, and discover the most compelling contemporary issues in design. To see what we mean, catch up with the leading designers, strategists, curators, and educators who comprise our interdisciplinary lineup for the Fall 2021 Design Lecture Series:

Faculty at the "Decolonial Unconference: An afternoon of conversations and workshops," February 2020.

Decolonizing Design

CCA recognizes the structures of oppression and colonization that permeate our educational systems, cultural organizations, and creative industries, and acknowledges the responsibility of higher education to confront racial and social inequities through our curriculum and programs. To this end, all undergraduates complete both seminar and studio requirements in Critical Ethnic Studies, one of the earliest programs of its kind when it was founded at CCA in 1970, and today the only such dedicated program in a U.S. art and design school. The Decolonial School is a collaboration among CCA’s divisions of Design, Fine Arts, and Humanities and Sciences. This interdisciplinary cohort of CCA faculty is committed to building a new curricular model for art and design education that foregrounds Indigenous practices and acknowledges decolonization as a continuous process. As Assistant Professor and Decolonial School member Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera writes, design through a decolonial frame involves envisioning “new possible futures that are non-oppressive and non-hierarchical.”

Explore Design

@cacollegeofarts
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Oct. 22, 2021

Tag a friend who needs new CCA merch 👀

We just restocked the CCA by @dustinocanalin collection, sold at @archsupplies (online and in person).

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Oct. 20, 2021

We're hosting two National Portfolio Days for students looking into both undergraduate and graduate programs. ⁠⁠
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Don't forget to RSVP (🔗 in bio) and share and save this post!

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Oct. 10, 2021

October is #FilipinoAmericanHistoryMonth 🇵🇭 Get a sneak peak of a comic by MFA Comics student Erika Pascual (@modernenchantment), called 'Sarita', which takes place in the pre-colonial Philippines. ⁠⁠
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"‘Sarita’ is inspired by a very personal journey of reconciliation with my Filipino ancestry. It’s a swashbuckling pre-colonial-style epic mixed with the modern coming-of-age story like many Disney and Studio Ghibli (ghibliarchives) films I grew up with. The Philippines has such a vibrant mix of cultures and our history, folklore, and mythology that is WAY TOO COOL to keep in the dark! I hope 'Sarita' will bring them into the international spotlight and spark a resurgence of national pride for this and future Fiipinx generations. I’m currently working on the development of this graphic novel alongside my main thesis with my amazing mentor, Thi Bui (@teabuoy)!" ⁠⁠
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#comics @ccacomics

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Oct. 1, 2021

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: The Annual Murphy & Cadogan Art Awards Exhibition at @somarts. ⁠

CCA congratulates Katayoun Bahrami, Ester Karnoski, and Bryce LeFort, recipients of 2021 Edwin Anthony and Adalaine Boudreaux Cadogan Scholarships from the San Francisco Foundation and SOMArts. The awards honor promising young visual artists from Master of Fine Arts programs throughout the Bay Area whose work intersects with emerging trends. Honorees receive financial support for their MFA studies and the opportunity to show their work in the exhibition — the first gallery exhibition for all three artists. ⁠

🎨: Ester Karnoski (MFA Fine Arts 2022), '3:17,' from the series Screen Time, 2021. Oil on paper. 24 x 18 inches.

Undergraduate

Open a world of possible futures

Student working in the Industrial Design sanding room.

Student working on a prototype in the Industrial Design sanding room.

Go beyond prototyping to make real solutions

Our six undergraduate programs train students in conceptual exploration, which includes the ability to research materials and examine ideas through the lenses of history and present-day society and culture. You’ll learn to apply your discoveries in studios, where you’ll gain hands-on experience in traditional craft skills, such as woodworking and welding, as well as cutting-edge tools for digital weaving, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and virtual reality. Students merge analytical and craftmaking skills during immersive study-abroad courses or sponsored studios, which help you establish networks and gain real-world know-how from diverse practitioners and professional designers.

Minors

CCA offers five minors: Ecological Practices, Computational Practices, Social Practice and Community Engagement, History of Art and Visual Culture, and Writing and Literature. Minors are a great way to incorporate a second interest, such as storytelling or designing for social impact, into your studio practice without adding more units for graduation.

Graduate

Design for the greater good

Student working in the MFA design studios

Student strategizing in the MFA Design studios.

Hone in-demand skill sets to ignite change

Today’s graduate design students are envisioning alternative futures, honing skills and strategy to evolve their profession. Our three graduate design programs enable you to chart your own course, build lifelong networks, and realize your potential as a dynamic agent of cultural, social, and ecological change.

Our groundbreaking MBA in Design Strategy draws on the culture of creativity particular to an art and design school to prepare students to transform systems and organizations through human-centric design principles and generative, future-focused business leadership.

An open platform for investigation and experimentation, the MFA in Design prompts students to explore hybrid design structures that employ materials in unconventional ways and propose exciting speculations about emerging ideas and technologies.

The MDes in Interaction Design positions students at the intersection of people, products, and environments, where you’ll be challenged to envision and explore the future of mobile experiences, social networks, connected products, and modes of interacting in the world that we haven’t yet imagined.

Graduate design degree programs

  • MFA in Design – Offers a two-year degree option for students with experience in one or multiple design fields and a three-year option for students who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field
  • MBA in Design Strategy (DMBA) – A two-year, low-residency program, the DMBA is intended for students who have a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of post-degree professional experience
  • MDes in Interaction Design – A one-year, three-semester program, the MDes emphasizes craft, social impact, and leadership for students of all design backgrounds who are collaborative systems thinkers

Dual-degree option

Our MBA in Design Strategy and MFA in Design dual degree helps students translate a design vision and market opportunity into a compelling product or service. At the end of a three-year curriculum, graduates earn both degrees and the high-level design capabilities to maximize their impact across a variety of design roles.

Partnerships & Research

Experimentation in action

It’s no accident that the same region that sparked the creative counterculture of the 1970s and propelled the technology boom of the 2000s continues to ignite cultural and technological innovation today. The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a sanctuary for boundless ideas, technological leadership, and nonconformity, making it the ideal environment for students, faculty, and industry professionals to mix it up in forward-leaning partnerships. Through a robust network of professional and community partnerships, CCA students collaborate with creative industries in the Bay Area and beyond to tackle real-world problems with right-now solutions.

A student sits on a sofa with a neon-colored orb floating in front of them.

A cross-disciplinary student project developed in summer 2020, Synk imagines how we might engage viscerally and visually with music in the future.

Featured partnership: Studio Forward

Sponsored by Google

Break down the walls between disciplines, and space opens up for radical collaboration and transformation. Our work becomes both sharper and more expansive.

This premise informs Studio Forward, a partnership between CCA and Google. Studio Forward deploys the power of design to rethink the future of digital belonging. Exploring identity and inclusion and reimagining collective experience in the digital landscape. Together, students, faculty, and industry experts enlist new approaches to design education and envision digital futures that are inclusive, desirable, and connected. A cohort of students will go on to intensive summer internships, where they will advance the work of the studio and ready it for public presentation.

Designing the Future of Music

Featured Partnership: Designing the Future of Music

With LAD Design and the Imperial College London

The Designing the Future of Music is an ongoing collaboration of CCA's Design Futures Lab with the Imperial College London’s Global Innovation Design program in London and Grammy-award-winning designer, art director, and alum Lawrence Azerrad (BFA Graphic Design 1995) of LAD Design in Los Angeles. Through international workshops and conversations with industry thought leaders in music, production, and design, the student teams consider the future trajectories of music authorship, ownership, and collaborative experience. Their imaginative proposals demonstrate how interdisciplinary collaboration, global partnership, and creative research lead to ideas that can transform our world for the better.

Featured partnership: Designing for Trust

Sponsored by Oracle

Great products don’t just function well, they connect in meaningful ways to the human experience. When CCA and Oracle set out to develop a mutually beneficial partnership, they focused on the idea of common human truths—in this case, trust. In the Designing for Trust course, CCA senior interaction design students partnered with Oracle Design to think holistically about automation, smart machines, and the human implications of both from a customer-experience standpoint. As they focused on what it means to be a trustworthy designer, students brought the wonder, rigor, and optimism baked into CCA’s Interaction Design program to the halls of Oracle, where they were immersed in the real-world context of design in a leading global company.



Featured partnership: Industrial designers reimagine mobility with Ford

Sponsored by Ford

CCA students and faculty collaborate with Ford Motor Company to envision the future of transportation. Discover how students combine sociology, fine art, and design thinking to create real-world solutions.

Posters promoting the documentary film Displaced.

TBD* partnered with Youth Beat, an Oakland-based organization that trains youths and young adults in media production, on a multimedia campaign promoting the documentmentary film Displaced.

Center for the Arts and Public Life

CCA’s commitment to the value of art and design for social good dates back more than a century to its origins in the Arts and Crafts Movement. With a focus on community partnerships that advance social responsibility and environmental sustainability, CCA’s Center for the Arts and Public Life fosters connections between students and innovative companies, community organizations, and manufacturers that serve the public good. From TBD* and Social Lab, student-run studios that use design to empower Bay Area nonprofits, to public symposia, prototyping and research studios, and the annual collegewide IMPACT Awards, in which students compete to win funding and mentorship to bring their impactful ideas to fruition, the Center for the Arts and Public Life connects the classroom and the world to the benefit of all.

Studios & Making Spaces

Design thinking meets making

Hands-on experiences and a supportive studio culture

Design students have access to dozens of specialized studios, shops, and making spaces across every discipline to help you realize just about any idea. Use digital and metal fabrication equipment, try your hand at electronic knitting, experiment with rapid prototyping, and more. Each creative space is overseen by an experienced studio manager who can offer you technical support and suggest ideas for material development across a wide range of media.

Students in the Hybrid Lab using the Robot Arm.

Hybrid Lab at the San Francisco campus.

Research Labs

Hybrid Lab

The Hybrid Lab is an incredible campus resource for hacking, tinkering, and prototyping. This interdisciplinary space for making centers on innovative technology and advanced digital fabrication. Students have access to equipment ranging from LEDs and electronic knitting machines to soldering stations and a drill press. Experiment with sensors and motors, design wearable technology, and 3D-print your own objects, and collaboratively problem-solve with others who are investigating emerging technologies in the context of art and design.

San Francisco Media Center staff and equipment.

San Francisco Media Center staff and equipment.

Media centers

CCA has media centers on both our San Francisco and Oakland campuses with professional audio, photography, and video equipment available for checkout. You’ll have access to a variety of DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras, GoPros for capturing 360-degree footage, lenses, tripods, camera mounts, lighting kits, and more. For work that requires video and audio, a variety of recorders and microphones, state-of-the-art Canon video cameras, and other equipment is available.

We’re here to answer your questions

We’re happy to share more information about our program offerings, alumni accomplishments, faculty expertise, and range of ambitious sponsored studio projects.

interior of CCA main building on San Francisco campus

CCA Admissions

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