We prepare students for the unknown
Design at CCA begins with a quest, and the designer’s role is to find the right path forward, whether they’re asked to imagine the future of driving or make a smart motorcycle jacket from recycled materials. 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 continuously add to their design toolkits. They develop, fine-tune, or reinvent an incredibly 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, they emerge from CCA as interdisciplinary makers ready to take on a range of roles that require visionary thinking and a passion for pushing the boundaries of design.
Study design in the inspiring Bay Area
The 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 working collaboratively with partners in sponsored studios or exploring the many art galleries near campus, students find inspiration everywhere. And CCA has its own built-in community of creative practitioners, eager to share ideas and offer feedback.
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 scholarly and academic endeavors, she’s 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, ICFF, NeoCon, and Devening Projects + Editions.
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.
Student and alumni stories
Faculty news and accomplishments
Events that span disciplines
We host a year-round lecture series, open to the entire CCA community, that brings interesting people from around the world to campus. Students learn from craft-oriented business leaders, graphic novelists, interdisciplinary artists, architects, filmmakers, and a range of other professionals who approach design from different 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 and social change.
Watch and learn with us
One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that our events went entirely virtual, accessible worldwide from studios, kitchens, couches, and offices. Catch up with the seven leading designers, strategists, curators, and educators comprising our interdisciplinary lineup for the Spring 2021 Design Lecture Series:
- Beth Esponnette: Fashion on-demand
- Audrey Liu: Designing with Optimism (CCA login required)
- A Conversation with Meklit Hadero & Penelope Douglas: What does the true act of community investment look like?
- Maki Suzuki / Åbäke- San Francisco, which mirror do you want to lick?
- Jomo Tariku / African Furniture Design: A personal perspective
- Margot Bloomstein: Fostering trust in your brand and beyond
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. They learn to apply their discoveries in studios, where they get first-hand experience with traditional craft skills, such as woodworking and welding, as well as cutting-edge tools for digital weaving, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and virtual reality. They merge their analytical and craftmaking skills during immersive study-abroad courses or sponsored studios, which help them establish networks and gain first-hand experience from diverse practitioners and professional designers.
CCA offers five minors: Ecological Practices, Computational Practices, Social Practice and Community Engagement, History of Art and Visual Culture, or 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.
Hone in-demand skill sets to ignite change
Our three graduate programs encourage students to chart their own course and assume personal and social responsibility for work that ignites cultural and social change.
The groundbreaking MBA in Design Strategy, for example, empowers students to transform organizations through human-centric design principles and generative leadership.
An open site for investigation, the MFA in Design program encourages students to explore hybrid design structures that help use materials in brand new ways and make exciting speculations about emerging technologies.
The MDes in Interaction Design, which flourishes at the intersection of people, products, and environments, challenges students to imagine future mobile experiences, social networks, connected products, and more.
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
Our MBA in Design Strategy + 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, students graduate with both degrees and the high-level design capabilities to maximize their impact across a variety of design roles.
Hands-on experiences and support in studios
Design students have access to studios and campus resources to help them 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.
Research collections and professional media equipment
The Materials Library is an incredible campus resource for research and investigation. Organized by material type, CCA’s extensive materials collection includes information about each item’s composition, properties, industrial application, and manufacturer. The collection has a particular focus on smart, sustainable, and emerging technologies in current building and design markets.
CCA has media centers on our San Francisco and Oakland campuses with professional quality audio, photography, and video equipment available for checkout. Students can use a variety of DSLR and point-and-shoot (compact) cameras, GoPros for capturing 360-degree footage, lenses, tripods, camera mounts, lighting kits, and more. For work that requires video and audio, students can check out a variety of recorders and microphones, state-of-the-art Canon video cameras, and more.
Spotlight: Creative spaces
Featured partnership: Product to Package
Sponsored by Know Yourself
In partnership with Know Yourself, an Oakland-based company that makes educational books, comics, games, lifestyle products, and toys, CCA industrial design students created engaging point-of-sale material and displays.
Self-literacy—understanding how the body and mind work—is the company’s central design principle for helping children gain self-confidence and make better decisions in an era of digital distractions. Know Yourself’s Adventure Series, which emphasizes anatomy, civic engagement, and history through original comics, was the primary focus for the studio project.
From table-top displays and end-caps to full floor pop-up displays and 18-inch-by-18-inch footprints, student deliverables incorporated digital technology or interactive components, with the goal of attracting attention and driving more sales in store.
Featured partnership: Experiential solutions
Sponsored by VISA
CCA interaction, industrial, and graphic design students partnered with VISA, a premier global payments technology company, to make it easier for merchants to accept payments and increase conversion while minimizing the risk of fraud.
Focusing on new-generation audiences (Gen Z and Millennials), VISA’s global design team asked CCA students to take a broad look at the future of commerce during a VISA Experience Design team-sponsored studio. Students tackled complex challenges and imagined future service ecologies through various co-creation activities, including ideation workshops at the VISA Design Studio in San Francisco.
The sponsored studio culminated with an interactive presentation, which highlighted student research, early prototype development, and real-world solutions. Their innovative ideas not only validated some of the trajectories the VISA team had already established, but also suggested exciting alternatives.
Travel design studios
We encourage every undergraduate and graduate student to study abroad. You’ll broaden your cultural influences, explore international design hubs, and meet other creative practitioners. Our most recent travel studios focused on the following themes:
- European Design Capitals: Past and Present – Open to undergraduate and graduate students, this course begins in London, the historic center of the Industrial Revolution, then explores Amsterdam’s groundbreaking social and environmentally sustainable design, and culminates with tours of contemporary design exhibitions and historic sites in Milan
- Unknown Forms: Graphic Design in South Korea – Focused on the vibrant and unique design culture in Seoul, this immersive course includes walking tours with a local designer and visits to contemporary cultural sites, including The Book Society, Index, Seoul Museum of Art, piknic, and Post Poetics
Center for the Arts and Public Life
In addition to sponsored studios, students connect with innovative companies, community organizations, and manufacturers through CCA’s Center for the Arts and Public Life. With a focus on activities in the fields of environmental sustainability and social responsibility, the Center fosters co-creation among CCA students and local, national, and global communities through a powerful lens of art and design. From prototyping and research studios to public symposia and collegewide IMPACT Awards, experiences are designed to cultivate creative thinking and ingenious solutions.
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.