University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Master of Design (MDes) degree program is a three-semester, professional graduate degree in design that integrates human-centered design with a sophisticated understanding of technology to prepare students to excel in creative practices today and design the thoughtful technologies of tomorrow. Jointly offered by the College of Engineering and the College of Environmental Design, the program's interdisciplinary curriculum connects technical rigor, design theory, and social practice and prepares students for a broad range of creative and technical roles for designing innovative products, services, and environments.

Housed at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, the MDes provides a dynamic, hands-on curriculum that uniquely equips students to develop a critical perspective and navigate a range of technical languages and design methodologies. Studio-based coursework integrates programming, human-centered design process, and communication with hardware and software development. Exploratory project briefs encourage students to use design process to identify new problem spaces and to explore ideas through co-creative processes, iteration, and prototyping. A set of debate-focused seminars help shape students' critical lens on design through analysis and discussion of the ethical, ecological, and societal implications of practice within an evolving environmental and socio-technology landscape. Students further deepen their knowledge through technical electives and offerings in social practice or entrepreneurship relevant to their interests and career goals. Their studies culminate in a Design Studio where they work in teams and bring their distinct perspectives to bear on applied projects. 
With support from MDes Career Services, students enhance their academic preparation through Design@Large — an opportunity outside of an MDes course or studio where they apply what they have learned in a professional context, typically in the summer between their second and third semesters (see Professional Development Activities). 

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The Master of Design (MDes) is designed for early to mid-career professionals with an interest in pursuing graduate work at the intersection of design and technology, with applications that might include artistic production, technological innovations, product or communication design, and design experiences or interventions, etc. Competitive applicants have some prior technical preparation and an interest in design as a creative, goal-oriented activity that can contribute to the emergence of innovative new technologies and environments.

Application Criteria

The following are required for admission to the Berkeley MDes program. The following includes the University’s general graduate admission requirements:

  • Online Application
  • Application Fee
  • University Transcripts
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) or Resume, showing relevant work and/or research experience
  • Two Essays (personal statement and statement of purpose)
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • Project portfolio, showing previous design work
  • English Language Proficiency Requirement (if required)
  • The GRE Exam is not required.

In addition, students may be invited for an interview, either in-person or remote, and should be prepared to explain their qualifications, motivations to apply to the program, and goals for the program.

Portfolio Requirements

All applicants are required to submit a portfolio that demonstrates their creative and technical proficiency. Depending on your individual practice, this may include examples of visual design work, software systems, interactive electronics, videos, paintings, 3D models, ceramics, performances, musical compositions, social practices, or many other types of creative or technical pursuits.
Your portfolio should be legible to a general audience of designers, and should not only present representations of final outcomes/designs in their intended contexts, but also accounts of your design process, and samples of early design iterations. Portfolios are expected to include both images and supporting text and should convey the context from which the project arose and the lens through which to understand and critique the work. Collaborative work is encouraged, but please credit all authors and highlight your specific contribution. Similarly, academic, professional, and personal work are all welcome, but please differentiate these distinct types of work.

In our experience, strong portfolios often opt to describe a limited selection of projects in depth, rather than account for a large breadth of projects superficially. We suggest highlighting between 3–5 of your most compelling exemplars of creative work. The most important role of a portfolio is to clearly communicate your skills, experience, and perspective. Your portfolio must include your name and contact information and be submitted as a stand-alone PDF formatted document. You may submit your portfolio of up to 20 pages maximum and 20MB total PDF file size. Portfolios that are submitted in excess of this page and size restriction will not be reviewed by the admissions committee. Any URLs or links to outside materials within your portfolio or elsewhere in your application will not be reviewed. You may optionally include up to two minutes of additional time-based media (audio/video). 


Graduate Division Admissions

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. A complete list of graduate academic departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Master's Degree Requirements

The Master of Design (MDes) program requires nine core courses and three electives (see below) for a minimum of 38 credits for the degree. 

Required Courses

DES INV 200Design Frameworks: History & Methods3
DES INV 201Debates in Design (Students are required to take this course twice; once during the fall semester in year one, and again during the fall semester of year two.)3
DES INV 202Technology Design Foundations4
DES INV 211Designing Emerging Technologies I5
DES INV 212Designing Emerging Technologies II3
DES INV 213Thesis Studio6
DES INV 219Capstone Portfolio2
DES INV 290Advanced Special Topics in Design Innovation1-4
ENGIN 183Special Topics in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship1-4

Elective Courses

The MDes requires three electives: one technical elective, and at least one entrepreneurship or social practice elective from the approved lists of courses, shown below. The third elective may be either an additional elective from the approved list (technical, social practice, or entrepreneurship) or any 3 or 4 unit upper division or graduate level course offered at UC Berkeley, subject to enrollment availability. Students may submit petitions for alternate courses to the Executive Director. 

Approved Technical Electives
ARCH 249Special Topics in the Physical Environment in Buildings1-4
ARCH 252Form and Structure3
ARCH 259Special Topics in Building Structures1-4
ARCH 269Special Topics in Construction and Materials (Indoor Microbiome, Detoxification, and Artificial Intelligence and Matter; Plant Fibers and Design: Origins and Future; Timber Frame and Mass Timber Construction )1-4
ART 172Advanced Digital Media: Computer Graphics Studio4
CIV ENG 190Special Topics in Civil and Environmental Engineering1-4
COMPSCI 161Computer Security4
COMPSCI 169AIntroduction to Software Engineering3
COMPSCI 188Introduction to Artificial Intelligence4
COMPSCI 194Special Topics (Data Engineering)1-4
COMPSCI 260BHuman-Computer Interaction Research3
COMPSCI 184Foundations of Computer Graphics4
or COMPSCI 284A Foundations of Computer Graphics
COMPSCI 188Introduction to Artificial Intelligence4
COMPSCI C200APrinciples and Techniques of Data Science4
COMPSCI C249AIntroduction to Embedded Systems4
COMPSCI 260AUser Interface Design and Development4
COMPSCI 284AFoundations of Computer Graphics4
COMPSCI 287HAlgorithmic Human-Robot Interaction4
COMPSCI 289AIntroduction to Machine Learning4
COMPSCI 294Special Topics (Intro to Computer Vision and Computational Photography)1-4
COMPSCI 297Field Studies in Computer Science ( Immersive Computing and Virtual Reality)12.0
CY PLAN 257Data Science for Human Mobility and Socio-technical Systems4
DATASCI 207Applied Machine Learning3
ENGIN 150Basic Modeling and Simulation Tools for Industrial Research Applications3
IND ENG 290Special Topics in Industrial Engineering and Operation Research (Entrepreneurship & Innovation: Data-X (Applied Data Science with Venture Application))2-3
INFO 253AFront-End Web Architecture3
INTEGBI/BIO ENG/MEC ENG C217Biomimetic Engineering -- Engineering from Biology3
MAT SCI 200ASurvey of Materials Science4
MEC ENG 122Processing of Materials in Manufacturing3
MEC ENG C201Modeling and Simulation of Advanced Manufacturing Processes3
MEC ENG 236UDynamics and Control of Autonomous Flight3
MEC ENG 270Advanced Augmentation of Human Dexterity4
MEC ENG 280AIntroduction to the Finite Element Method3
MUSIC 158ASound and Music Computing with CNMAT Technologies4
MUSIC 159Computer Programming for Music Applications4
NWMEDIA 190Special Topics in New Media (Advanced Digital Animation)1-4
NWMEDIA C203Critical Making4
NWMEDIA/INFO C262Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces4
Approved Entrepreneurship Electives
ENGIN 183CChallenge Lab4
ENGIN 183DProduct Management3
ENGIN 183Special Topics in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship1-4
ENGIN 283Special Topics in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship1-4
Approved Social Practice Electives
ARCH 209Special Topics in Architectural Design (Virtual Reality: Theory and Representation; Special Topics in Architectural Design: Housing as Design Generator; Contradictions in Disaster and Resilience)3
ARCH 239Special Topics in Architecture Design Theory and Criticism (Design Dispossession and Dissent)1-4
ARCH 279Special Topics in the History of Architecture (Design Radicals)1-4
ART 160Special Topics in Visual Studies (Social Practices; Making and Exhibiting Art in Pandemic Times)4
CY PLAN 190Advanced Topics in Urban Studies (Ghosts and Visions)1-4
CY PLAN 205Introduction to Planning and Environmental Law3
CY PLAN 207Land and Housing Market Economics3
CY PLAN C213Transportation and Land Use Planning3
CY PLAN 216Active Transportation3
CY PLAN C217Transportation Policy and Planning3
CY PLAN C251Environmental Planning and Regulation3
CY PLAN 255Urban Informatics and Visualization3
CY PLAN 257Data Science for Human Mobility and Socio-technical Systems4
NWMEDIA 151ACTransforming Tech: Issues and Interventions in STEM and Silicon Valley4
NWMEDIA 200History and Theory of New Media4
NWMEDIA C265Interface Aesthetics3
NWMEDIA 290Special Topics in New Media (Locative Media)1-4
Approved Design Electives (may be taken as free/open elective)
ARCH 209Special Topics in Architectural Design (Architecture and Landscape)1-4
ARCH 229Special Topics in Digital Design Theories and Methods1-4
ARCH 269Special Topics in Construction and Materials (Constructing Interior Objects)1-4

Program Outcomes

The goal of the Master of Design (MDes) program is to educate a cohort of designers to have a deep understanding of the foundations of emerging technologies and a rigorous design approach for analyzing ethical, ecological and societal implications of a continuously evolving environmental and socio-technology landscape. To meet this goal, MDes students are expected to:

  • Master methods of problem-conception and problem-solving at a range of social and ecological scales.
  • Hone methods of implementation grounded in the creative practice of design.
  • Gain core design skills, in terms of process, materials, craft, and representation.
  • Deepen and expand their technical skills in 1-2 emerging technology areas.
  • Explicitly consider contexts and impacts of design decisions.
  • Use design as a tool for collaboration and team-work.
  • Communicate design ideas effectively to diverse collaborators and audiences.
  • Weave all of the above together in multiple practice-focused studios.

Research Resources

As part of enrollment in the program, each MDes student receives a Jacobs Maker Pass for access to Jacobs Hall makerspace and a materials budget each semester to purchase materials from the store at Jacobs Hall. Access to the Fabrication Shop in College for Environmental Design (CED) and to the CITRIS Innovation Lab is also included.
Starting in the second semester of the program, each MDes student is assigned a desk in the MDes studio to support their individual and collaborative work. 

Teaching Opportunities

MDes students may apply for GSI positions, when they are available, for undergraduate design courses offered at The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. These teaching opportunities are optional and MDes students are expected to be able to balance GSI responsibilities with their own educational commitments with little difficulty.

Professional Development Activities

MDes students are expected to complete Design@Large, a professional development requirement for the program. Design@Large requires students to engage in an experience outside of an MDes course or studio where they apply what they have learned in a broader context. Design@Large experience typically takes place in the summer between the Spring and Fall semesters and is uniquely defined to align with students’ interests and career goals. 

MDes students may satisfy this requirement in the following ways: 

  • Securing an internship
  • Having an international experience
  • Contributing to a research project
  • Launching or contributing to a new start-up or business
  • Working in government, service or non-profit organization

The MDes Program provides Career Services advising and other resources to aid students in their pursuit of internships or other professional opportunities as part of this requirement. It is each student’s responsibility, however, to define and identify their Design@Large experience.
MDes students demonstrate the completion of the Design@Large requirement by documenting a project or contribution from their experience in DES INV 219: Capstone Portfolio, a culminating course, required for all MDes students in the last semester of the program.  In this course, students compile a portfolio of work that has been completed during the MDes program, selecting meaningful pieces that demonstrate the achievement of key learning objectives and highlight the underlying themes of their course of study in the program. As part of this documentation, the Capstone Portfolio must also include and reflect on their Design@Large experience. 

Related Courses

Contact Information

Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation

Jacobs Hall

2530 Ridge Road

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Director, Master of Design (MDes)

Eric Paulos, Chief Learning Officer, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation

Executive Director, Master of Design (MDes)

Gwynne Keathley

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