1. The two-year, 60-credit Master of Design in Design for Social Impact curriculum is structured around a careful balance of classroom learning and reflection and real-world application of design practice.

    Our curriculum is project-based, which means that each semester’s course content is integrated around studio-based projects. Seminars, lectures, workshops, and critiques from both faculty and leading outside professionals create a dynamic studio environment. Academically, there is great freedom to engage in self-directed and independent projects, including a final thesis project that reflects the student’s personal design interests.

    Because design is a collaborative profession, most studio projects will be team-based. During the first and third semesters of study, first-year students will work with second-year students and an industry partner in a shared studio. Semester two is more individually-oriented. The final semester of the two-year program is devoted to a master’s thesis, in which the candidate will work more independently with a group of internal faculty and/or outside professionals to develop a thesis project that must advance the candidate’s chosen field of study.


    See the University’s course catalog for detailed course descriptions.

    What DSI Graduate Students Learn

    The Design for Social Impact MDes curriculum is carefully designed give graduate students deep experiences which support the following:

    • Develop expertise in applying human-centered design process, methods, and tools — research, synthesis, ideation, prototyping, and user testing — to the development, production, and iteration of innovative design interventions in a range of situations and formats.
    • Develop an understanding of the contextual, theoretical, and historical evolution of social impact design practices and techniques, and relate these to current philosophies and best practices in the field.
    • Develop skills of emotional intelligence, facilitation, and leadership that support the design student’s ability to maneuver effectively in complex organizational and social situations.
    • Master a collaborative and participatory co-design process that places the people and organizations designers work with at the center of the design process.
    • Develop and practice the use of design tools for community engagement, conversation, and collective learning in order to facilitate a participatory, co-design process.
    • Develop an understanding of fundamental business and entrepreneurial perspectives, terminology, and practices as they apply to the opportunity for design and designers to have measurable impact in these domains.
    • Develop the ability to communicate the value/role of design/designer in a range of contexts for diverse audiences through visually compelling and narratively rich documentation and presentations that effectively communicate the design process and project outcomes.
    • Deliver an independently directed design thesis project that demonstrates expertise in the use of methods and tools for design for social impact as applied in real-world contexts with actual people and organizations.
    • Embark on numerous professional pathways which require expertise in design process and design thinking, design research, strategic planning and organizational change, community engagement and collaboration that are supported by visual thinking, visual communication, and strategic thinking.

    Graduate Design Core Curriculum

    The DSI program also includes the college-wide graduate design core curriculum, which allows for substantial interaction among graduate students in all of the graduate design programs at UArts. Conceptually speaking, the graduate design core is structured according to three areas which we deem essential to the discipline of design and which can serve more broadly to encapsulate the shared concerns of specific modes of design practice:

    • Context: the broader cultural, historical, and theoretical currents that inform the development of the design discipline as well as shape the context in which designers work
    • Process: the specific methodologies and tools that designers use in the practice of design
    • Collaboration: the ways in which designers engage and collaborate with a number different audiences and the participatory processes they facilitate with multiple stakeholders

    Post-graduate Fellowship Program

    The Design for Social Impact Post-graduate Fellowship provides exceptional graduates the opportunity to implement and measure the impact of their thesis work as applied within the Philadelphia community. Additionally, the Fellow will make a significant contribution to the graduate program by serving as a mentor to current students and promoting the work of the program in order to support recruitment efforts.