MFA Program in Design
The UC Davis MFA in Design unites theory and practice. This two-year program encourages an interdisciplinary approach. Design faculty expertise includes design theory and exhibition, fashion, history, interior architecture, lighting, textiles, and visual communication (environmental, information, print and screen-based) design.
A focus on innovation and excellence distinguishes the prestigious public rankings of UC Davis. U.S. News & World Report ranked UC Davis 9th among public research universities nationwide in 2011, while Washington Monthly ranked UC Davis 6th among U.S. universities based on their contributions to society (2010). Design MFA students collaborate with outstanding faculty inside and outside the department whose work covers a broad array of disciplines. Graduate students in Design blend individually focused research and creative practice with an understanding of key design issues in history, theory, research methodology, and sustainable practices. The MFA degree culminates in a project-based thesis and exhibition.
How to Apply
To apply to the MFA in Design at UC Davis, click here. It is important that you read the information about MFA Applications on this page, where you will see the Admission Requirements, and find a link for Portfolio Submission. For questions, please contact the Graduate Programs Administrator by email or call 530- 752-8710.
The Department of Design at UC Davis offers graduate students a unique opportunity to work with a dedicated and renowned design faculty within one of the nation’s top public research universities. We support diversity in the makeup of our faculty and student body as well as in our research and focus on social justice. Our graduate students have the option to focus on intensive studio activity, work on collaborative projects with other design students and faculty, focus on sustainability and its relationship to the design practice, and take advantage of collaborative opportunities with over 100 departments and programs at UCD. These range from the arts and humanities, to social science and politics, to biological science and agriculture, and projects with UCD’s Professional Schools of Medicine, Law, or Veterinary Medicine.
The goal of the MFA in Design is to provide advanced studies in design research. Studio faculty have expertise in visual communication (environmental, information, print and screen-based), exhibition, fashion, history, interior architecture, lighting, and textiles. Other faculty specialize in the history and theory of design, predominantly from the nineteenth century to the present, paying close attention to interpreting design within its social, political and ideological contexts. Graduate studies allows you to take seminars and work with faculty across these areas of design while exploring your own particular studio-based research, which might primarily address one of the above areas or cross back and forth between them. Graduates will be prepared for careers in both academia and professional practice.
The following descriptions of seven key areas are useful for better understanding some of the disciplinary strengths within our department. As you will work primarily with one or two faculty members, also check out “People” and “Faculty” from the above menu to learn more about the research of each faculty member in order to see how their strengths might fit with your research interests. Also, for up-to-date information regarding changes to design courses and curriculum, please check the course catalogue as well as the General Catalog Course Supplement and Policies & Requirements Addendum.
Exhibition Design is a synthesis of multiple design disciplines that come together to communicate objects, information and ideas across a range of spatial environments. Architecture, industrial, graphic, lighting, and interactive design combine with an understanding of learning and human factors to shape peoples experiences in cultural, commercial and entertainment venues. Exhibit designers develop designs for museums, trade shows, theme parks, theater sets, and retail environments. Currently on our faculty, Tim McNeil and Brett Snyder are experienced exhibition designers, and the California Lighting Technology Center (run by faculty Michael Siminovitch and Kostas Papamichael) offers outstanding resources for studies in lighting and visual merchandising.
Fashion Design includes the study, design and creation of clothing for fashion, and functional gear. Current topics in Fashion include sustainability, wearable technology, aesthetics, performance factors, and designing for unique populations and user groups. Recent MFA thesis projects in Fashion focused on innovative designs for low mobility businesswomen and sustainable clothing that incorporates textiles from economically challenged women’s groups in India. The Design Museum Collection, managed by Adele Zhang, includes a superb collection of global textiles and fashion available for hands-on research. Faculty advisers in this area include Susan T. Avila and Helen Koo.
History and Theory of Design
Study focusing on design history and theory at the graduate level is open to MA students in the Art History program, Ph.D. students in Cultural Studies, and other graduate students including Design MFA students interested in taking seminars in the history of architecture and design. Our faculty specialize in topics from the nineteenth century to the present, and explore architecture and design in its social, political and ideological contexts. Undergraduate design history courses cover a broad swathe of global history of design, including different design disciplines. We are also part of a UC-wide consortium of architecture and design historians exploring the history of California design.
We are particularly interested in working with Design MFA students who want to explore and conduct historical research within the format of a studio-based project, as required by our MFA degree. The digital age has transformed academic publishing, so scholars who can express their research in multi-media formats have access to far greater publication options than do those creating solely text-based articles and books. Our faculty are especially interested to guide the research of creators who have a strong understanding of critical and/or theoretical approaches to design’s histories and envision new ways of communicating their ideas, whether through digital media (from new books to apps) or physical manifestations (exhibitions to publications). Such projects would necessarily involve a team of mentors from studio and HTC faculty.
Faculty specializing in design history and theory are Simon Sadler (20th-century European modernism and counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s), James Housefield (modern European design, branding, Marcel Duchamp), Christina Cogdell (20th and 21st century architecture and design overlaps with scientific theories of evolution and genetics), and Mark Kessler (quantitative research and documentation for urban historical preservation and sustainability, particularly with early 20th-century auto garages).
MFA students focusing on Interior Architecture engage in research and design on a single thesis project. The research may culminate in a publication-quality paper, and/or a written architectural program that informs the development of a comprehensive architectural design. Students are encouraged to produce work that is innovative and creative in the use of design to address seemingly intractable problems, especially those that beset the city. Faculty interest lies in exploring the relationship of interior architecture to socially progressive adaptive reuse, historic preservation and sustainability (interpreted as a quality of life issue). Mastery of architectural drawing and basic ordering strategies is presumed. Unlike the professional architectural degree program—with its emphasis on formal/functional responses to predetermined design assignments—this MFA offers the student an opportunity to delve deeply into a project of personal interest and social relevance. Mark Kessler and Brett Snyder specialize in this area of design.
Graduate students interested in Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design can combine their research with study related to electric lighting and daylighting, focusing on research and development in strategies and technologies. Lighting topics include light sources and luminaires for different residential and commercial applications as well as controls for maximum comfort and energy efficiency. Daylighting topics include window and skylight strategies and technologies, window treatments, such as shades, curtains, blinds, etc., along with controls for dynamic operation, focusing on comfort and energy efficiency for different space types, locations and aperture orientation. Michael Siminovitch and Kostas Papamichael specialize in this area of design research and direct the California Lighting Technology Center; visit the CLTC website to learn more at http://cltc.ucdavis.edu/
Textiles include the study, design and creation of textiles for fashion, interiors and other consumer products. Current topics in Textiles include the use, reuse, and waste management of textile materials, new material technology, digital technologies, aesthetics, surface design, fiber art, and social, historical and psychological aspects of textiles. The Design Museum Collection, managed by Adele Zhang, includes a superb collection of global textiles for hands-on research. Faculty specializing in Textiles include Susan T. Avila and Helen Koo.
Visual Communication Design
Visual communication design focuses on the relationship between form, content, and context. Critical making and critical thinking skills are emphasized in the research and creation of artifacts, environments, interactions, and experiences in print, screen, time-based, and three-dimensional media. Interdisciplinary studies in psychology, anthropology, cognition, history of media, rhetoric, computer science, intercultural communication, and other areas can be undertaken to inform the design research and development process. Faculty specializing in Visual Communication Design include Glenda Drew, Tim McNeil, Brett Snyder, Susan Verba, and Jiayi Young.