Priority Deadline for MFA Applications is January 15;
The Rolling Deadline is until May 1
The Design MFA Program
The MFA in Design is a two-year program that encourages an interdisciplinary approach through research and practice that align with social and environment responsibilities. We offer graduate students a unique opportunity to work with a dedicated and renowned design faculty within one of the nation’s top public research universities. And we do our best to fully fund our graduate students through Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) positions.
Students work with outstanding faculty within the Design Department and the greater university. Design faculty expertise includes design theory, exhibition, fashion, history, information, interactivity, interior architecture, immersion, lighting, product, textiles, time-base, visual communication, wearables, and more. Students are encouraged to build connections across campus by working with faculty from the arts and humanities, to social sciences and politics; from biological sciences and agriculture, to the professional schools of medicine, law and veterinary.
Students develop their research and creative practice with an understanding of key design issues within history, theory, research and methodologies. Through a series of core courses, students progress alongside the members of their cohort, while they simultaneously advance their individual theses through upper-division courses, and graduate-level independent and group studies. The MFA core courses include the following: Theory & Issues in Design, Research Methods & Critical Writing for Design, Professional Practice & Ethics in Design, Studio Practice in Design, Studio Practice and Critique and Exhibition Design. The MFA program culminates in a written thesis, thesis project and exhibition.
We support diversity in the makeup of our faculty and student body as well as in our research and focus on social justice, sustainability and public interest. The department takes active efforts to promote equity.
A focus on innovation and excellence distinguishes UC Davis, which is highly ranked in the nation and the world, according to influential university ranking publications like U.S. News & World Report (national and global), QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and The Princeton Review. The Wall Street Journal recognized UC Davis as the fifth-best public university in the United States in its Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Ranking (2018). Washington Monthly magazine ranked UC Davis second nationally among Affordable Elite Colleges in 2019. The UC Davis Department of Design is the only comprehensive academic design department at the University of California system.
How to Apply
To apply to the MFA in Design at UC Davis click here. For admission requirements and portfolio submission click here. For questions, please contact Melany Miners, the Graduate Programs Administrator, by email or phone (530-752-8710).
Applicants from schools other than UC Davis as well as applicants with real-world experience between their degrees are desired; all applicants will be considered.
The following descriptions of key areas are useful for better understanding some of the disciplinary strengths within our department. Students work primarily with one or two faculty members. The current program requirements and course descriptions can be found in the Course Catalog.
The MFA in Design prepares students with an emphasis in Exhibition Design for research, teaching and professional leadership opportunities in a highly interdisciplinary field that shapes museum, theme park, trade show, exposition, retail, public and civic spaces. An expanding global economy demands a need for exhibition design research that explores innovative approaches to artifact display, interpretive and narrative environments, signage and wayfinding, and engaging experiences for a broad range of audiences that are fully immersive, interactive and participatory. Visit Storied Spaces for more information about the exhibition design concentration in the UC Davis Department of Design.
The MFA degree in Design with an emphasis on Fashion includes research and creative activities related to the development of clothing for fashion and functional use as well as historical, socio-psychological, and cultural contexts. Current research areas in Fashion focus on sustainability, smart clothing and wearable technology development, functional clothing and accessory design for activity and environment-based challenges, aesthetics, trend research and forecasting and studies of fashion in relation to cultures and societies. Faculty advisers in this area include Gozde Goncu-Berk, Susan T. Avila, Susan B. Kaiser and Adele Zhang.
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.
The MFA in Interactive Design prepares students with an emphasis in Interaction Design as a multidisciplinary creative practice that integrates digital and physical media with academic research, or experimental and practical approaches. The MFA at UC Davis encourages interdisciplinary approaches including research in the arts and humanities; computer science and data science; electrical and mechanical engineering; and social sciences, among other disciplines. It considers technology both as a medium that expands creative possibilities for interaction and as a phenomenon that invites critical discourse about the role of technological change in culture. Placing technology in the context of society with a strong conceptual approach to research and creative strategies, students are encouraged to explore diverse subject matters to create interactive objects and spaces, installations, and social interventions. In addition to required graduate core courses in Design, students interested in this area can pursue courses (including independent and group studies) in human-computer interaction (HCI), wearable technologies, interactive objects, data representation, interface design, large-scale installations, network-based design, machine learning, public art, user experience, and design for social change in the realm of social and political activism and interventions. Additionally, students are encouraged to take courses outside the department in Cinema and Digital Media, Computer Science, Engineering, Psychology, and Science and Technology, and participate in industry internships.
The MFA in Design prepares students with an emphasis in Interior Architecture to perform work that expands the scope and nature of design practice and theory. Ideal candidates are interested in bridging interior architecture with other fields only available at a top tier research university, such as landscape architecture or the sciences. The main objective of the program is preparing students to conduct interdisciplinary research, reflecting faculty conviction that this mode of inquiry will be essential for the next generation of leaders in design. While potential research topics are limitless, a few areas of focus include affordable housing, universal design, application of technology to interior use (wayfinding, information access, healthy environments, energy use), and the diverse expressions of interior architecture found in world cultures.
The MFA in Design prepares students with an emphasis in Lighting Design for leadership careers in lighting design, research and teaching. Students will develop a graduate level foundation of knowledge, skills and critical thinking capabilities. Students will be prepared to enter into leadership opportunities and careers in architectural lighting design, and/or teaching with academia or relevant non profit agencies. With the increasing interest in sustainability and low carbon architectural design there has been a steady increase and demand for designers knowledgeable in lighting for leadership opportunities.
The MFA in Design prepares students with an emphasis in Product Design include courses; labs and opportunities for entrepreneurship, research and industry collaborations. Using ecological and human-centered design principles, we are dedicated to solving some of the world’s largest environmental and social problems. We offer courses in sustainable design, human-centered design, industrial design, furniture design, wearable technology, lighting design, materials and methods, digital design and prototyping. Our prototyping lab has 3D printers, laser cutters, and an electronics bench — the tools you need to bring a concept to life. Our staffed woodshop is fully equipped to build out ideas at the human-scale and beyond.
Foregrounding textiles during the MFA program at UC Davis prepares students for a wide variety of careers including academia, industry, non government organizations (NGOs), and other entrepreneurial ventures. Textiles are intrinsically a part of everyone’s material culture; as the textile field often overlaps with fashion, interior architecture, lighting/daylighting, industrial design, and/or interactive design, students are encouraged to seek cross disciplinary collaborations. The MFA program provides students the opportunity for research and practice-based textile design work with a focus on exploration, creativity, and problem solving.
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.