MFA: Design Research and Development (DRD)

The Design Research and Development track is for persons with academic backgrounds in all fields of design. Professional practice experience is also useful, but is not required. Students in our program are encouraged to think critically about design problems and processes, to compare and test methods, and to seek discoveries through the analysis and synthesis of cross-disciplinary approaches and the application of design thinking. Because the program is intentionally multidisciplinary and process-oriented, courses in this degree may also be of interest to persons who are incorporating design thinking into the processes of other disciplines, which generates a diverse atmosphere. Research topics are encouraged in alignment with the expertise of the core faculty in order to maximize the potential for student participation in funded projects and other active theoretical or practical investigations. Areas of investigation generally fall into one of three categories: Research for design practices; Research about design practices; Design practices as research.

Students in this track are required to complete 60 credit hours of study to receive a MFA degree in Design. The program takes three years to complete, and only under exceptional circumstances is the track completed in less time. The curriculum includes a core of seminar and studio courses and independent thesis-related studies and open electives in the themes of studio/lab, history/theory, and collaborative/interdisciplinary activity. Students work closely with a three-person thesis committee to develop their thesis topics and the vehicles best used for their development. 


The Design Research and Development (DRD) track, leading to the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Design, is devoted to the development of knowledge and skills possessed by successful designers, including environmental and social awareness, novel methods for human-centered and systematic analysis and visualization, and creative problem-solving. We emphasize the creation of outcomes that address and contribute to contemporary issues in a global society.

The DRD track centers on research that discovers and explores new concepts, theories and outcomes in domains that are relevant to designers. The techniques and tools applied may be those traditional to design practice, including testing performance, usability, and user satisfaction, or they may evolve from experimentation, prototyping/making and exploration of the digital realm. Engaging primary research is critical to the processes of discovery that we encourage.

Example Course Plan

Courses marked with * are required in the semester shown. Electives and other courses represent the credit hour requirements and suggested distribution, but are flexible in the order that they are taken. 

Total Credit Hours: 60

Autumn Semester

DESIGN 6100 Methods for Design Research, 3 credits
DESIGN 6200 Foundation for Grad Studies, 3 credits
DESIGN 6400 Graduate Studio, 3 credits
Elective*, 3 credits (Fellow)

Spring Semester

DESIGN 6300 Exploration in Graduate Design Studies, 3 credits
DESIGN 6400 Graduate Studio (DRD Section), 3 credits
DESIGN 7193 with 2-mentors, Independent Study, 3 credits (Research Elective)
Elective*, 3 credits (Fellows)

Program Milestone: First Year Review with all Design faculty (first week of May) - Research Orientation


Electives, 4-9 credits 

Autumn Semester

DESIGN 6400 Graduate Studio, 3 credits
DESIGN 6500 Graduate Design Seminar, 3 credits
Elective (AAEP 7725 Research Writing recommended)
Elective*, 3 credits (Fellow)

Program Milestone: Second Year Review with Thesis Committee 

Spring Semester

DESIGN 6400 Design Graduate Studio, 3 credits
DESIGN 7998 Thesis Project Development, 3 credits
Elective, 3 credits 
Elective*, 3 credits (Fellow)

Program Milestone: Second Year Review with Thesis Committee - Research Proposal & Plan


Elective, 4-9 credits

Autumn Semester

DESIGN 7998 Thesis Project Development, 3-6 credits (Research Elective)
DESIGN 7999 Thesis Writing, 3 credits (Research Elective)
Elective, 3 credits 

Spring Semester

DESIGN 7998 Thesis Project Development, 3 credits (Research Elective)
DESIGN 7999 Thesis Writing, 3 credits (Research Elective)
Elective, 3 credits 

Thesis Defense: Project Exhibition, Oral Defense


Category Descriptions

Courses include: DESIGN 6100, DESIGN 6200, DESIGN 6300, DESIGN 6400, DESIGN 6500, DESIGN 7998, and DESIGN 7999. 

Courses providing strong emphasis on history and analytical methods, as well as the philosophical, political, material, and context for works related to design, animation, or interactive media and specific research interests.

Individual Studies (DESIGN 7193) that explore a research interest in design under the guidance of design faculty.

Courses providing opportunities to study and interact with another discipline beyond design.

Courses providing hands-on experiences that advance skill applied in creative research or to understand and incorporate experimental or applied practices in any discipline (i.e. ACCAD Grad Studio Courses - 5001, 5100, 5140, 5301, 6002, 7103).



For detailed information about forming Thesis Committees, the first year review and Thesis Committee Review, please see the Department of Design Graduate Studies Handbook.

Career Prospects

Students graduating in the Design Research and Development track of the MFA have careers that include:

  • Brand Designer/Manager
  • Data/Science Visualizer
  • Design Director/Manager
  • Design Educator
  • Design Researcher
  • Design Strategist
  • Graphic Designer
  • Human-Computer Interaction Designer
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interaction Designer
  • Interior Designer
  • Motion Graphic Designer
  • Multimedia Designer
  • Product Designer
  • User Experience (UX) Designer
  • User Interface (UI) Designer
  • User Interface (UI) Research
  • User Experience (UX) Strategist
  • User Experience (UX) Researcher
  • Visual Communication Designer
  • Web and Social Media Designer/Manager

Student Portfolios 

This voluntary listing of digital portfolios represents our current students' professional preparation at varying levels of experience. It also provides insight into some of the learning experiences provided by courses in our program.

Prospective employers may reach out to students directly about freelance employment opportunities. Employers seeking to hire for internships and/or full-time opportunities are encouraged to work with the Center for Career and Professional Success to post openings via Handshake.

Example DRD Projects

The below images link to projects featured on an external website dedicated to our annual Spring Exhibition, which occurs at the OSU Urban Art Space.