Master in Design Studies (MDes)

Author’s documentation on the local’s

“A Guidebook to an Empty Land: Kalimantan and the Shadows of the Capital” by Angela Mayrina (MDes '20) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize

Design necessarily engages the most urgent and complex conditions of our time, and the Master in Design Studies (MDes) post professional program empowers students to address those conditions head on. More


The Master in Design Studies (MDes) post professional program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is aimed at those who want to pair their design knowledge with tools to enable careers in public service, academia, NGOs, innovative ventures, as well as developing specific expertise for design practice.

The MDes program consists of four semesters of coursework with no studios. Applicants select one of four domains of study—Ecologies, Narratives, Publics, and Mediums—and undertake a core set of courses, including research methods and related topical courses. Following that domain foundation, each student then forges an individualized trajectory, leveraging course offerings across the GSD, as well as other schools and departments at Harvard. During their fourth semester, MDes students from all four domains come together to focus on collaborative advanced research in the form of open projects, in which their expertise finds application on a current issue.

Distinct from research in the sciences or humanities, design pedagogy involves highly interactive ways of thinking and learning that directly engage the technical, material, spatial, ecological, political, economic, and planetary dimensions of cultural life. Ultimately, MDes at the GSD challenges conventional ways of learning, and achieves a scope and diversity that are unmatched by any other design school in the world.

The design disciplines are critical to engaging the most urgent and complex conditions of our time, and the Master in Design Studies program at the GSD prepares students to rise to the challenge, with training that is at once foundational, multitudinous, and incisive. While priority will be given to students with a design background, MDes is broadly welcoming of students from a wide range of educational backgrounds and life experiences, and deliberate in mobilizing the full intellectual capacity of the GSD in support of MDes students’ ambitions. From our rapidly warming environment and its mass extinctions and disfiguring social inequities, to colossal media systems and their manipulations of ideological economies, the decade of 2020 is charging ahead with multiplying planetary crises requiring novel responses and fundamentally new horizons of inquiry. MDes prepares students to lead us into this new world.

Please explore further information about the program’s four domains, MDes degree requirements, and related courses and faculty. And please join us for our Open House events to learn more about each of the domains and possible trajectories through them.

Program Director
K. Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory


Those enrolled in the MDes program prior to Fall 2021 can find links to each Area of Concentration on the Master in Design Studies (MDes) Pre-Fall 2021 page.

The Real Estate and the Built Environment track of the MDes program will be given a new home in the Department of Urban Planning and Design. Application to the Real Estate track is suspended for the current application cycle while we finalize that transformation.

Inside Design Studies


Floating Between Borders … or, Perhaps, an Earth Without Borders?

The formation of geopolitical borders has become more pronounced and salient in recent months. The pandemic has been used as a justification by nations to advance anti-migrant policies, and the agenda has been pushed to extremes, leaving people stratified, deported, denied visas, or kept…

exhibition dates: FEB 18 – FEB 24, 2021