Two-Year Graduate Program

Program Philosophy

The M.A. in Design at Cornell centers on a concern for the individual. Both the faculty and the students believe strongly in the power of design to nurture the human spirit and support health and well-being. Design is art in the service of humankind: a profession of innovation as well as accountability. Designers have a social responsibility to the people for whom they create and, with each design decision, must strive to ensure the ethical, sustainable, and informed role of design in society.

Program Focus

The M.A. program in Design has four concentrations.

  1. Design for Interaction focuses on how people experience the designed environment, with particular focus on interior spaces and the people and things they envelope.
  2. Emerging Technology for Design explores the development and application of various technologies – from virtual and augmented reality to architectural robotics – to foster the creation of beautiful environments that support and enhance human activity and well-being.
  3. Design + Health focuses on the many ways that designed environments affect human physical and mental health, and health-related behaviors. These explorations span various settings, from home and community, to schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings.
  4. Sustainable Design Studies examines the development of a new worldview founded on a skeptical, critical approach to reasoning, a deep sensitivity for things living, and a broad understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of the human/nature relationship.

The program brings together faculty and students with expertise in the fields of interior design, industrial design, interaction design, graphic design, architecture, art, design history, planning, building technology, environmental psychology, human factors and ergonomics, geography, engineering, and facility planning and management to work on problems related to the interior environment.

The M.A. in Design rests on the following basic premises:

  • Development of the knowledge base guiding the design of physical settings requires systematic, empirical research.
  • Individual and organizational behaviors are affected by the form of the environment.
  • The users of environments are diverse and have different needs. Individual characteristics such as gender, stage in life cycle, family structure, role or task affect our environmental needs. In addition, organizational characteristics such as organizational culture, goals, and structure help shape building form and use.
  • Design should be based on enhancing the human condition. Issues of central importance include how the qualities of the environment (i.e., interior design, building systems, lighting, furnishings, equipment and finishes) affect human behavior, comfort, and well-being.
  • How the goals and ideals of both the individual and the organization are translated into physical form; and what the designer's responsibility is to society.


M.A. Requirements

Please click below to view the curriculum requirements for each of the four concentrations within the M.A. in Design.




Sustainable Design Studies

Who should apply?

The M.A. degree is a two-year, post-professional degree program intended for students with an undergraduate studio based degree in design (e.g. interior design, architecture, product design, etc.) who want to do advanced study and research in design. The program culminates in a formal research thesis in which students are encouraged to systematically develop and test research-based design solutions, theories, and methods.

M.A. candidates must also select a minor from fields throughout the University. Students should identify their minor committee members early in the program to ensure they have time to take the minor's required courses, typically 1-2 courses total.

Prospective students are encouraged to check out our frequently asked questions below. If you have a question that you can't find the answer to, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant at

FAQ's for Prospective Master Students


Application Deadline

Applications are due December 1st. Applications are accepted for Fall Admission only.

Application Requirements

In addition to the online application via the Graduate School website, the following required documents must be submitted online:

  • Academic Statement of Purpose (within 500 words)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts
  • Portfolio (see guidelines below)
  • GRE general test (The desired combined score should be greater than or equal to 310—for the new scoring system effective November 2011—or, a combined score of 1200 for the old scoring system.)
  • English Language Proficiency Requirement, As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. (See exceptions)
  • TOEFL - test for International students (DEA overall minimum: 105, plus Graduate School minimums must be met for each section: writing: 20; listening: 15; reading: 20; speaking: 22)
  • OR IELTS - The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS


Portfolio Submission

The portfolio should communicate your design background and abilities in an understandable, organized manner following the guidelines below:

  • A digital portfolio is required.
  • Submit your portfolio in the online application system under supplemental materials. Note: there is a file size limit of 20 MB.
  • Design work should be represented by prints and/or photographs accompanied by a statement briefly describing your design projects.
  • Indicate professional work (versus student work).
  • Indicate personal involvement in group projects (professional or student).
  • The demonstration of conceptual sketching ability, analytical sketches and travel sketches are very useful to us in assessing ability and assigning assistantships.


Costs and Funding

Funding is not provided for the M.A. degree. Please refer to the Graduate School Tuition and Cost web page for information.

Any questions, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant:

For additional information on how to apply, please visit the Graduate School Admissions web page.