The Collaborative Design and Design Systems Programs are no longer admitting new students.

Program Description

MFA Collaborative Design, MA Design Systems

The MFA in Collaborative Design and MA in Design Systems reimagine what design can do in the world, producing creative and ethical leaders who will drive positive impact in private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Students, faculty, partners, and clients work together on complex problems using a collaborative, systems-based, and human-centered approach.

Students engage with the most innovative professional minds in Portland, Oregon, and access new technologies and partnerships via our diverse faculty and mentor networks.
With a shared vision for the ability of interdisciplinary and creative leadership to effect systemic change, we imagine a world that is radically more equitable, inclusive, and resilient.

Our programs believe that socially minded, environmentally sensitive designers foster a more humane world that can meaningfully address the emerging challenges of the 21st century, including climate change, racial injustice, poverty and healthcare.

What is Collaborative Design?

Collaborative Design exists at the intersection of participatory engagement, applied systems thinking, and Design (yes, with a capital D). We design with people, not for people. The multistage collaborative design process involves research, design sprints, systems mapping, futures-centered design, visual facilitation, and data visualization to interrogate the wicked problems facing the world today. Integral to this approach is critical, iterative, and participatory feedback that places those most affected by a design process at the center. 

In rapidly changing global contexts, students graduate with a portfolio that demonstrates their ability to critically design and engage in ambitious, collaborative, and entrepreneurial work. Alumni go on to launch successful programs, work for leading design initiatives and nonprofits, create thriving design consultancies, and work in higher education.

Who Are Collaborative Designers?

Empathetic Listeners
System Mappers
Design Innovators
Business Leaders
Critical Thinkers
Life-long Learners
Creative Researchers

What do Collaborative Designers Do?

Participatory Research
User Design Research
Information Design & Data Visualization
Community & Group Facilitation
Visual Facilitation
Product Design Iteration
Creative Direction & Narrative Building
Visual Communication
Critical Design & Systems Thinking Scholarship
Personal Creative Practice
Social Entrepreneurship
Design & Process Consultation

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choose your path

MFA in Collaborative Design

This 60-credit program is tailored for early- and mid-career creatives who are ready for an immersive experience. Late afternoon and evening classes up-level skills and aptitudes for a rapidly changing design environment. We take a critical and entrepreneurial approach to “wicked” problems such as resource depletion, emerging technologies, climate change and global demographic shifts.

MA in Design Systems

This 40-credit program embraces the reality that all creative endeavors are embedded within complex systems: of design, relationships, hierarchies, production, power, collaboration, and competition. This program is for the working creative who wants to master those systems, whether inside a firm, between organizations, or among multiple stakeholders.

"Collaborative Design prepared me for a life of working with entrepreneurs by introducing me to the world of social innovation and community-oriented design. I am so grateful for the connections I developed with fellow alum, mentors and professionals through the program."

Danielle Olson, Program Manager Hatch Innovation


Classes are held in the late afternoon and evening to accommodate early and mid-career creatives who want to accelerate their skills while continuing to work.


Participants work with the most creative, professional minds in Portland, Oregon – a leading edge of creativity - and access new technologies and partnerships with national and international knowledge networks. Upon completion of the 60-credit, two-year program, graduates leave with a project portfolio that demonstrates their ability to think critically and act entrepreneurially in rapidly changing environments.

They go on to launch successful programs, work for leading design initiatives and nonprofits, create thriving design consultancies, and work in higher education.

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Get in touch with Graduate Admissions to schedule a tour or to learn more about our Programs.

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