Our curriculum draws on real-world challenges to develop student skills in systems thinking, problem identification, stakeholder engagement, scenario planning, collaboration, visual facilitation, design research, rapid prototyping, cultural entrepreneurship, and creative leadership. Classes are held in the late afternoon and evening to accommodate early- and mid-career creatives who want to accelerate their design skills while continuing to work.

  • Year One
  • Year Two


Course Type Credits
Systems Thinking Critical Studies 3
Research + Insights Seminar 3
Design Methods CD Studio 3
Design Sprint Workshop (Studio) 1
Information Design Studio 3
Hallie Ford Elective - Print Hallie Ford Studio 3


Course Type Credits
Design Futures and Ecologies Critical Studies 3
Styles of Facilitation and Collaboration Seminar 3
Methods 2: Design Deliverables Studio 3
Visual Facilitation Workshop (Studio) 1
Design Project Studio 3
Hallie Ford Elective - Code or Craft Hallie Ford Studio 3

MA program: MFA program:


Course Type Credits
Cultural Entrepreneurship Critical Studies 3
Strategy & Forsight Studio 3
Capstone Studio Studio (Making) 3
Future-Centered Design Workshop (Studio) 1
Design Studio Studio (Critique) 3
Hallie Ford Elective - Teach or Craft Hallie Ford Studio 3


Course Type Credits
Creative Leadership, Equity and Ethics Critical Studies 3
Capstone Seminar (Writing) Seminar 3
Capstone Studio (Critique) Studio 3/6
Conflict Facilitation Workshop (Studio) 1
Design Studio (Making) Studio 3
Hallie Ford Elective - Craft Hallie Ford Studio 3

MA program: MFA program:

Program Comparison

MFA Collaborative Design

  • For the early to mid-career creative
  • An immersive MFA program
  • Studio emphasis, terminal masters
  • Mentored capstone + thesis
  • Three afternoons / evenings per week
  • Two years / 60 credits

MA Design Systems

  • For the early to mid-career creative
  • An executive Masters program
  • Leadership / professional emphasis
  • Thesis only
  • Two afternoons / evenings per week
  • Two years, 40 credits
  • First year internship

Learning Outcomes

Literacy in applied systems thinking.

Graduate-level research.

Developing their own studio practice and design framework.

Cultivate and exhibit an advanced level of professionalism in relation to the student’s given design practice.

More About Curriculum

Shared Projects

The Collaborative Design curriculum is project-based, preparing participants to tackle complex problems at multiple scales using a variety of design techniques. Courses are often connected to each other through shared projects. We learn together in a cycle of discovery, doing, evaluation, and iteration. Topics adapt each year to local, regional and global opportunities and concerns, as well as faculty and student interests.

Course Descriptions

Critical Studies

Critical Studies courses enable students to understand and work with complex systems; approach design as an interacting set of actors, objects and techniques; take initiative to make proposed design solutions a reality; and develop ethical leadership skills that highlight equity and inclusion that will maximize effectiveness with colleagues, stakeholders and clients.

​Critique Seminars

Critique Seminars provide participants with critical feedback on group and individual projects. Using theory, case studies and in-class project, seminars explore current design research methods, collaboration and facilitation techniques, problem identification and stakeholder engagement methods, and culminate with a thesis project that launches each participant into the next stage of their creative career. Our seminars are highlighted by monthly Designed Futures talks with guest speakers.


Studios provide hands-on project experience in specific problem domains, working with clients, collaborators and partners. Each studio facilitates a pattern of discovery, proposal, and build, where students are presented with - or develop - a design brief, and collaboratively create design solutions.


Workshops build specific skills in a fast-paced one-credit studio intensive. The role of the workshop instructor is to bring domain expertise or a thoughtful plan for experimentation that allows students to acquire a set of skills, techniques or way of working.

Independent Study

Independent Study allows for exploration of topics not incorporated into the curricula of regular classes. Students work with the chair and community partners to craft a project proposal and resources to pursue a particular line of research, design, craft, or entrepreneurial activity.

​Collaborative Design Internships

Collaborative Design Internships are an important component of the program, offering the chance to apply program learnings to the workplace, and bring industry challenges into the classroom. Students are expected to engage in these 1-credit opportunities beginning in the spring of Year 1.

Hallie Ford Electives

Hallie Ford Electives are offered by PNCA’s six graduate programs, and broaden participants skills in art, craft, code, theory, writing, print and pedagogy.

The MFA Thesis

Thesis Projects

The world is becoming increasingly complex. Industry, society and environment cannot be understood or influenced separately. We take on the big issues — resource depletion, energy and climate change, racial justice, disability, emerging technologies, demographic shifts, equity — in a project-based format with key partners, preparing participants to tackle complex problems at multiple scales using a variety of design techniques.