Small, high-touch classes.
The high-caliber Master of Arts in Sustainable Design program is pushing the sustainability envelope with its innovative design and rigorous course work. The MA program integrates the themes of systems thinking, life cycle analysis, and biomimicry—blending theory, practice, and leadership courses into holistic and hands-on training and experience.
Throughout this two-year program, you will:
Engage with renowned faculty
Join a network of sustainability professionals
Learn to put sustainability theory into practice
Collaborate with fellow students and mentors
Explore innovative sustainable design techniques and processes
Become a creative leader
Complete a cutting-edge sustainability thesis project
This program culminates in a student-driven Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project in which you’ll conduct independent (yet mentored) research on a sustainability-focused project of your choice. Make this program your own by focusing your time and energy where your passions lie and with the support of your unique thesis committee.
Developed to Work around Your Schedule
MCAD’s sustainable design program was developed exclusively for busy working professionals and an online platform. MCAD has been leading online learning at art and design schools for nearly twenty years and was the first art and design school to bring sustainability-focused education online.
We are proud to be the only AICAD school to offer a fully online graduate degree program in sustainable design. MCAD’s multidisciplinary MA in sustainable design continues to be the first of its kind in the world.
Our program engages a global community of students and faculty who work together to develop design strategy, collaboration, leadership, and problem-solving skills that are then applied to solve humanity’s most pressing environmental and social sustainability challenges.
What Our Students Are Saying
Successful completion with a grade of C or above is required for all credits applied toward the MA. All coursework must be taken for credit and is designed to be completed in two years.
Financial aid, in the form of federal loans, is available for graduate students enrolled in at least six credits per semester.
Core Degree Requirements
SD 6500 Introduction to Sustainable Design 3
In this foundational course students are introduced to hands-on and holistic approaches to sustainability. This course covers current sustainability frameworks, principles, and materials assessments, as well as the history and logic behind them, providing students with useful research tools to apply to the ever-changing demands of sustainable design, business, development, and policy-making.
SD 6510 Systems Thinking 3
We are transitioning from the age of design for the part to the age of design for the whole. Systems thinking, languages of design, and product life cycles are integrated and they form the solid foundation for innovative products. This course provides students with the tools required to succeed in today's dynamic market and a world of uncertainty. Actionable theory is absorbed through market-specific projects.
SD 7020 Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project 6
Course content is the completion of the graduate project in the field of sustainable design and innovation determined by the student and his or her mentor in consultation with the sustainable design program office.
Choose Five of the Following 15 SD 6600 Innovation Tools and Techniques 3
Innovation is applied creativity. Designers need to know personal practice, innovation techniques, and how to implement their ideas. This course teaches all three techniques through a combination of reflection, focused exercise, and the creation of plans. Each week, students learn one technique for idea generation along with one technique for sustainable innovation. Students reflect on their personal practices (e.g., how they reflect sustainability, what their best practices are, and how they can improve) and engage in ongoing dialog with fellow students to learn and critique their practices. The course projects stress multiple approaches to design situations, focusing on the design customer and implementation of ideas.
SD 6750 Creative Leadership 3
Economic, environmental, and ethical crises present leaders with new and complex challenges. Effective, resilient, and agile leaders employ a diversity of skills, experience, and resources to respond to humanity's greatest challenges with creative, innovative, and humane solutions. Students build their capacities to become creative leaders and to work constructively as part of dynamic and collaborative teams through the integration of an ecological perspective for their work, organizations, communities, and the planet.
SD 7010 Graduate Sustainability Practicum 3
This professional practicum provides an opportunity for students to gain practical experience in the evolving field of sustainable design and innovation. The practicum may be arranged by the director of career services, the sustainable design program office, or initiated by students, and all practicums must be preapproved by the sustainable design program office. For a practicum to be approved, a mentor relationship and learning experience must exist beyond a simple employment opportunity. Three-credit professional practicums require working 120 hours toward the practicum project (can be accomplished remotely) and keeping a journal or blog to document hours, activities, and learning process.
SD 7030 Global Design Challenge 3
This studio course provides students with the foundation for a cohesive, high-quality e-team learning experience that is grounded in positive collaborations and dynamic problem-solving opportunities. Through student-driven projects, participants move from a design challenge to a design concept. Students work in small, collaborative, and interdisciplinary teams to arrive at novel, accessible, and affordable solutions that address current global human needs and environmental issues in the form of new products, processes, systems, or services.
SD 7530 Making the Business Case for Sustainability 3
How do market forces shape the way we live, work, and even play? Students in this course look at business through a designer’s eye to understand the interplay between producers and consumers, governments and people, stockholders and stakeholders, man and the environment, and how all of these factors interconnect and ultimately direct how our products, processes, and systems are created. Students gain an understanding of the implications of their decisions, how to identify risk areas, long-term thinking strategies, and best practices for sustainable business models through weekly exercises, special projects, and the creation of a business plan.
SD 7620 The Practice of Sustainable Design 3
How do we actively design to create truly sustainable results? In this course students examine this question and apply leading-edge practice methods for innovative sustainable and regenerative design solutions. Recommended for novice and veteran designers and innovators alike, this course explores the theoretical frameworks, green standards, and practice techniques used by leading sustainable designers, thinkers, and architects. The design methods applied in this studio course fit any discipline at any scale, from the smallest object to the most complex system. Through studio projects and exercises, students learn to integrate the theory of sustainable design frameworks into their practices (i.e., systems thinking, life-cycle analysis, material health, green standards, eco-labels, supply chain topics, etc.).
SD 7630 Collaborative Product Design 3
How do we design real products for real companies, benefiting customers, the companies themselves, and the rest of the world? And how do we know they are better? This studio course provides tools for sustainable design innovation and metrics to measure success. Students use creative and analytical skills, generating new ideas and 3D CAD renderings and evaluating designs with screening-level life-cycle assessments and two eco-labeling systems (Cradle to Cradle and EPEAT). Green innovation tools taught include systems thinking, energy effectiveness, lightweighting, design for lifetime (repair, recycling, etc.), material choice, biomimicry, and persuasive design. Some assignments are individual and theoretical, but the bulk of the course is spent working in groups, using tools such as message boards and screen-sharing video chats.
Choose Three of the Following 9 Electives are typically offered during summer semesters. Options from other MCAD departments may be acceptable with the approval of the MA program director. Elective courses are subject to change. SD 6610 Biomimetic Design 3
In this course students learn how to abstract functional strategies from nature to apply to the process of innovative design. This project-oriented studio course covers core biological principles, astounds students with the wealth of design solutions available in nature, and provides numerous case studies of innovative designs inspired by natural models. Overall, this course provides powerful metaphors and methods for looking to nature as model, mentor, and measure in our designs.
SD 6810 Packaging Sustainability 3
We handle packages every day and they account for a third of our waste stream. Using the format of a product-repositioning study, students in this course examine the core ideas of consumer perception and market triggers, material selection, environmental impact, and long-term strategic thinking. By the end of this course, students are able to maximize a package's appeal while minimizing environmental impact.
SD 6740 Design for Global Change 3
Designers, brand leaders, and manufacturers can play a powerful role in effecting change on both local and global levels. Design roles shift when we view design as a tool or opportunity to enrich and add value to people's lives. Designers can use their communication skills and talents not only to create or sell products but also to educate, engage, and inform society through design. Students in this course further explore both past and current discourses on design roles and responsibilities within the context of sustainability, and they work together as a creative team to create and implement a project or campaign that raises awareness and inspires social, global, and environmental change.
SD 6700 Visual Communications for Sustainability 3
We are increasingly surrounded by data, and information is collected and categorized in the smallest of increments. Data on sustainability is no exception. How do we use and present data in a way that is relevant for consumers? In this course students learn about the growing field of information design and critically evaluate how it relates to communicating sustainability. Customized project-based assignments take students deeper into real-life situations.
SD 6540 Nature's Design Rules for Sustainability 3
At a fundamental level, sustainability is working with nature by integrating our activities into natural cycles. In this course students learn how natural systems can inform our design and practice. Weekly assignments cover the principles of design science, the geometry of nature, and ways to put these principles to work.