A 36-credit, studio design–oriented degree of advanced study. Fully online.
The master of arts degree in sustainable design 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 gain in-depth and actionable knowledge and experience, putting sustainable design theory into practice by developing your fundamental problem-solving skills, collaborative innovation techniques and processes, and creative leadership experience. You’ll take building-block courses that culminate into the Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project, where you’ll lead independent yet mentored cutting-edge research in the field as it pertains to your career aspirations.
MCAD’s Sustainable Design Program is developed exclusively for busy working professionals and an online platform. Our program engages a global community of students and faculty that work together to develop collaboration, leadership, design strategy, and problem-solving skills that are then applied to innovatively solve humanity’s most pressing environmental and social sustainability challenges.
Successful completion with a grade of C or above is required for all credits applied toward the MA, and all coursework must be taken for credit and is designed to be completed in two years. Financial aid is available for graduate students enrolled in at least 6 credits per semester. Scholarship opportunities are also available.
Master of Arts in Sustainable Design
Introduction to Sustainable Design
Innovation Tools & Techniques
The Practice of Sustainable Design
Collaborative Product Design
Making the Business Case for Sustainability
Global Design Challenge
Thesis Proposal Review
Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project
Final Review Course Descriptions
SD 6500 Introduction to Sustainable Design 3
In this foundational course, students will be introduced to hands-on and holistic approaches to sustainability. This course will cover 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. This course provides students with the tools required to succeed in today's dynamic market and a world of uncertainty. Systems thinking, languages of design, and product life cycles are integrated and they form the solid foundation for innovative products. Actionable theory is absorbed through market specific projects.
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 will reflect on their personal practices (e.g., how they reflect sustainability, what their best practices are, and how they can improve) and will engage in on-going 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 will 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 7020 Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project 6
The completion of a graduate project in the field of sustainable design and innovation. This project will be determined by the student and mentor in consultation with the sustainable design program office.
SD 7030 Global Design Challenge 3
This studio course will provide the foundation for a cohesive, high-quality, yearlong e-team learning experience that is grounded in positive collaborations and dynamic problem-solving opportunities. Through student-driven projects, participants will move from a design challenge to design concept. Students will 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 will 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 will 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? Students will 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 will 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 will 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 will include systems thinking, energy effectiveness, lightweighting, design for lifetime (repair, recycling, etc.), material choice, biomimicry, and persuasive design. Some assignments will be individual and theoretical, but the bulk of the course will be spent working in groups, using tools such as message boards and screen-sharing video chats.
Choose 6 Credits from the following 6 SD 6520 Life Cycles 3
Designers need to know the fundamental properties of materials, how they combine, and how they exist in the cycles of industry and the earth. In short, life cycles. Where do materials come from? How are they changed during manufacturing? What happens to the design while it "lives" and where does it go at the end of life? This course covers life-cycle-related topics, along with product-service systems and collaborative consumption, through weekly discussions, analysis, calculation of impacts, and visual illustration of the life cycle. Students will work individually and collaboratively.
SD 6610 Biomimetic Design 3
Students will learn how to abstract functional strategies from nature to apply to the process of innovative design. This project-oriented studio course will cover core biological principles, astound students with the wealth of design solutions available in nature, and provide 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 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 will learn about the growing field of information design and critically evaluate how it relates to communicating sustainability. Customized project-based assignments will take students deeper into real-life situations.
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 to educate, engage, and inform society through design. Students will further explore both past and current discourses on design roles and responsibilities within the context of sustainability, and they will 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 7010 Graduate Sustainability Practicum 3
The professional practicum will provide 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 pre-approved 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 135 hours toward the practicum project (can be accomplished remotely) and keeping a journal or blog to document the hours, activities, and learning process.
SD 6540 Geometry of Thinking 3
At a fundamental level, sustainability is working with nature by integrating our activities into natural cycles. In this course, students will learn how natural systems can inform our design and practice. Weekly assignments will cover the principles of design science, the geometry of nature, and the ways to put these principles to work.
SD 6550 International Strategies for Product Policy 3
In this course, students will examine the history and rationale for emerging public policy frameworks that promote design for the environment, product stewardship, environmentally preferable purchasing, and other strategies embracing product policy. Students will investigate the business case for product stewardship and other strategies to reduce the environmental footprint of products. Students will hear from several leading product-policy experts from government, industry, and environmental advocacy communities. European, Canadian, and Asian policy experience with product policy will be considered as well as an analysis of the tools available to policymakers to promote product policy, including laws, voluntary agreements, and demonstration projects.
SD 6560 Ethics-Based Marketing 3
From production methods, business practices, and stakeholder relationships to corporate giving and vendor associations, people are paying attention to who is serving their needs as much as what they are being sold. More and more, consumers are searching for ethical values in the products and services they are buying. In this course, students will discover opportunities for applying ideas based on corporate values as well as how to establish and profit from healthy and long-term stakeholder relationships.
SD 6570 Smart and Sustainable Business Practices 3
Savvy designers, entrepreneurs, and business people go beyond typical green efforts and strive to underpin their businesses with sustainable values, principles, and actions. Inspiring examples drawn from eco-leaders will guide students with the development of best or better practices. Students will further their understandings of industry standards and green business certification components and put them into practice by developing written action plans and policies that can be tailored to their workflows or businesses. Students will learn how to grow their businesses in innovative ways, making a difference step by step, but with a smaller eco-footprint than ever before.
SD 6710 Design for Community 3
Sustainability is the commonsense notion that long-term prosperity, social equity, and ecological health not only go together but also depend on one another. Making a sustainable way of life requires changes in the design of most everything. In this introduction to sustainability, students will look at how to do this within their businesses, considering energy and materials use, how our cities and buildings are constructed, and how we live day to day. Students will study sustainability frameworks and patterns in economics and habitation in preparation for critiquing and redesigning organizations and places in their own communities. Design projects, weekly online discussions, essay quizzes, and brief visual presentations make up the course assignments.
SD 6760 Career Design 3
This course will guide you through discovery and exploration of sustainable career choices in the growing green economy. Students will learn cutting-edge tips and strategies (i.e., employer assessments, market research, personal branding, and developing their T-shaped profiles) that they will use to make conscious career choices based on a better understanding of the changing marketplace, finding work-life balance, focusing their sustainability values, and creating a vision for the future.
SD 6780 Sustainable Consumption 3
Students will explore perspectives and strategies for the promotion of sustainable consumption. In this course, students will consider the impacts of everyday life as well as the larger societal drivers of unsustainable consumption. By reviewing various perspectives on consumption-related behavior and design, students will identify assumptions as well as the tensions and unintended effects of these assumptions. Fostering sustainable behavior is a pan-industry topic of great complexity and uncertainty that is at the forefront of sustainability studies today. Covering an evolving area for both policy and design, students will delve into groundbreaking concepts and approaches that will shape the world we will be living and working in tomorrow.
SD 6800 Sustainable Materials 3
Students will use current sustainability frameworks (i.e., biomimicry, anthropogenic nature), material rating systems (life cycle analysis, cradle to cradle, SMART(c)), and analytical tools to practice designing with sustainable materials. Students will source and analyze materials with the help of product manufacturers, representatives, suppliers, and free or low-cost information available on the Internet. The tools provided in this course will help students to select and analyze materials for application to print, packaging, and product design.
SD 6810 Packaging Sustainability 3
We handle packages every day and they account for the majority of our waste stream. Using the format of a product-repositioning study, students will 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 will be able to maximize a package's appeal while minimizing environmental impact.
SD 6820 Sustainable Graphic Design 3
The future of graphic design is sustainable design. Students will discover how to incorporate sustainable design principles into their graphic design work through pragmatic exercises. Students will learn the latest discipline-specific information while applying sustainable design principles and frameworks through design projects and exercises. Students will gain a solid understanding of design strategies, eco-labeling, materials, processes and techniques, and design tools and resources.