Admitted Students FAQ




COVID-19 & MDes

The MDes program leadership continues to carefully monitor the COVID-19 health crisis, and closely follow UC Berkeley, University of California, county, state and federal guidance regarding our response to the pandemic. As always, we are deeply committed to the health of our community and keep our concern about care and wellbeing in the foreground of our decision making. While the duration of the pandemic is uncertain, we currently plan to resume in-person and on-site operations in Fall 2021. We continue our planning, as needed, for alternatives with a strong commitment to maintaining the quality design experience of this program. We will be communicating our plans regularly and keeping you informed.

The University of California and other local COVID-19 Resources:
The MDes program is very hands-on and physical. How might it work if we need to do things remotely due to COVID-19 shelter in place or social distancing?

We are currently getting signals from the University that we will able to be on campus with primarily in-person instruction in the Fall. We are also planning for a number of scenarios for alternatives, each with its own benefits and set of complicated questions. We are considering, for example, if we can reconfigure some of the courses in order to adjust the physical components. There are parts of this curriculum that are well suited to an online format and other parts that are not.  As we explore these options, we are committed to keeping the intellectual integrity of the program and the values you take away from it as a student.  Although there is a lot out of our control, we will make every effort to work with the University to make it right. There is strong support from campus leadership about the need of the program to be in residence.

Are MDes students able to defer their admission?

Yes, MDes students, who have accepted the offer of admission, may request a one-year deferral. Deferral requests are considered on a case by case basis and are usually granted for extenuating circumstances such as medical or family emergencies, federally mandated travel restrictions, or US visa processing delays due to the pandemic, etc. Students must first accept the offer of admission to the MDes program by April 15, and requests for one-year deferral should be submitted by May 27, 2021.* Deferred students do not need to apply again, but do need to confirm their intention to enroll by February 1, 2022. Any MDes Distinguished Scholar or Opportunity Grant funds offered to deferred students as part of the initial admissions cycle will continue to be honored and applied toward tuition and fees across the three semesters of the program, starting in Fall 2022. Please see full MDes Deferral Policy here.

*Because the responses to COVID-19 are somewhat unpredictable, we will review COVID-related deferrals, as needed, on a rolling basis. Please note that requests for deferral cannot be processed and will not be accepted after the first day of classes of the fall term (August 25, 2021).

Core Skills & Preparation for the MDes program

Technical Preparation

The MDes program includes a rigorous technical curriculum. Throughout the program, you will encounter a variety of different technologies with various APIs and programming environments. Introductory instruction on how to engage with each of these technologies and program them using software code will be provided.

You will, however, be expected to draw on your existing programming skills to further develop these systems into desired final designs. You should be comfortable with programming, including the ability to learn new languages and software tools quickly. While there is no official MDes programming language, you should have prior programming experience and be able to readily work with variables, data structures, functions, classes, syntax, and any required compilers for a new language. Some examples of commonly encountered computer languages within the MDes include Python and Java. You will also need similar programming skills to complete the technical elective requirement,

The following is a list of courses and experiences that you can use to enhance your technical preparation for the program.

Design Process and Tools

For success in a design program such as the MDes, you should also possess a fundamental understanding of design processes and methods. This could include familiarity with formal design methods such as human-centered design or user research, as well as experience with tools commonly employed in design such as Adobe Creative Suite for 2D design, and Fusion360, Rhino/Grasshopper, and Modo for 3D design. 

Luckily there are many tutorials for these tools available online! Below is a shortlist of some available options, including tutorials within Lynda/LinkedIn Learning. All UC Berkeley students receive free access to Lynda, but you can also register for a free one-month trial prior to registering as a student.


You should also have a basic understanding of physical prototyping and fabrication. This could include traditional fabrication techniques in materials such as wood or metal; or digital fabrication techniques such as laser-cutting or 3D printing.

Careers & MDes

What are the anticipated careers for MDes students?

MDes graduates will be prepared to enter a number of creative and technology-driven design fields, practices, and consultancies where employees with cross-disciplinary mindsets and collaborative working styles are highly valued. In the Bay area, there are many technology and design firms, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, frog, IDEO, etc. who are looking for people who have an integrated understanding of design, technology, and human-centered approaches and an ability to use these skills dynamically to anticipate emergent needs and environments. 

Leaders of these companies who have joined critiques at Jacobs Hall tell us that they are eager to hire MDes students whom they expect will flourish on teams, help pull groups together and have a broad reach of skills, not in any single area, but a range of technologies and design. Ideal candidates for their positions (as described in their job descriptions and postings) have characteristics that we feel align with outcomes we have for MDes students. They are seeking to hire folks who are curious about how people interact with technology and comfortable with ambiguity and exploratory project briefs. They seek employees who learn by doing and making with a prototyping mindset and a wide range of prototyping skills in both hardware and software. They are also seeking employees with the capacity to work across disciplines and at the intersections of design and engineering, with a collaborative working style and an ability to connect people with ideas to generate excitement.  

Recently posted positions for which MDes students are well prepared are:

We also anticipate that some MDes students will be starting their own design and technology firms while others may get more involved in grass-roots organizations such as non-profit and government entities. We anticipate that there are many roles graduates from the MDes program will be able to play and we expect they will have great impact on their communities and in their workplaces. We believe that MDes students, situated within UC Berkeley and the Bay Area’s rich design ecosystem, will have good access to and excellent preparation for high-impact design opportunities today and in the future.

Careers in Creative Technology

“As a discipline, creative technology… is about understanding both the design and the technical world that design has to live in, shortening the feedback loop by having both design and engineering embodied in the same person.” Shana Hu, UC Berkeley alumna

Read more by Shana Hu who shared her insight and experience as a creative technologist on the Applied Creative Technology team at Pinterest in this article, “Applied Creative Technology at Pinterest,” published online on Medium, September 4, 2019.

UC Berkeley & Silicon Valley

“Silicon Valley hires more alumni from University of California, Berkeley, than any other school, according to a new analysis from online recruiting company HiringSolved.”
Melia Robinson, Business Insider, March 2, 2017.

Read more in this San Francisco Business Times article, “Silicon Valley hires the most alumni from these 10 universities — and none of them are Ivy League,” by Gina Hall, published on May 2, 2017.

MDes Studio Experience & Culture

The studio experience is core to the academic culture in the MDes program. In your second semester, each student will be assigned a desk and workspace within the studio for the MDes program and it will be the place where you come together with the cohort to work, collaborate, co-create and learn. Selected classes will also be taught in the studio as an active teaching, work, and critique space. It will be the home for your cohort where you can work together, both inside and outside of class.  

Is there any expectation about projects students can pursue in the studio? Can they be more personal? Are we always collaborating on a team? Or is there an expectation regarding what you are making? 

The culture of the MDes studio will evolve. In the healthiest studio environments, everyone feels like it is their intellectual home. It is naturally the place where everything is happening, and it includes everything that you are working on.  Even if it seems personal or random, things have a way of mixing together and feeding each other. That serendipity is important to studio culture. There are no hard and fast rules about how you spend your time in the studio. All of you have special passions on the side and we encourage your passion to resurface in your practice and at your desk, etc. 

Do we have a dedicated desk in our studio space?

Beginning the second semester of the program, you will have a desk, a work space and place to store your stuff. The studio will be a place for you to work. Many classes will take place there too.  Studio will have 24/7 access.

Will there be an opportunity for us to give feedback on the refurbishment of the MDes studio space? 

Yes, we would love student input on the design and development of the studio space and will invite your feedback as we gather more information about the details of the space and plans for its refurbishment.

Design Methodologies & Approaches

What does “human-centered” mean within the MDes courses and curriculum? Are there strict methodologies or is it focused on the user? 

Over the last decade, the importance of human-centered design has been to take industries and companies that are technology-driven (where technologies have made them possible) and encourage them to realize that the technology or design does not matter if you do not build things with the needs of people in mind. Products and services often fail because they are pointless. There is great value to bring meaning to technology. It is also important to realize that there is a proliferation of people claiming they have the “right” human-centered process. At Berkeley, we take a step back and review and analyze the patterns and what matters to a particular problem. We ask, “How do various human-centered approaches interact with other notions of design?” In the MDes, we will expose you to different methods that work in human-centered design and we will not be dogmatic about it. Different design problems call for different approaches. 

Will the designs students create be relevant at a system-level implementation or just that design? 

The MDes encourages systems thinking and an understanding of the impacts and context for design projects. For example, you may be working with systems-level implementation and need to ask how your proposal fits within a greater ecosystem. Systems thinking – which is often part of service design – suggests a larger system of stakeholders and touch points for design. You will need to ask, “What is the larger context or ecosystem in which my proposal fits? How does it impact this system? What dynamics does it create?” 

We are interested to go beyond the shiny design proposal and for students to get their hands dirty with the technologies so that you have a sense of what is possible now, and what will be possible in the next 12 months, and what may be possible in the near future. We want students to get to the point that they figure out if it is feasible and what technical data they need to gather to answer that question. 

How much is UX research part of human-centered design and work flow in MDes projects?

In the MDes, we leverage the physicality of design and expect students to use and take advantage of the tools in the Jacobs Hall maker space. Projects will consider if this is something you carry, wear, or use. Does it address a physical need of mental health, for example? We will also be asking questions about the future of design- what we have and what it will be. There may be design problems that are well supported with traditional UX research, but we will also be thinking broadly about usability and user-experience with people now and in the future. It may require that we expand beyond traditional UX research; however, whatever platform we choose there will be active use and inputs along the way to inform that process.

What are the facilities, resources and coursework to support 2D design or UX?

Visual design courses are offered in the College of Environmental Design (CED). There are also a range of UX courses offered at Berkeley that focus on applied industry methods, UX research and user experience design and development and product design studios that support applied UX practices.

MDes Curriculum & Electives

Syllabi for the core MDes curriculum

The following are syllabi and/or website resources for some of the MDes core course work. 

Can we take extra electives?  

The MDes is an intensive program. It is structured to get the most value for the experience. In addition to elective options, there are many experiences at Berkeley that are not part of specific course work. You will be attending lectures, meetings, workshops and things that are not directly part of a course or curriculum. There are many co-curricular activities outside of class that will figure and be equally important to your graduate education. We do not, therefore, support your maxing out on electives, but instead encourage you to explore all that Berkeley has to offer inside and outside of class. 

For example: some of you may want to get experience teaching or with research and seek Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)or Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) positions (see FAQ on ASE Appointments). Others of you might want to take advantage of programs and resources at UC Berkeley that support innovation (BEGIN). Some of you may want to participate in innovation competitions, such as Big Ideas, join a student club related to entrepreneurship, art, design, engineering or social good, or take advantage of programs that support graduate student life and voice on campus

Are there funds or budget for individual students in the MDes?

As part of enrollment in the program, each MDes student receives a Jacobs Maker Pass for access to Jacobs Hall maker space and a materials budget of $500/semester to purchase materials from the store at Jacobs Hall. Also included is access to the Fabrication Shop in College for Environmental Design (CED) and to the CITRIS Innovation Lab. Individual courses may have small budgets for projects, to be determined based on the needs of the studio and potential sponsorship. 

For projects we develop as part of the MDes, who owns the Intellectual Property (IP)?

At UC Berkeley, for projects that students develop as part of course work, the IP belongs to the student. If students are involved in sponsored research, the IP belongs to the University. What MDes students do or make in Jacobs Hall has no other restrictions. 

How flexible is the University to support MDes students who want to incorporate research into their work and practice? For example, do we have access to a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) in order to explore machine learning as part of a project? 

The University operates a high performance computing cluster. Some machines are equipped with GPUs. We have had access to these machines by writing a request for a log-in for the cluster. It has been easy to access. There are also occasions where a corporate sponsor, such as Microsoft, has donated credits to students in a particular course to access machines. 

Will there be opportunities to travel as part of the MDes curriculum? For example, if we are focused on a particular community, will we have opportunities to travel to get to know the client and their situational context?

If it is important to a project or studio, we will not stay put. We will have opportunities to go on field trips and engage outside of the campus. In past projects, we have had relationships with others and have gone on site for this work and research. When you are doing your thesis and portfolio work, you may need to have deeper engagement with specific clients or themes. We currently do not have a funding model for travel, but partners on projects might pay for that kind of work or research. 

Different from architecture studios, MDes problems are more centered on technologies, social groups or activities that cut across sites and locations. Funding and support would be focused, therefore, on understanding the problem through those multiple lenses and other kinds of problem definitions.

What percentage of the classes in the MDes are project-based? How are the projects structured and how do they inform the culture of the program?

The MDes curriculum centers around the studio model and everything feeds the studio as the center of intellectual life. There will be a mix of group and individual projects and you will have the opportunity for lots of interaction with peers in the cohort. In certain courses, teams will be switching around so that you have the opportunity to work with others and to build your team skills. At the end of the program, you will be showcasing your own work alongside team and group projects. 

Aspects of problems and projects in the MDes are intended to be a little uncomfortable or unfamiliar. The MDes expects you to build your design muscle across many different aspects of a project, problem or technology. Our intention is for you to build a collage of these skills so that you are best prepared to encounter and respond to new technologies in the future – and contribute to making design that has meaning and matters.

What is valued in the development of a project? 

In the MDes we emphasize process. We want to engage the story about why design should matter and who it serves. We are also curious about how your decisions pivot along the way and is informed by your work, research and other inputs. The development of the project is an important aspect of how we evaluate projects. 

What is the length and scope of the projects? How much time do we have to dig into a specific project? Is there a final project?

The scale of the projects will vary throughout the program. Technology Design Foundations and Designing Emerging Technologies courses start with small scale projects, focused on particular technologies. As you move through the program, however, the problems get larger and larger.  The Design Studio in your third semester focuses on a longer-span project and leads to a thesis. The thesis or Capstone Portfolio is a larger project that lets you select and dive more deeply into a previous project as a group. Individuals will then research specific aspects of that larger project as their individual contribution.

If there are design technologies that students are particularly interested in, will we have time to exposure to go deeper into a particular technology? 

The curriculum will work from small things to bigger things. You will have the opportunity to work on larger scale projects and longer time to simmer on projects as you progress in the program. Projects later in the program – in the courses in the third semester – will allow you to bring your larger interest to bear on the problem. 

Classes, Enrollment & Orientation 

How does registration for classes work at UCBerkeley? 
  • New MDes students will be matriculated and officially enrolled in the MDes program by Graduate Admission on June 1, 2021. 
  • Enrollment for Fall courses opens for new graduate students on Thursday, July 16, 2021. 
  • New graduate students enroll in courses via an online system called “Cal Central.” 
  • The MDes program office will be hosting a workshop about the enrollment process in June 2021. 
What is Cal Central?

Cal Central is an online one-stop service center that allows UC Berkeley students to manage class enrollment, billing, financial aid, and student records. You will have access to Cal Central once you receive your UC Berkeley Student ID. Cal Central accounts also include prompts for UC Berkeley tasks and requirements that you may need to complete as an incoming graduate student (such as sexual harassment prevention training, immunization requirements, etc.) International Students who require visas will also see visa instructions and prompts in their Cal Central accounts. 

UC Berkeley Student ID

MDes Students will receive an email with your UC Berkeley Student ID and instructions on how to set up a CalNet ID and log in to Cal Central soon after you complete your Statement to Register (SIR) and accept the offer of admission to the MDes program.  Please contact if you have not received the email with this information after you complete your SIR. 

When is MDes Orientation and when do classes start?
  • MDes classes start Wednesday, August 25, 2021.
  • MDes Orientation is Monday, August 23 and Tuesday, August 24, 2021. 
  • Berkeley Graduate Division also hosts New Graduate Student Orientations (NGSO) the week before the first week of classes (week of August 16, 2021). Orientations this week include International Student Orientation, a Graduate Diversity Welcome Reception, American Indian Graduate Program Orientation, and Teaching Conferences for first time GSIs. For more information about these events, please check this website for updates. 
What might the MDes class schedule look like? 
  • Three-unit courses typically meet twice a week for 90 minutes each session. 
  • Four-unit courses typically meet twice a week for 120 minutes each session. 
  • Schedules will vary depending on electives; below is a mock up of a possible schedule.
  • Requirements for the Fall semester:
    • DES INV 201: Debates in Design, 3 units, required
    • DES INV 202: Technology Design Foundations, 4 units, required
    • Technical elective, 3 units
    • Social practice elective, 3 units
    • Total: 13 units

Why is the program 3 semesters?

The program was designed with three semesters so there is no rush to find a job end of the second semester. We also wanted to provide a time for students to gather more professional and international experiences. With a third semester, students can use the summer to explore opportunities to study in other countries or to work at companies through internship programs. The first MDes cohort will graduate in December 2021. 

Can I stay longer to take more classes?

The program is structured as a cohort model and is not designed for students to stay longer after you have met your degree requirements. Instead we expect that you will have a strong trajectory out of the program with lots of opportunities. We have a time limit to operate the program with its cohort-driven design. 

Program Fees

For comprehensive information about Tuition and Fees and Cost of Attendance, please see Tuition & Financial Aid on MDes website.

How are tuition and fees billed?

For the MDes FA22 Cohort, the MDes tuition and fees will be charged on a per unit basis. The MDes per unit charge will be equivalent to $1875/unit. This amount is inclusive of the per unit program fee, campus fee, document management fee, class pass, materials stipend, and Jacobs Hall Maker Pass. It does not include the Student Health Insurance Fee (SHIP) which in AY21 was $2,841. All graduate students are required to have health insurance. This fee may be waived with proof of insurance. You will see these charges in your Cal Central account under My Finances, once you have registered and before the start of the semester. 

When will I receive my financial aid package?
The Berkeley Financial Aid office prepares financial aid packages for incoming graduate students. Financial aid packages include any MDes departmental award you have received as part of your acceptance +  graduate student loans up to the cost of education. To receive a financial aid package from Berkeley’s Office of Financial Aid, admitted students need to have:
  • completed the FAFSA form, and
  • accepted the offer of admission to the MDes program.
After you have accepted the offer of admission and submitted the FAFSA form, the Financial Aid office will start the process of putting together your financial aid package. You do not need to reach out to Financial Aid office to initiate this process. As long as Berkeley Financial Aid has a valid FAFSA is on file, students will automatically be packaged with financial aid. When the financial aid package is ready, it will appear in your Cal Central. If students have no interest in taking out loans, then you do not need to complete the FAFSA and you will not be packaged with loans. Students should receive their financial aid packages by mid-May.

Graduate Academic Student Employment (ASE) Appointments 

MDes students are eligible to hold Graduate Student Academic Appointments, including Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) positions and may apply for ASE appointments in any of the three semesters during which they are enrolled. For comprehensive information about these appointments, please see Berkeley Graduate Division information at the Graduate Student Academic Appointment website

Finding an ASE/GSI appointment

ASE (Academic Student Employment) positions are selected within the departments according to academic, budgetary, and staffing circumstances. The projected number of GSI, Reader, and Tutor appointments for each department during the following academic year is posted on the Labor Relations website with names and email addresses for departmental contacts. In spring the Labor Relations website lists ASE opportunities for Summer Sessions. Open positions are listed on Handshake, the Career Center’s recruiting platform (including a job board) for UC Berkeley students and alumni and posted on the Open GSI/GSR Positions webpage.

ASE Eligibility Requirements

Graduate students must satisfy minimum requirements and criteria in order to be eligible for an ASE, GSI or GSR appointment. The full list of eligibility requirements for ASE and GSI appointments are here. Though incoming students are eligible to apply, ASE positions are competitive and the MDes program itself is demanding; students should consider carefully their ability to take on employment in addition to their coursework before committing to a position.

Specific Requirements for GSI appointments include:
  • GSIs who are required to complete the English oral proficiency test must take and pass the test before they can be appointed.
  • New GSI’s must attend the Teaching Conference for First-Time GSIs,
  • New GSI’s must complete the GSI Professional Standards and Ethics Online Course (please note, every first-time GSI must successfully complete the online course Professional Standards and Ethics for GSIs before they interact with students (in person or online) in their role as an instructor),*
  • New GSI’s must enroll in and complete a 300-level semester-long pedagogical seminar on teaching.
Partial Fee Remission for ASE Appointments

Registered MDes students with qualifying ASE appointments (Graduate Student Instructors, Readers, and Tutors working 25% or more time and Graduate Student Researchers (GSRs) working 25-44% time) for the semester are eligible to receive partial fee remission up the equivalent in dollar amount to a UC state-supported graduate program tuition, campus fee, and health insurance fee. 

MDes students who are fully sponsored, meaning all fees are paid by a third party or outside agency, may choose to work as GSIs and/or Readers. However, if you are eligible for a partial fee remission from UC Berkeley, you will only receive it if your sponsoring agency reduces the sponsorship by that amount. Fee remissions will not be paid to the student as a refund if fees are being covered by an outside source.

Note: The MDes is a Self-Supporting Professional Graduate Degree Program.

International Students

The Berkeley International Office (BIO) website is rich with resources. For any questions you have as an international student, please start with the Berkeley International Office (BIO) website. If you have specific questions not answered on their website, you can contact BIO directly for advising. 

US Entry, Visa Services & COVID-19

Berkeley International Office (BIO)  is closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and Presidential Proclamations suspending entry into the United States for those deemed to pose a risk of transmitting COVID-19. Global travel conditions were highly impacted and the Department of State suspended routine U.S. visa services in most countries worldwide. Check your local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status. More information is available on the UC Berkeley COVID-19 campus website and BIO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates & FAQ page.

Immigration Policy & COVID-19

For important information regarding current U.S. immigration policy, Executive Orders, and travel advisories, please see Berkeley International Office’s Immigration Policy Updates & FAQ webpage and Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates & FAQ page.

New students about Visas & Employment

Please see the BIO website for information for new students regarding applying for a visa, or F-1 Visa employment related information. 

Financial Aid for International Students

For questions about financial aid for all students, including international students, please review the Berkeley Financial Aid Office website.  

Specific information for international students regarding financial aid can be found on this website. If you have questions not answered on their website, please contact Financial Aid Office directly.

Labs & Resources 

While enrolled in the MDes, Jacobs Hall and Bauer Wurster Hall are your second homes. With its focus on studio practice, hands-on learning, and collaboration, the MDes demands a high level of commitment and engagement.

Jacobs Hall 

Jacobs Hall houses the Jacobs Institute, and also serves as the home base for the MDes program and its students, offering cutting edge prototyping and fabrication facilities, modern classrooms, and dedicated studio space for the MDes cohort. 

Opened in 2015, the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation is UC Berkeley’s interdisciplinary hub for learning and making at the intersection of design and technology. While part of Berkeley’s College of Engineering, Jacobs is a multidisciplinary learning space available to all students on campus and serves a wide range of students across majors, experience levels, and project goals. Jacobs hosts a variety of design courses each semester, as well as an ongoing list of public programming and lecture series. With the largest makerspace on campus, the Jacobs Institute has some of the most cutting-edge technology, designed to encourage experimentation and help facilitate projects from ideas to reality. For more information please see Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation website. 

Is Jacobs Hall open 24/7?

The current Jacobs Hall operational hours are not 24/7.  We are in conversation and want to provide extended hours and access for MDes students in the fall. It is likely there may be some machines that have more access, while others may be more carefully managed due to health and safety concerns. 

Do you have a finishing area in the Jacobs Hall shop?

Your enrollment in the MDes program gives you access to a fume hood in Jacobs Hall. You will also have access to the Fabrication Shop in CED where there is a larger full scale walk-in spray booth.

Bauer Wurster Hall

Bauer Wurster Hall is an expansive and historic building that serves as home to the College of Environmental Design and offers additional resources to the MDes cohorts, including a robust library and extensive traditional and digital fabrication labs. Wurster Hall also provides a Fabrication Shop for larger-scale production that MDes students are able to access. For more information the CED resource website

CITRIS Invention Lab

The CITRIS Invention Lab supports faculty, student and community innovation by providing the knowledge, tools, and support to rapidly design and prototype novel interactive products, embedded sensing systems, and integrated mobile devices. The CITRIS Invention Lab is located in Sutardja Dai Hall and available to MDes students. For more information see CITRIS Invention Lab website. 

MDes Advising

The MDes program staff will support MDes students throughout your experience in the program. We provide academic advising, including information about enrollment. We help troubleshoot registration and answer questions about academic requirements and progress. Career advising is also part of the resources provided by staff in the program office. Lastly, the program office also guides and connects MDes students to the wealth of resources on the UC Berkeley campus for graduate students. 

Are there faculty advisors assigned to MDes students?

MDes students work with many different faculty over the course of your experience in the program. There are not individual faculty advisors assigned but there are many touch points with faculty in your courses and as you develop your projects who will mentor your academic and professional development. 

MDes History

How did the MDes program come into being?

The MDes Program started many years ago. Its genesis was funding from Paul Jacobs to bring together art and engineering and create an interdisciplinary place for these areas on campus. Paul Jacobs’ gift created the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation and from its inception, the Jacobs Institute was not a place for faculty and their research but was intended as a space for students to explore. Jacobs Institute does not have faculty labs, but instead provides classroom space and maker space for Berkeley students. The CITRIS Invention Lab was a model for the Jacobs Institute. 

Design courses and curriculum have deep roots on campus. The College of Environmental Design is an important part of this foundation and there are notable histories, events, faculty and students who have transversed the design landscape at Berkeley. When we built the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, it prompted the question, however, “What does design mean for the University? What does design mean for the Institute?” 

When it opened, the Institute launched new courses in design innovation and brought together a number of people around campus who were doing this work. It was a collaborative effort among faculty from Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Environmental Design, and the College of Letters and Sciences. Around this same time, we started a minor and a certificate in design for undergraduate students. This work and the interest in design lead to the realization that UC Berkeley needs to have a foot print in design and envision what design means for the University.

With the start of the Jacobs Institute, it was always on the back burner to have a design program at the graduate level. We think it is important to have the focus in design at the graduate level to put forth larger scope projects, etc. We worked on the program proposal for a while and had to jump through a lot of hoops, but from its inception, the MDes had lots of support on campus. Many colleges at Berkeley had to sign off on the proposal and it had to get approval from the entire UC system. The Berkeley MDes is the first Master of Design program across the entire UC system.  The program was approved and we have been able to launch it ahead of schedule.

The design minor has been offered for 3 years now. When it launched, there were students who had already taken the courses to satisfy the requirements. This year there are over 100 students graduating with the design minor and many more are pursuing it. 

How is the MDes program perceived @ Jacobs Institute and in the eyes of the University? 

The undergraduate teaching that happens in Jacobs Institute is crucial, but the masters program is seen as the “crown jewel” of the Jacobs Institute. The MDes students will be the first students in residence and physically at the Jacobs Institute. The undergraduate students will look to this group as a model for what they will be doing. The MDes is the heart of the initiative. 

The MDes plays to many of Berkeley’s strengths. Engineering at Berkeley is very well recognized. We are strong in physical design and prototyping. Rather than sticky notes capturing ideas, engineering and design at Berkeley is more hand-on. Physical prototyping and technical skills are very valuable. Students in MDes will not end up an expert in any one program, but will have a breadth of skills to apply to your practice moving forward.

What is faculty excited for with the incoming cohort?

The two student cohorts and the group of people we have put together is dynamite and we expect it will be like a chemical reaction. It is going to be so exciting! Working at Berkeley, we feel very lucky and grateful to have such amazing colleagues. We greatly appreciate the mix of backgrounds. Likewise, with the students, it is exciting to see what happens when you get together. One of your first assignments is to define what design means for UC Berkeley. It is inspiring to have the cohorts working together thinking about design and technology and how it blends with culture at Berkeley. We are excited to see where it leads for our first two cohorts. 

Housing in Berkeley

UC Berkeley provides resources for Graduate Student housing on this website.

Return to MDes Admitted Student webpage.