The MFA Design Program is a five-term 56-unit studio-based program that is designed to support the development of a personal contemporary practice that is both unique and sustainable. Students work closely with USC Roski's internationally acclaimed design faculty, as well as an expanded community of leading professional designers, artists, historians, critics, curators and culture makers who participate in regular Visiting Designer/Designer-in-Residence Forums. The scope of the program will provide graduate design students with a critical examination of the issues, theories, and ideas that are relevant to contemporary design and a studio practice in design, with a focus on the following objectives:
- Increase your ability to analyze graphic design (along with architecture, fashion, art and other cultural production) including describing them with appropriate vocabulary, examining their formal elements, and engaging in research to understand their contexts (both contemporary and historical);
- Expand the knowledge about the creative process, as exemplified by the study of specific works in design history, with a focus on understanding various creative methodologies. These methodologies become apparent in the historical projects, yet they can be applied in any contemporary, creative pursuit.
- Deepen the understanding of how political, cultural, and social conditions effect the practice of all aspects of design. Students will have the opportunity to see how various practitioners in the field create work that speaks to specific audiences using innovative graphic forms (through both images, typography, technology and media).
- Enrich the discernment of design by understanding the theoretical, historical, and aesthetic decisions behind a range of work.
- Increase the understanding of the field of design (including with architecture, fashion, art and other cultural production) in order to enhance your ability to create work and establish a practice that is engaged with the world at large.
The new USC MFA Design studios are located in Los Angeles, a cultural hub with an international gallery and museum scene with several arts districts and hundreds of design and advertising companies. With a select cohort enrolled each year, the program provides a unique experience that focuses on wide-ranging experimental design and social practice, as well as the creative and intellectual exploration afforded by a leading world-class university. This curricular depth coupled with USC Roski's intellectual and artistic reach, its position on the Pacific Rim and in one of the world's major arts and design capitals, and its ability to provide a vast array of cross- and interdisciplinary opportunities for its students offers an unparalleled environment for advanced study and practice. USC Roski boasts collaborative partnerships with design firms, museums and design collectives and has formal affiliations with the USC Fisher Museum of Art, The Hancock Memorial Museum, The Pacific Asian Museum and the California African American Museum.
As a capstone to their degree, all Roski MFA Design students are required to submit a written thesis which provides a rigorously researched and theoretically and historically grounded set of arguments relating to a specific, proposed design final project. In addition to the written thesis students will mount a practice component which can include an exhibition, public presentation, community project, or a proposal for a new course or new program. A cohort exhibition takes place in the spring of the second year. Each student is guided in both elements of the thesis by a committee of supportive faculty, including the thesis supervisor and two other members.
Courses of Interest
The Visiting Designer Forum offered in the fall is linked to USC Roski School's annual Roski Talks lecture series, which features in-depth public presentations by prominent artists, designers, writers, scholars and curators throughout the academic year. Presentations typically include a group discussion that allows students, faculty and the public to raise questions or problems and explore ideas with the visitor. First year students in the graduate programs also attend a closed-session seminar with the visitor and a USC Roski faculty member, engaging in intensive dialogue on issues posed by the lecture/discussion and previously assigned readings. In many cases students also have the opportunity to meet one on one with the visitor to present their own work and to learn from the visitor's professional expertise.
The Designer in Residence Forum offered in the spring provides advanced MFA students an opportunity to engage in depth with a visiting designer, artist, scholar, curator, historian or critic over a more extended intensive period. Opportunities for students include attending the visitor's public lecture and closed-session seminar as well as engaging the visitor through studio visits, group critiques, seminars and individual mentoring sessions.
Students work with distinguished faculty and visiting design professionals through a series of private studio visits. Visits typically occur weekly, but may occur more or less frequently, as determined by individual student needs and faculty advisors. Analysis and implications of forces contributing to conceptual development is provided by faculty.
Design Studio Co-Lab
This course will provide students with a critical examination of contextual issues, theories, movements and ideas that are relevant to the contemporary design practice in collaboration with a professional client. Students enrolled in this class will develop methodologies for working with clients and receive advanced instruction, analytical tools and design techniques related to the collaborative project.
Contemporary Issues in Design and Design Theory
These seminars include a survey of visual communication and human-centered design, an overview of the practice of design and the history of the design fields, and introduce key language and concepts and discuss creative methodology used over time and in a contemporary design practice.
This course, required for students interested in applying for teaching assistantships in their second year, features lectures and hands-on instruction on how to create design-related coursework, write syllabi, develop in-class assignments on themes in design pedagogy. Coursework includes an overview of the design process and process thinking; technology based instruction; design pedagogical methodology; and visual problem-solving as part of a pedagogical practice.
Field Internship Experience
This is an experiential opportunity that matches the interests of an individual design student with a design firm or independent designer who sponsors the student for a minimum of 150 hours of practical training and/or field experience.
Design Study Tour and International Design Study Tour
A Study Tour provides a unique and fresh perspective to a field of study. It allows individuals to see their studies in practice and offers exciting alternative to the traditional classroom-based learning. The domestic Design Study Tour includes a faculty-guided, 7-day tour to a specific American city during USC’s Spring Break in March, with on-site visits to some of the nation’s most diverse and dynamic cultural hubs. The tours include visits to renowned design firms and studios, museums, cultural centers and studio visits to influential cultural practitioners. The International Design Study Tour includes a faculty-guided 14 to 16-day tour to European or Asian cities, such as Berlin, Dessau, Lodz, London, Shanghai, Tokyo and Warsaw, either after the spring semester, or before the fall semester. This course includes on-site visits to some of the city’s most diverse and dynamic design firms and studios, meeting with art and design professionals and visits to museums and other cultural institutions. At least one design study tour course must be taken for the degree.
Global Art and Design and other elective courses
Capitalizing on USC's broader initiatives that promote thinking globally across disciplines, USC Roski graduate programs offer a seminar investigating the histories, theories and practices of global art and design. As a way of acknowledging the specificity and limits of Western perspectives, the Global Art Seminars address visual culture in a broad international framework via a changing focus on specific regions and case studies. A sensitivity to cultural difference and contrasting ways of making and understanding the visual arts--addressed in class through an attention to primary examples around the world--is key to these courses. For the Global Art sequence, specialists in particular regions of visual culture outside of Europe and North America address the rise of the concept of the "global" with and after colonialism. MFA Design students take a minimum of 16 units of electives, from within the Roski School as well as across the university, capitalizing on the strength of the University’s six professional art schools as well as the Marshall School of Business, the Annenberg School for Communication, the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
MFA Design Info Sessions
These informative "open house" events feature an overview of the program and application requirements with the Director of Admissions and a tour of the MFA Design studios. Prospective students are also encouraged to attend our weekly Roski Talks during the fall and spring semesters.