Master of Design (MDes) | Top Universities

If you have a keen eye for detail and an artist’s sense of aesthetics, a Master of Design could be the perfect stepping stone to a fulfilling and creative career. Anyone with a natural sense of color and an innate understanding of what is pleasing in proportion and style is a potential candidate for a Master of Design – commonly abbreviated to MDes. With this specialized qualification, you can focus on both the technical and artistic aspects of communicating through a range of visual media.

The Master of Design (MDes) is a postgraduate-level degree in the field of design, awarded by higher education institutions around the world. The field of design is of course constantly changing, and careers in design typically call for a combination of personal creativity with professional skills such as project management. Designers are tasked with the challenge of examining and reimagining a huge range of physical objects which we use in all aspects of our daily lives.

Completing a Master of Design program can help you develop in-depth knowledge of a particular specialization, such as typography or illustration, or enter a related area such as multimedia, landscape architecture or interior design. Some design courses will allow you to collaborate with other creative types, such as fine artists or film makers. You’ll also have the opportunity to boost your portfolio, and extend your network of contacts in the industry.

Most MDes courses have a strong focus on the application of artistic and computer-aided design skills to the interpretation of commercial and technical information for the public. Compared to design courses at undergraduate level, this graduate qualification offers the opportunity to focus on more complex design principles and the processes that bring them to life.

Graduates with a Master of Design should be well-equipped to interpret cultural and societal needs and trends, in order to develop the most appropriate formats, designs and multimedia to achieve a desired sensation or function. 

Entry requirements


Design Mdes


Successful applicants will normally have achieved a high level of undergraduate degree (equivalent to a 1st or 2.1 grade in the UK system), in a relevant subject. Some universities may also ask for details of earlier qualifications completed at secondary level.

You will usually need to provide a portfolio as part of your application. This should show off your creative talent, and show a range of relevant design skills within your specialist area.

Many universities recognize the value of prior learning and experience within related fields. However, you may still be considered even without any formal training in design. In some cases, you’ll be required to complete a preparatory course first. For example, the Illinois Institute of Technology (US) offers a one-year foundation program, focused on developing the skills and experience needed for an MDes.

Students who enter without previous formal study of design or a portfolio will usually take a longer time (up to three years instead of one or two) to complete the Master of Design program.

Design specializations

Those entering the field of design from another subject area may prefer to opt for a more general course, which provides a fairly broad foundation in a range of design skills and sectors.

However, design is a huge and diverse area of study, with many possible specializations. Popular areas include graphic design, industrial design, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, product design, urban design (one of the newer fields) and more.

When choosing a course, it’s worth thinking about whether you would like to get an overview, or focus on a particular area. In the latter case, many highly focused Master of Design programs are available.


Design Mdes


For example, the UK’s University of the Arts London offers an MDes Service Design Innovation, while in Canada the Ontario College of Art & Design awards an MDes in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, a two-year course which aims to “Create a new kind of designer: A strategist who sees the world from a human perspective and re-thinks what is possible; An innovator who can imagine, plan and develop a better world.” 

A typical Master of Design program will offer a range of courses in specific areas, such as photography, and specific design skills, such as color theory or perspective. Students will work with a wide range of software to develop high level design skills, alongside a good awareness of the commercial landscape; past and present design trends and theories; and the range of communication methods and technologies available.

In order to complete their studies successfully, students will usually be required to visualize, develop and complete an independent design project.

Careers in design

From working for a design consultancy to setting up your own studio, an MDes opens the door to a wide range of careers in design. You will have developed creative, theoretical and practical expertise which can directly lead to roles in fields including advertising, animation, graphic design, illustration, print-making, and production design for theatre/television/film, among others.

Some courses, such as the Textiles with Business Studies BA (Hons) MDes, offered by the University of Brighton, help prepare students for the business side of the industry, combining creative and managerial skills.

To enter careers in design, you will need to get as much work experience as you can and make as many contacts as possible. You will also need a portfolio of your design work to show to potential employers.


Design Mdes


Popular careers in design include:

Graphic designer

Graphic designers are responsible for creating design solutions to convey a desired visual impact and message. The role involves working to a brief, which is provided by an external client or by a creative director or account manager within the same company. On a daily basis, graphic designers will be focused on creating visuals to meet one or more briefs, liaising with clients and other team members to ensure objectives are achieved within deadline.

Interior designer

Interior designers plan and supervise the design and decoration of the inside of buildings. This can include private homes, as well as public spaces such as offices, hotels, restaurants and shops. A successful interior designer will need a combination of creativity, strong organization and project management skills, and excellent communication skills – in order to ensure clients’ needs are incorporated and reflected in the final outcome.


An illustrator uses creative art and design skills to visualize a story, message or idea based on a commercial brief provided by a client. Illustrators usually specialize in a particular design medium, such as drawing, photography or digital illustration. A postgraduate qualification is not required to become an illustrator, but a master’s degree specializing in graphic design or illustration may be beneficial, particularly for illustrators who are interested in teaching.

Key Skills

Common skills gained from an MDes include:

  • Logical thinking and problem-solving
  • Project management
  • Research and editorial skills
  • Presentation and other communication skills
  • Computer-aided design skills
  • Creativity and innovation
  • General software skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Critical awareness