Design Science Curriculum

Design Science Master's Curriculum Information

Currently, there is one MS degree program pathway in DESCI that requires 30 total credit hours (with at least 24 credits at the 500 level).  At most, 6 credit hours at the 400 level may be taken. A cumulative GPA of 3.0/4.0 is also required to graduate (note that a student will be placed on academic probation if his/her GPA falls below 3.0). 

Students must complete all degree requirements within five (5) years from the date of first enrollment in the program.

It is strongly recommended that all incoming Master’s students communicate with the Graduate Coordinator ( early (e.g., upon accepting admission to the program and prior to course registration) and often (during the first two weeks of the fall academic semester and during the first two weeks of the winter academic semester). The DESCI MS program provides the student with considerable flexibility. With minimal exceptions (e.g., required courses), you truly can “create your own adventure” and “design your own degree”. This flexibility puts a lot of responsibility on the student to understand the requirements. The student is responsible for determining how the program and courses can be utilized to meet individual educational and professional goals. The Graduate Coordinator can provide considerable assistance in this regard, help minimize problems, and make sure students get the most out of their graduate studies. The Program Director and/or Program Chair can provide strategic input about potential course options and co-curricular / experiential learning opportunities to make sure students are crafting a degree program that meets their individual educational and professional goals. 

The Master of Science (MS) in Design Science can be completed in 1-1.5 years on a full-time basis, starting in Fall.

Group A: Core Courses

(9 Credits Total)

Required Courses

  • DESCI 501: Analytical Product Design
  • DESCI 502: Design Process Models
  • DESCI 790 and DESCI 791: Design Science Colloquium and Seminar

Group B: Design Specialization Courses

(15–18 credits total)

Required Courses

  • No required courses

Group C. Design Practicum (Immersive Practice)

(3–6 credits total)

Required Courses

  • Either DESCI 503 or DESCI 590 is required

* Please Note: ISD cannot guarantee these courses are available every academic year or every term; these lists are updated on an on-going basis.

Group A: Core Courses​

(9 Credits Total)

The core Design Science courses provide a common foundation in design for all students independent of their chosen disciplines. These courses integrate design knowledge and practice across all disciplines and teach the universal principles. The first course aims at establishing a common experience in doing design. The second course aims at providing a common basis for studying design. The colloquium provides exposure to modern research topics and a forum for interactions and building a cohesive Design Science community.

DESCI 501: Analytical Product Design

(3 credits)

Design of artifacts is addressed from a multidisciplinary perspective that includes engineering, art, psychology, marketing, economics, and other disciplines. Using a decision-making framework, emphasis is placed on quantitative methods, building mathematical models, and accounting for interdisciplinary interactions. Students learn integrative design techniques such as conjoint analysis, kansei engineering, multi-domain optimization, and advanced decision making. Students work in team design projects from concept generation to prototyping and design verification.

DESCI 502: Design Process Models

(3 credits)

Interaction and coordination of decisions based on multi-discipline design analyses. Innovation and creativity are addressed as elements of the design process. Enterprise design decisions made on functionality and business criteria are analyzed within organizational, cultural and social models. Students propose and test novel analysis methods and design process models. Emphasis is placed upon scientific research methods.

DESCI 790 and DESCI 791: Design Science Colloquium and Seminar

(1-2 credits)

Topics on Design Science are presented by doctoral candidates and by invited speakers across campus and from outside the university. The aim of the colloquium is to aid in exposure to current design knowledge topics and to build a cohesive Design Science student cohort.

Group B. Design Specialization Courses

(15–18 credits total)

For the Master’s Degree in Design Science, students are expected to specialize and integrate the knowledge of two disciplines within design. These courses are intended to give the student the necessary foundation in Design Science through the study of rigorous methods in the disciplines. Students, in consultation with the program advisor, select a sequence of courses within a design specialization to ensure sufficient depth. Students should also choose course from both the Breadth/Program Core and Depth/Program Core. The student’s customized course of study should be 15–18 credit hours, as follows:

Breadth/Program Core Course Options:

To provide breadth of design knowledge, students select one course from three disciplines (9 credits). Examples of disciplines include:

Human Behavior

Good design relies on a keen understanding of human behavior, whether in terms of routines and actions that are visible or emotions or motivations which may be less visible. Fundamental knowledge in this domain spans cognitive science and psychology, social psychology, and other disciplines.

Key Competencies:

  • Language
  • Group dynamics
  • Neuroimaging and neural networks
  • Social cognition and perception
  • Self in a social context
  • Attitudes and persuasion
  • Group decisions
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination
  • Human-computer interaction

Business / Management

Management encompasses a broad range of disciplines rooted primarily in the effective functioning of large organizations, including marketing (consumers, products, markets), organizational behavior (teams, structure, group dynamics, etc.), accounting (control systems, budgeting, financial statements, etc.), business law (operating within a legal framework), and so forth. Together, management disciplines provide a solid foundation in the ways that large organizations function, levers available to management for executing objectives, and the external view of markets and competition to compete effectively within a free market.

Key Competencies:

  • Financial statement
  • Marketing mix
  • Fundamental accounting identity
  • Linear programming
  • Group emotional intelligence
  • Resource-based view of the firm
  • Agency theory
  • Business ethics framework
  • Technology governance

Modeling And Optimization

Modeling enables the translation of real-world, complicated problem spaces into well-specified mathematical structures that can be solved using known algorithms and software systems, with the specification of clear assumptions and problem boundaries. Optimization is critical in many domains, including machine learning, which employs such methods as gradient descent within the neural network training process.

Key Competencies:

  • Optimization concepts and terms
  • Design space versus analysis space
  • Unconstrained optimization (Newton’s method, etc)
  • Discrete algorithms
  • Genetic algorithms
  • Constrained optimization (Kuhn-Tucker conditions, etc)
  • Apply optimization techniques to determine a robust design
  • Optimization software
  • Optimization in the context of machine learning, including gradient descent, stochastic gradient methods, etc

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods enable rich discoveries by focusing on the contextual details of individual and group actions within specific situations. Qualitative methods, such as contextual inquiry, mind mapping, problem framing and reframing, and cultural probes are also critical to human-centered design or empathic design, enabling a balance of problem finding and solution finding to produce solutions that meet people’s needs, are technologically feasible, and yield an economically viable business model. Qualitative methods are particularly effective for addressing wicked problems with elusive or changing requirements, such as climate change.

Key Competencies:

  • Problem Framing and hypothesizing
  • Observational analysis
  • Narratological analysis
  • Group approaches
  • Idea generation
  • Artifact analysis Purse/Desk/Briefcase Tour
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Persona
  • Storytelling
  • Data synthesis: storyboard, customer Journey Map

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods underlie many design science projects by enabling statistical inferences based on rigorous data analysis. Such inferences can be a critical complement to qualitative insights, as well as stand on their own.


Key Competencies:

  • Data collection and data cleaning
  • Survey instrument development
  • Ethical collection and use of data
  • Pairwise and multivariate analysis techniques, such as limited-dependent variable regression
  • Use of diverse data structures, including graphs, relational, and flat files
  • Use of statistical software programs such as Python and R
  • Big data analysis, digital trace data, and other modern methodologies

Depth/Career Pathways Courses Options:

To provide depth, students select an additional course from two disciplines, with a minimum of 6 hours in their two selected disciplines. Courses should be selected towards a specialization aim. Examples of specializations include:

Designing For Sustainable Operations

Typically, over 80% of the environmental impact of any product is fixed during the design stages, so design for sustainability initiatives represent a significant way for businesses to deliver on their eco responsible agenda. In this field, you will learn how to design products, systems, and policies to improve sustainability, reduce costs, save energy, and increase ROI and sales. This is especially so as today’s consumers are increasingly motivated by a business’s  eco-credentials, sustainability performance, and ability to adapt and deliver products that will meet their needs at the best possible cost, quality and value, with the least environmental harm across the entire product life cycle.

Key Competencies:

  • Energy and production systems
  • Energy return on investment (EROI) analysis
  • Life Cycle analysis
  • Quantitative analysis and statistics
  • System dynamics

Human-Centered Design

Human-centered design focuses on developing solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Rigorous methods to gather and analyze qualitative and quantitative data to create design requirements ensure human needs are addressed in an effective and equitable manner through brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing human-centered design solutions. In this field, you will integrate two or more traditional disciplines to observe and tackle modern, complex design problems using quantitative, qualitative, and analytical methods and processes. You will also address individual, societal, marketplace, governmental, political, environmental, and technological concerns requiring design innovation.

Key Competencies:

  • Fundamentals of user-interface design
  • Knowledge of human perception, cognition, and action
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Sociotechnical system analysis
  • Support development of a business case
  • Cultural awareness

Innovation Management

If you are looking for a career that integrates various disciplines to improve an organization’s processes, products, creative capabilities, product development time from concept to the market, and workforce productivity, consider the innovation management pathway. In this field, you will guide companies and nonprofits to improve creativity and foster innovation, as well as manage diverse, global, and creative teams. You will also learn how to improve collaboration, communication, team management, networks, continuous development, processes, projects, design thinking, cultural awareness, technology, and applications.

Key Competencies:

  • Cultural awareness
  • Design thinking techniques
  • Project management
  • Team management
  • Visioning and setting strategy

Group C. Design Practicum (Immersive Practice)

(3–6 credits total)

To provide context to integrate the theoretical and scientific principles that students learn, students are required to have a minimum of 3 academic credits of practicum. This may be an internship with an industrial company or government partner, or may be a research or design project with faculty at the University of Michigan.  The intent of this project course is to provide students with a project experience where they can apply the knowledge and skills acquired through the DESCI program to relevant problems.

Learn more about this component of the ISD Curriculum on the ISD Practicum page.

  • DESCI 503 (3 credits) Master Practicum OR
  • DESCI 590 (3 credits) Master Independent Project

Take 3 academic credits per semester for up to two semesters. One capstone project enrollment, or approved alternative, is required for graduation. A second capstone project enrollment in another semester is allowed pending Program Director approval.