Design Science PhD Curriculum

Design Science PhD Program Curriculum and Format

The Design Science PhD program leverages our novel integrative culture to produce unique leaders in design research, practice, and teaching.

Design Science is an interdisciplinary doctoral program. Design Science students must pursue an appropriate course of study with the right mix of disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth. Each student defines a custom program of study tailored to their background and interests in consultation with faculty advisors and the program committee.

An individual student’s curriculum is structured so that knowledge from at least two disciplines permeates their program of study. This is the guiding principle for the DESCI program requirements. This path integrates disciplines from top programs at the University of Michigan to balance rigorous coursework, trend-setting research and practica.

Students are required to take a core set of classes that teaches them integrative design processes and research methods, and then deepen their knowledge in two or more disciplines by leveraging courses available across the university. Advised by two faculty in their respective fields, students integrate their disciplines through cutting-edge research to advance the field of design science in their dissertations.

Students are expected to complete a one semester equivalent of practicum or internship with an industrial or academic partner to further deepen their learning experience. Our unique approach to integrating design across disciplines provides a culture of support to ensure graduates become “the leaders and best” in design science.


Doctoral coursework requirements include core courses (Group A), required electives (Group B), dissertation work (Group C) and a Responsible Conduct of Research Course (Group D). See the Design Science handbook-student guidelines for additional information.

A. Core Courses (9 credits)

To provide a Design Science foundation, students take a core two-semester course sequence (6 credits) consisting of DESCI 501 Analytical Product Design and DESCI 502 Design Process Models, and two semesters (3 credits) of DESCI 790/791 Design Colloquium. Students are expected to take this during their first year.

B. Design Specialization Electives (15 Credits)

For breadth students must take one course from three different selected disciplines offerings (9 credits); to build depth student extend their knowledge in two of these disciplines by taking an one additional course in each (6 credits).

C. Dissertation and Practicum Courses (12–18 Credits)

Students are expected to be engaged each term in Design Science Research with their advisors.

D. Responsible Conduct of Research Training (1 Credit or Workshop)

Responsible conduct training is mandated for our students. Training can take place through a relevant course or workshop offered by many schools and colleges. Students are expected to take this during their first year.

Curriculum Details

Group A: Core courses (9 credits)

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)

Usually offered in the Fall Term.
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 work in team design projects from concept generation to prototyping and design verification.

DESCI 502 Design Process Models (3)

Usually offered in the Winter Term.
Interaction and coordination of decisions based on multi-discipline design analyses is studied in the context of a newly developed artifact. 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.

DESCI 790 and 791 Design Science Colloquium (1+2)

Usually offered in the Fall and Winter Terms.
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 identifying appropriate dissertation topics and build a community. Must be taken twice; first-time enrollment is for 1 credit and the second for 2 credits, requiring individual research study and presentation.

Group B: Design Specialization Electives (15 credits)

In consultation with their two faculty advisors, students select a total of 15 credit hours ensuring both breadth and depth in two disciplines.


To provide breadth of design knowledge, students select one course from three of the six different disciplines listed below (9 credits).

  • Architecture and Urban Planning; Art & Design; or Performing Arts
  • Business
  • Engineering and Computer Science
  • Information Sciences
  • Behavioral, Social, and Cognitive Sciences
  • Medicine and Public Health

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

Group C: Dissertation and Practicum Courses (12–18 credits)

It is expected that students work with their faculty advisors conducting research each term. The number of research hours will depend on the students schedule for that term, what is necessary for full enrollment, level of expected work of faculty advisors, and candidacy status.

For the Ph.D. Program, students are expected to have fulfilled 6 credit hours of DESCI 990 Dissertation Research Pre-candidate, and 6-12 credit hours in DESCI 995 Dissertation Research Candidate.

If students are in the first semester of the dual program and not admitted to the program yet, or were admitted without a masters and fulfilling the 24 hour credit requirement, they may enroll instead in DESCI 590 Directed Research.

For students pursuing practicum experience abroad, they should enroll in DESCI 503 Design Practicum.

DESCI 503 Design Practicum (3–6 credits)

Prerequisites: graduate standing; permission of the instructor who will guide the work.
This course allows student to conduct design project integrating two or more areas of interest of the student. Upon approval of a project proposal, students conduct research/project under the direction of a faculty member and/or industrial mentors. Topics may be chosen from any of the areas in the course list. The student will submit a report on the project and give an oral presentation to a panel of faculty members at the close of the term.

DESCI 590 Directed Research (3–6 credits)

Prerequisites: graduate standing; permission of the instructor who will guide the work.
This course allows students to conduct individual design research integrating two or more areas of interest of the student. Upon approval of a research proposal, students conduct research under the direction of a faculty member. Topics may be chosen from any of the areas in the colleges in the required course list. The student will submit a report on the research and give an oral presentation to a panel of faculty members at the close of the term.

DESCI 990 Dissertation Research Pre-candidate (1–6 hours)

Dissertation work by doctoral student not yet admitted to status as candidate. In the term when Preliminary 2 exam is held, students must enroll for a full term.

DESCI 995 Dissertation Research Candidate (1–6 hours)

Dissertation work by doctoral student with status as candidate. In the term when the defense of the dissertation takes place (that is, the final oral examination) students must be enrolled for a full term.

Group D: Responsible Conduct of Research Training

Integrity in research and scholarship is a fundamental value of the University of Michigan. It is the responsibility of all students to conduct research and scholarly activities in an ethical manner at all times. An indispensable part of graduate education is for students to become knowledgeable about the responsible conduct of research and scholarship appropriate to their discipline or field of study. All Ph.D. students are required by Rackham to complete training in the responsible conduct of research and scholarship before advancing to candidacy.

To fulfill this requirement, Design Science students are expected to complete training in one of their key disciplines that covers responsible conduct of research. Below is a list of approved courses to fulfill this requirement.

The College of Engineering offers training through workshops. Students can petition the Program Chair for substitutes.

Advancement To Candidacy

Students are initially admitted to the program as pre-candidates. Candidacy will normally be achieved no later than at the end of the second year of study, after completion of the Prelim Exams, and completion of course requirements in Group A (9 credits) and Group B (15 credits) with a grade-point-average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

The Prelim Exam will have two parts.

  • Part I: An oral exam in basic knowledge in two selected areas, agreed upon by the student, dissertation advisors and program advisor, typically based on the preceding coursework. Part I can be taken at any time during the first year of the program, and will function as a ‘qualifying’ examination.
  • Part II: A comprehensive presentation of a proposed dissertation topic by the student and a critical evaluation; this exam functions as the dissertation proposal (or the prelim exam in some programs). Part II will be normally taken no later than at the end of the second year.

Both exams are administered by a committee with a minimum of three faculty for Part 1 (typically two faculty advisors and a faculty member appointed by the program chair/director) and four faculty for Part 2. The examination committee will recommend action to the Program Chair, who will provide final approval. Students must have earned a master’s degree or completed the extra 24 credit requirement prior to advancing to candidacy.

Additional information about the advancement process, including Rackham guidelines, can be found here

Practicum And Teaching Experiences

Students are required to complete one semester equivalent of a practicum or internship with an industrial or academic partner after the first year of study. This may be an internship at an industrial or government lab or students may complete a one-semester teaching assistantship, typically in the third or fourth year of study.

Students will pursue arrangements for these experiences in consultation with their faculty advisors.

Step By Step Degree Process

  1. Apply with MS or MA or MFA degree
  2. Admitted
  4. Commence 24-credit hours of course work*
  5. Complete two semesters of coursework prior to Preliminary Exam 1
  6. Take Preliminary Exam Part 1 administered by co-advisors + appointed Exam Chair
  7. Approval by Rackham of the Dissertation Committee
  8. Complete pre-candidate coursework (9 + 9 credits minimum)**
  9. Take Preliminary Exam Part 2 administered by Dissertation Committee
  10. Recommended for Candidacy
  12. Complete coursework if needed (0-6 credits). Continue and complete research
  13. Consult with dissertation committee periodically
  14. Schedule Oral Defense Examination
  15. Defend and pass Oral Examination
  16. Awarded Doctor of Philosophy in Design Science

* If admitted with MS, MA, or MFA degree; if not, additional coursework is required.

**Completing all 9 credits in Group A core courses + a minimum 9 of 15 credits in Group B elective courses.

**As a DESCI student, you are required to submit a progress report each academic year. The progress report document will be provided to you via email by the DESCI office.