Design Science Curriculum

Design Science Curriculum Information:

30 total credit hours, at least 24 credits at the 500 level. Minimum GPA 3.0/4.0 required for graduation. At most, 6 credit-hours at the 400-level may be applied towards the degree. Complete all of the courses on the approved Plan of Study within five years from the date of first enrollment in the program. No more than 6 credit hours can be transferred from another institution. 

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

Integrative Science (9-12 Credits)

Required Courses (9 Credits)
Course Offerings (3 Credits)
  • Model-Based Systems & Design
  • Integrative Thinking
  • Socio-Technology
  • Global Engineering Leadership
  • Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Career Pathways (6 Credits)

Course Offerings (6 Credits)
  • Human-Centered and User Experience Design
  • Innovation Management
  • Sustainable Design
  • Custom Pathway

Program Core (9 Credits)

Course Offerings (9 Credits)
  • Human Behavior
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Modeling and Optimization
  • Management

Immersive Practice (3-6 Credits)

Course Offerings (3-6 Credits)
  • DESCI 503 for one or two semesters, 3 credits per semester


* Please Note:

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

  • This curriculum provides examples of common program core and career pathway courses, but the DESCI program is highly flexible, allowing students the option of customized plans of study.

Integrative Science

(9-12 Credits)

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Innovation and entrepreneurship drive today’s engineering world. Fueling this growth from global corporations to small businesses and national governments to local governments is a need to build sustainable products, services, and technologies. In this field, you will integrate concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship with engineering, science, and design in pursuit of opportunities to innovate solutions to highly complex problems. Here, you will learn how to be the next industry “true innovators” in strengthening market uptake of raw materials solutions and building a bigger platform for a greener future

Key Competencies:

  • Knowledge of market forces
  • Financial insight (understanding numbers)
  • Strategic thinking
  • Negotiation
  • Persuasion
  • Ability to influence
  • Creativity
  • Business planning and integration

Relevant Course Information:

Model-Based Systems Engineering and Design

Solving complex problems requires deeper levels of systems understanding. Modeling helps designers/engineers work at greater levels of complexity to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases. In this field, you will strengthen your ability to create and implement models to support every stage of the engineering and design process as well as drive learning for modeling, analyzing, and solving complex problems.

Key Competencies:

  • Modeling complex systems
  • Optimization
  •  Data analytics
  • Behavioral models
  • Business/Dynamic modeling
  • Qualitative models
  • Digital twins development
  • Evaluate data quality

Relevant Course Information:

Integrative Thinking

Integrative thinking requires seeing problems from multiple viewpoints, taking them all into consideration, and searching for creative solutions through a transformative approach. It  requires shifting the focus to the vulnerabilities and capacities of single systems or sectors to interconnected systems and how these will shift over time, taking into account multidirectional interactions of projected changes, responses, and effects. This leads to understanding how to compose a holistic view of a problem, co-construct new knowledge, explore alternative views and methods of problem analysis, and synthesize them into a coherent solution. In this field, you will discover how to integrate across multiple boundaries for the greater good.

Key Competencies:

  • Broad technical, business, management, and education experience
  • Ability to construct and correlate models that are abstractions of interactions and to evaluate data against the model
  • “Big picture” thinking
  • Understanding, at least at the top level, what knowledge domains are relevant and prioritizing their importance

Relevant Course Information:

Global Engineering Leadership

Engineering leaders are needed to strategically think and act globally based on an integration of academic excellence in engineering and business, experience in a variety of settings and environments, and the ability to lead across cultures and within organizations of varied sizes. In this field, you will strengthen your ability to develop engineering and business practices, develop cross-cultural leadership competencies, learn how to work within a global community, and lead with purpose, strategy, and vision in the development of sustainable global products, services, and processes for the common good.

Key Competencies:

  • Ability to scope and identify unique challenges of global engineering projects:
    • Global regulatory issues
    • Internationally-recognized engineering and manufacturing quality norms
    • Managing technology and legal contracts
    • Global Supply Chain Issues/Outsourcing/ Offshoring/
    • Re-positioning of Corporations and Subcontractors
    • Risk Management
    • Cross-cultural decision making
    • Understanding consequences/impact of decisions
  • Provide tools for taking corrective actions (within context of “real-world” global problems)
  • International Cultural Competency
  • Multicultural team management and global team leadership

Relevant Course Information:


Engineers are needed to design within social, political, economic, and cultural contexts. In this field, you will design things that participate in complex systems that have both social and technical aspects, study the intersection of society and technology as a grouping of social engineering and management science and learn how to develop new technologies to meet challenges in energy, environment, food, housing, water, transportation, safety, and health. You will also learn the societal impact of engineering and design decisions at the intersection of science and technology. 

Key Competencies:

  • Socially engaged decision making
  • Operational understanding of the impact of technology on society, world, environment (vice versa)
  • Global awareness

Relevant Course Information:

Program Core

(9 Credits)

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

Relevant Course Information:

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

Relevant Course Information:

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

Relevant Course Information:

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

Relevant Course Information:


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

Relevant Course Information:

Career Pathways

(6 credits)

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

Relevant Course Information:

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

Relevant Course Information:

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

Relevant Course Information:

Immersive Practice

(3-6 credits)

ISD Capstone

Work for leading industry partners to apply what you learn during your ISD coursework in a semester- or year-long project to contribute new ideas and knowledge to high priority engineering and technical issues. Learn more about this component of the ISD Curriculum on the ISD Capstone page.

DESCI 503 Design Science Practicum:

Take up to 3 academic credits per semester for up to two semesters.