MS Design Studies

SoHE Bathroom First Floor Design ShotThe M.S. program is a 2 year program dedicated towards generating new knowledge in the field of design through empirical methods and/or logical reasoning. Examples include creating a better understanding of the relationships between objects/environments and people, examining design processes/methods for their effectiveness in solving the variety of issues related to the built environment and objects. Students who aim to create objects/environment through creative activities and studio practices are better suited for the M.F.A program.

The Design Studies graduate program provides opportunities for students to pursue topics in depth in design and design’s relationship with human, their environments, textiles and other material objects. The program is highly flexible, as each student works closely with his/her advisor and graduate committee to design a custom-fit curriculum that strives to support each student’s goals after graduation.

Due to the centrality of the student/advisor relationship, students will only be accepted if there is a close fit between the student’s area of interest and a graduate faculty member who is willing to commit to serve in this mentorship relationship. In this regard, it is important for each applicant to identify a potential faculty member whom they would intend to work with at the time of the applicant’s submission.  At the same time, students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty from a broad range of departments across the university, including, but not limited to, Art, Art History, Civil Society and Community Studies, Computer Science, Consumer Science, Engineering, Folklore, Human Development and Family Studies, Geography, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning.

Areas of Concentration

MS students can choose areas of inquiry from a variety of choices. Within each area, students are expected to build a self-directed and highly coherent curriculum in close consultation with a major faculty advisor. Topics for inquiry typically fall within the following broad areas:

Design History and/or Material Culture Studies

Material Culture Studies and Design History (DH) examines the relationships between culture, objects and individuals. Students develop expertise and insights into the study of objects and environments, not as isolated entities, but as embedded in social, cultural, aesthetic, anthropological, geographical and temporal contexts. Knowledge gained may result in understanding of the past, or insights into contemporary design. Students may focus on particular designers and makers, design from a particular geographical area or time period, design of textiles, design of environments or analysis of meaning and value.

Environment Design research (Environment Design, Environment-Behavior Studies)

Environmental Design Research (EDR) addresses diverse aspects of design inquiry, focusing on the complex inter-relationship between people and the built environment with an ultimate goal to create environments that are sustainable and responsive to human needs. Previous graduate topics in this area have included environment behavior, evidence-based design, building evaluation, sustainability, aging and environment, environments for special populations and children, participatory action research, and emerging technologies and applications of virtual reality.

Textile Science (Thesis and non-thesis option)

Textile Science provides in-depth understanding of the physical and chemical properties of natural and synthetic fibers and their interaction with dyes, finishes and plasma. Students become familiar with a variety of analytical tools such as Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Electron Spectroscopy for Chemical Analysis (ESCA), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Attenuated Total Reflectance, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR). For the non-thesis Master of Science option, click here

Degree Requirements

Coursework & Credit Distribution

Students must complete a minimum of 30 credits.  Within these broad requirements, the curriculum is custom-designed to fit each individual.  Courses should be selected with the help of the major professor and the final complement of courses must be approved by the student’s thesis committee.

The following credit distribution is expected:

Minimum Credits

  • DS major and other graduate courses (15 cr.)
  • Research methods and theory (6 cr.)
  • Seminar in area of emphasis (3 cr.)
  • Research and thesis (6 cr.)

Credit Load

Students enrolled in the M.S. Human Ecology: Design Studies program are usually expected to maintain Full-Time status, which is defined as a minimum of 8 credits per semester during the fall and spring semesters.


M.S. Degree Thesis Project 

All Design Studies M.S. students will complete a thesis with the exception for those looking to obtain a degree in the Master of Textile Science program with non-thesis option. The actual length and scope of the thesis will be determined by the committee. The student must submit a thesis proposal consisting of the following components to their committee for approval:

    1. general problem/content area, research questions or questions related to creative inquiry
    2. current theory, research
    3. literature appropriate to the area of concern
    4. perceived need for, or expected contribution of the study
    1. Statement of the problem
    2. Underlying assumptions
    3. Objectives/hypotheses
    4. Working (operational) definitions
    1. Materials
    2. Methodology
    3. Subjects (if any)
    4. Source of data/design
    5. Time schedule broken into target dates for each phase
    • Resources required and statement of availability (e.g., laboratory, equipment, supplies, computer consulting and use, statistical consulting)
    • Once the proposal is approved by the committee, the student will proceed to work on the thesis project. A copy of the approved thesis proposal should go into the student’s file. When the written thesis is complete, the student will turn it in and meet with his or her committee for an oral defense of the project.

Human Subjects Review Procedure 

All students engaged in human subjects research at the UW-Madison are required to complete both online training and received an approved human subjects protocol from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) before beginning data collection. For more information on these requirements, see the Human Research Protection Program at the the Human Subject’s Protections website which includes links to the training, protocol submission, and other information The student’s advisor will be officially responsible for the student’s project as the principal investigator, and must complete the training as well

Degree Warrant 

In order to graduate with an M.S. degree, a student in his/her final semester must inform the SoHE Graduate Program Coordinator and Apply to Graduate through the UW-Madison Graduate School.

Once the student and his/her thesis committee have scheduled a final oral defense date, the student must notify the Graduate Program Coordinator of the defense date, the names of the committee members, and the title of the thesis. This must be done at least three weeks prior to the final oral defense to provide enough time for the Graduate School to approve the student’s Degree Warrant. Once approved, the Graduate Program Coordinator will give the Degree Warrant form to the student to take to his/her final defense to obtain signatures of approval from each committee member. Once all signatures are obtained, the student should return the Degree Warrant to the Graduate Program Coordinator for processing.

Progress to Degree

The MS program is designed as a two year program, however there is no guarantee that the program can be completed in two years. What follows is the ideal scenario; minimum standards for satisfactory progress are listed below.

  • Semester 1: Students attend fall orientation for SoHE graduate students, meet with their major advisor about general direction of research interest, and plan a general course of study. Students at this stage should also select courses to enroll to.
  • Semester 2: Students work on articulation of research question/topic and begin developing a review of literature/work related to the research topic. By end of semester, students form a graduate committee (major professor and 2 graduate faculty). It is the student’s responsibility to ask the individuals to serve as his/her committee members. Usually, at least two out of the three are from the DS department. It is recommended that the student has an informal meeting with the committee to discuss his/her general direction and coursework plan.
  • Summer after first year: Students continue to work on literature/work review and articulation of research topic, moving toward completion of a thesis proposal. The student may take summer classes: if the student has an assistantship appointment for the following year, s/he will have tuition remission.
  • Semester 3: Students continue taking coursework. In some cases, the student may be able to complete courses other than thesis credits by the end of this semester. Usually, some of credits would be devoted to the full development of his/her Thesis Proposal. Students at this stage are advised to meet with their committee for approval of the Thesis Proposal as early as possible. The committee will also review the coursework the student completed.
  • Semester 4: Students who are planning to graduate in this semester must notify the SoHE graduate program coordinator, who will notify the Graduate School. Students at this stage is also expected to complete any necessary coursework. Note that students must be enrolled for a minimum of 2 credits in the semester they expect their degree.

Managing the M.S. Thesis Defense 

  1. Students must be enrolled for credit during the semester in which they plan to graduate. It is the responsibility of the student to be aware of Graduate School credit requirements and deadlines. See:
  2. In consultation with committee members, the degree candidate sets a date and time for the thesis defense. If the student has a performance-based component that accompany his/her thesis, the show should be fully installed at the time of the defense.
  3. The student completes thesis and turn in completed written thesis project component/and or exhibition statement to all committee members in advance of defense date.
  4. The student requests warrant from the SoHE graduate program coordinator a minimum of three weeks before defense/exam or the degree deadline for that semester. This request should include the thesis defense date, the names of the committee members, and the title of the thesis.
  5. The SoHE graduate program coordinator prepares warrant request and sends it to the graduate school.
  6. Degree warrant is returned to the SoHE graduate program coordinator and is placed in the student’s mailbox.
  7. On the date of the defense, the student takes the degree warrant to the defense meeting and has it signed by committee members after a successful defense.
  8. The student gives warrant to the SoHE graduate program coordinator so a copy can be made for the student’s file.
  9. The graduate program coordinator delivers the signed, original degree warrant to the graduate school.
  10. File a copy of the completed thesis in the Ruth Ketterer Harris Library. At the discretion of the Thesis Committee and the graduate student, a copy may also be filed in Memorial Library.
  11. For admission to the Ph.D. program after completion of the M.S., no additional application to the UW Graduate School is necessary. The candidate must complete “Transition from MS to PhD Recommendation"

MINIMAL Requirements for Satisfactory M.S. graduate student progress

Student’s progress toward the graduate degree is monitored by the advisor and the student’s graduate committee. Unsatisfactory progress may result in the student being asked to leave the program. The minimal expectations for satisfactory progress for M.S. students are listed below.

Note that a student must have an advisor at all times; it is not possible to remain in the program without a major professor acting in this capacity. Also note that the time frames were given below assume full-time graduate study, while part-time students are assessed proportionately.

  1. The minimum requirements set by the Graduate School for a student in good standing including a 3.0 grade point average must be met.
  2. An Incomplete must be completed by the end of the semester following when it was received. If an Incomplete remains on the transcript for more than two semesters, students will not be allowed to register for the next semester or summer session.
  3. The student must be enrolled for a minimum of 2 credits during the spring and fall semesters. Students who fail to enroll in a given semester must reapply for admission.
  4. The student must meet with their advisor at least once each semester. To assure that there is a record of these meetings and the student’s progress, the advisor will file a Progress Report with the program administrator at the end of each year.
  5. The student must have formed a committee comprised of three faculty no later than the end of the third semester of full-time study.
  6. The student must have a thesis proposal approved by the end of three semesters of full time study.

*Under most circumstances, the maximum time for completing the M.S. degree is six semesters of full-time study.

Unsatisfactory Progress

A student will be judged to be making unsatisfactory progress if they have not completed all degree requirements, including thesis or dissertation within 3 years of full time study. Students who are judged not to be making satisfactory progress may be placed on probation and may lose eligibility for graduate funding awards such as scholarships and assistantships. Further, students who receive unsatisfactory progress ratings in two consecutive semesters may be dropped from the program.

Students may appeal a decision to be dropped from the program by submitting a written request to their advisor outlining the reasons they believe reconsideration is warranted in relation to established criteria for satisfactory progress. Students may also request a leave of absence from graduate study due to extenuating circumstances by submitting a letter to their advisor. Such requests will then be considered by the DS Graduate Committee. Once approved the requests will be forwarded to the Associate Dean of Research in School of Human Ecology for formal action. The approved request is then forwarded to the Graduate School.