What is Design Studies?

Design Studies is an academic discipline that pursues a critical understanding of design and its effects through analytical and practical modes of inquiry (Wikipedia). It focuses on describing the why, the how, and the what of design. Design Studies urges to rethink design as a process, as a practice, and as a generator or products and systems that give lives meaning and sustains our economic and political systems. Design thinking invites to explore the complexities inherent in the task of thinking about design.

Victor Margolin, Professor Emeritus of Design History at the University of Illinois, Chicago, defines design studies as a field of inquiry that addresses how we make and use products and how we have done so in the past. These products compromise the domain in the artificial. Design studies addresses ideas of product conception and planning, production, form, distribution, and use.

Mr. Margolin distinguishes a degree in Design from a degree in Design Studies by saying that “the former is about producing design, while the latter is about reflecting on design as it has been practiced, is currently practiced, and how it might be practiced.”

What is Design Management?

The objective of design management is to develop and maintain an efficient business environment in which an organization can achieve its strategic and mission goals through design. Design management is a comprehensive activity at all levels of business (operational to strategic), from the discovery phase to the execution phase (Wikipedia).

Design management has taken a strategic role within business since 2000. Since then, more academic programs in design management have been established. Consequently, different types of design management depend on the type and strategic orientation of the business. A partial list includes product design, brand design, business design management, service design management, and engineering design.

Education-Master’s Degree in Design Studies

Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design offers a Master of Design Studies. The program challenges students to understand and influence the underlying processes shaping contemporary life. The program evolved from the emerging challenges of changing climates, media systems, energy flows, material economies, and migratory populations. Design disciplines offer unique insight on how to navigate these complex, open-ended conditions. The degree seeks to empower the next generation of designers and urbanists, the program utilizes novel and alternative methodologies in a collaborative, immersive environment.

There are also specialty areas within the degree. For example, a Master of Design Studies in Sustainable Design. This may appeal to those with a background in architecture or a degree in environmental engineering. The coursework teaches students about the practices, processes, and materials with which we can create a truly sustainable built environment.

Master’s in Design Management

Another program offers a Master of Professional Studies in Design Management & Communication. This program combines the worlds of creative management, design thinking, and business strategy. Students develop a holistic understanding of creativity and the design process while mastering the managerial insights and leadership strategies needed to deliver business-focused outcomes.

The above curriculum involves ethical design, visual communications, design management and strategy, leadership and design thinking. Graduates have the knowledge and skills to work in UI (user interface) design, team leadership roles, and strategic marketing.

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Which is better for a Career?

The answer lies in your present or future career ambitions. Both design studies and design management are multifaceted. They both involve various disciplines.

Design Management may be more attractive for working professionals who are or want to combine the world of business and design. You can complete a degree in this major that develops strategic management skills in several study areas related to design management: operations management; financial management; marketing management; organization and human resource management; management of innovation and change; and management of local, regional, and global suppliers, distributors, and markets.

Careers available with a degree in design studies also depend on your concentration. For example, your degree emphasized service design. It is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.

The main difference between service design and product design is that services are intangible. Essentially, a service designer tries to make a company’s services better than its competitors do by following a service design methodology. The aim is to improve how the service works in order to improve the customer experience.

Another example is a Risk and Resilience concentration. This specialty looks at design as a discipline provides cities, communities, and individuals with tools to effectively prepare for, cope with and anticipate rapid change within the spatial, social, and economic vulnerabilities it produces.

Additional Resources

What is a Degree in Graphic Design?

What are my Bachelor’s Degree Choices in Graphic Design?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Graphic Design and Web Design?

What are my Choices for a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design?

What Classes will I take in a Graphic Design Degree?

What Jobs are available with a Degree in Graphic Arts?