In today’s competitive business world, design innovation requires trained professionals that can bring a unique vision to their work. Design management is an emerging field that blends project management with design, strategy, supply chain principles, and fiscal management to improve an organization’s approach to design planning and development. Linking creativity to business organization, design management is a multi-disciplinary approach that addresses organizational structures to create collaborative and innovative business environments.

Graduate education in design management combines the study of multiple design and business practices (e.g. operations management, marketing management, visual design), preparing students for leadership positions in diverse industries, from experience design (XD) to architecture.

Classification of Master’s in Design Management Programs

Master’s programs in design management focus on both business strategy and design processes. This unique combination explores emerging practices used to drive innovation through enhanced marketing and product development processes, strategic design intelligence, and communication.

Students interested in a graduate education in design management can choose from several different degree options, including Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), and Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) programs. Although all three degree tracks are industry-oriented, the Master of Arts traditionally puts slightly more emphasis on theoretical and conceptual coursework (e.g. design thinking, idea visualization). The Master of Science, on the other hand, typically includes a greater focus on research-based instruction in both business and design. Both the M.A. and M.S. may also require a written thesis to graduate.

Programs vary by institution, and can be found in professional schools of art and design, business, communication, or architecture and design. Examples include the following:

The M.P.S. is a professionally-oriented degree program that focuses on applied skills in business operations and design production. These programs typically include courses in design leadership, marketing concepts, product commercialization, and business finance operations. In some cases, M.P.S. programs may prefer students with professional experience in either visual communications or graphic design, as well as a bachelor’s degree in a relevant design field. Programs vary, but are traditionally offered through schools of design, continuing studies, or art and design. Below are some examples of M.P.S. programs:

Curriculum Details for Master’s in Design Management Programs

From creative directors to brand managers, today’s business and design leaders require the ability to devise strategic, sustainable design practices that foster creative innovation. Curriculum in a design management master’s program emphasizes the study of organizational and project management, along with core concepts in design operations. These programs blend theoretical study of design principles with real-world business and financial strategies to develop students’ understanding of design thinking.

Coursework in all three of the major degree tracks (M.A., M.S., and M.P.S.) typically concentrates on major elements of design management, including organizational management, financial management, supply and logistics management, innovation management, marketing management, and people (human resources) management. Below is an overview of the curricula commonly found in M.A./M.S. or M.P.S. design management programs

M.A. and M.S. in Design Management Programs

Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.A.) degree tracks in the field generally require between 30 and 36 credit hours to complete. The curriculum in these programs is designed to introduce students to the broader principles, practices, and profession of strategic design. Through well-rounded coursework, students explore the idea of design within different concepts, such as brands, design systems, and products and services. While M.A. and M.S coursework does offer a wide breadth of study on how design functions within business environments, it also examines real-world applications of tactical and organizational methods design leaders can use to improve design processes and drive business goals. Depending on the track, both the M.A. and M.S. may require students to complete a research-based thesis.

Although specific curriculum details depend on the program track and institution, first-year coursework generally covers foundational concepts in both design and business. These initial courses may include subjects such as design business models, design thinking, history of design, visual design and communication, and applied design theory. After completing their core coursework, students usually transition into applied learning work through research-based classes in business and design. For example, students may be tasked with developing a real-world creative brief for a new software product, requiring them to lead the design and review process for prototype models and communicate findings to classmates and instructors. Others might investigate how to improve design processes and address business strategy needs in order to scale a new project in a competitive business segment.

M.P.S. in Design Management Programs

The Master of Professional Studies degree track traditionally requires approximately 30 to 36 credit hours, with a curriculum more oriented towards creative management and solving real-world design problems. Depending on their particular concentration, students can expect to be introduced to contemporary design thinking and its connections to design planning and production, human resources, and business strategy. The M.P.S curriculum is typically divided between core courses, seminars, and studio work, providing students with theoretical knowledge of conceptual design methods, production strategies, and business practices that are directly applicable to industry work in digital design, information technology and software, publishing and printing, online media, and more.

While the core curriculum varies by program, M.P.S. students are generally introduced to theoretical concepts in design, visual culture, and ethical design during their first year of study. These introductory courses may cover subjects such as collaborative design, visual communications, design and marketing concepts, visual persuasion, or user experience design. Some programs also include competency-based instruction in web development skills, like CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

After completing foundational coursework, students take elective courses in their specific professional focus. The subject matter of these electives varies by academic specialization and M.P.S. program. For instance, students might concentrate on learning how to manage creative teams, handle client relations, and drive the creative process, or focus on technological innovation in design and communication, studying how advancements in tech continue to impact strategic design decisions for brands, businesses, and products. Others may choose to take courses that emphasize effective contemporary design strategies and tools that foster the development of engaging, effective visual content, product development, and messaging.

Master’s in Design Management Courses

Below is an example list of classes students might take while earning a master’s degree in design management:

  • Design Innovation: This course provides a high-level overview of the core concepts and processes of innovation, training students to apply practical leadership skills to foster professional atmospheres that drive design innovation.
  • Creative Project Management: This class examines contemporary models of project management and its various strategies and techniques, discussing qualitative and quantitative research practices, information control, organizational leadership, and team communication.
  • Theories of Design: In this course, students gain an understanding of applied design theory, exploring how it influences modern design practices and impacts design briefs and the strategic mapping of projects.
  • Financial Management: This class serves as an introduction to financial management in the art and design industries, providing a comprehensive review of fiscal concepts (e.g. resources, budgeting) that are critical to building successful creative projects.
  • Design Development and Marketing: This course covers the foundational principles of project design and execution, providing students with an understanding of business plan development, idea commercialization, and supply-chain management.

The table below includes a sample curriculum plan for a two-year Master of Professional Studies program in design management that requires 36 credit hours of full-time study to complete. Plans of study vary by institution, however, and the curriculum table below is for illustrative purposes only:

Fall Term
Spring Term
Year 1
  • Design Management I
  • Introduction to Design Marketing Concepts
  • Design Leadership
  • Applied Theory in Design
  • Design Business and Ethics
  • Typography Studio
  • Design Management II
Year 2
  • Design Innovation Leadership and Management
  • Financial Management and Accounting
  • Design Business Practices
  • Information Systems and Design
  • Facilitating Creative Thinking
  • Thesis or Project

Online Master’s in Design Management Programs

For many design professionals, completing a graduate degree can be a challenging endeavor. They may not be able to afford to take leave from work to enroll in a full-time campus-based program, or might have family or personal commitments that prevent them from completing a degree. In these cases, an online master’s in design management program can be a great alternative, allowing working professionals to gain the advanced knowledge and skills they need to further their careers, without having to sacrifice their current position.

Online design management master’s programs are available in different degree tracks (e.g., M.A., M.S., M.P.S.) and specializations. However, while some master’s programs can be completed entirely online, others offer a selection of online courses in a hybrid model that requires students to complete some courses on campus. Admission requirements for an online program in design management vary by institution and degree path. However, most require students to hold a bachelor’s degree. and some ask students to submit a portfolio of work demonstrating their abilities as a design professional.

Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Design Management

Effective and strategic design practices are critical to solving business problems and driving innovation in product or service development. A graduate education in design management can prepare students for advanced career paths in a wide range of fields, including marketing, information technology, product development, graphic and industrial design, project management, higher education, publishing and journalism, consulting, and more. With a master’s degree in design management, professionals can pursue careers with educational institutions, private businesses, design and marketing agencies, government organizations, or software and hardware firms, to name just a few possible employers. It is an expansive field that allows for creativity in career selection. Below is a list of several employment paths graduates with a master’s in design management might consider after earning their degree:

  • Creative Director: Creative directors establish and oversee the creative direction of agencies, companies, and organizations both big and small. They typically manage creative staff (e.g., graphic designers, copywriters) in order to plan, create, and execute brand and marketing strategies.
  • Brand Manager: Brand managers devise and implement strategic marketing practices to enhance the recognition of the brand associated with a company, service, or product. They leverage consumer analytics and marketing insights to understand the brand’s value, as well as establish measures to protect it against infringement.
  • Industrial Designer: Industrial designers leverage market research and client input to create renderings and designs for products such as phones, computers, or cars. Focusing on function as well as style, they consider the safety, usability, and practicality of their designs prior to them being put into production.
  • Design Strategist: Design strategists use tools such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create visualizations of product prototypes. Collaborating with researchers and market analysts, these professionals lead the process of refining and testing new concepts before they are introduced to consumers.