Sustainable Design | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Sustainable Design: Degree Information

MCAD emphasizes an engaging process working with students from multiple professions. For this Master of Arts degree, you take courses in several different areas adding up to the 30 total credits required for graduation. Courses are completely online with no on-campus requirements. Courses are asynchronous, meaning you will not have set class times—you can choose works best for you to complete your work. 

This program culminates in a student-driven thesis project. With the support and direction of a mentor and thesis committee, you will conduct independent research on a sustainability-focused project of your choice.

MCAD defines sustainable design as traditional design which incorporates an integrated systems-thinking perspective. This means:

  • Balancing the important factors of environment, ethics, and economy in every design.
  • Designing appropriately for the system in which the design will exist for its entire life cycle.
  • Designing with global and positive changes in mind: where the design leads to more opportunities, better conditions, and more innovative solutions, no matter what the design challenge may be.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the term sustainability and its history.
  • Identify relevant sustainability frameworks and describe examples of their application. 
  • Select and apply appropriate sustainable design tools to solve real-world sustainability challenges.
  • Work collaboratively in cross-disciplinary groups to produce sustainability-focused work and deliver professional presentations. 
  • Exhibit sustainable design capacity through a professional web-based portfolio.
  • Propose, create, and discuss a self-driven, sustainability-focused thesis project and presentation.
     

Core Required Courses

SD 6500 Fundamentals of Sustainable Design
3 credits

In this foundational course students are introduced to hands-on and holistic approaches to sustainability. This course covers current sustainability frameworks, principles, and materials assessments, as well as the history and logic behind them, providing students with useful research tools to apply to the ever-changing demands of sustainable design, business, development, and policy-making.

SD 6510 Systems Thinking
3 credits

We are transitioning from the age of design for the part to the age of design for the whole. Systems thinking, languages of design, and product life cycles are integrated and they form the solid foundation for innovative products. This course provides students with the tools required to succeed in today's dynamic market and a world of uncertainty. Actionable theory is absorbed through market-specific projects.

SD 7021 Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project 1
3 credits

Students progress toward the completion of the graduate thesis project in the field of sustainable design and innovation, identified by the student and approved by the Sustainable Design Academic Committee during the Mid-Program Review. In the first of this two-semester sequence, students develop a thesis learning plan and timeline; initiate, lead, and manage their thesis project work; select and solicit critical feedback from their thesis committee; conduct scholarly research; and create initial drafts of their thesis project presentation and web-based portfolio.This is the first of a two-semester course sequence. 

Prerequisites: Successful Mid-Program Review

SD 7022 Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project 2
3 credits

Course content is the completion of the graduate project in the field of sustainable design and innovation, identified by the student and approved by the Sustainable Design Academic Committee during the Mid-Program Review. In the second of this two-semester sequence, students continue to lead and manage their thesis project; solicit critical feedback from their thesis committee; conduct scholarly research; complete their thesis project work; create final drafts of their thesis project presentation and web-based portfolio; and pass their final thesis review. The course culminates in the student submitting their final thesis project presentation and web-based portfolio to the library.This is the second of a two-semester course sequence.

Prerequisites: Graduate Sustainability Thesis Project 1

Specialization Courses

Sustainable Design Specialization Courses (Choose 4)

SD 6750 Creative Leadership
3 credits

Economic, environmental, and ethical crises present leaders with new and complex challenges. Effective, resilient, and agile leaders employ a diversity of skills, experience, and resources to respond to humanity's greatest challenges with creative, innovative, and humane solutions. Students build their capacities to become creative leaders and to work constructively as part of dynamic and collaborative teams through the integration of an ecological perspective for their work, organizations, communities, and the planet.

SD 7530 Making the Business Case for Sustainability
3 credits

How do market forces shape the way we live, work, and even play? Students in this course look at business through a designer’s eye to understand the interplay between producers and consumers, governments and people, stockholders and stakeholders, man and the environment, and how all of these factors interconnect and ultimately direct how our products, processes, and systems are created. Students gain an understanding of the implications of their decisions, how to identify risk areas, long-term thinking strategies, and best practices for sustainable business models through weekly exercises, special projects, and the creation of a business plan.

SD 7620 The Practice of Sustainable Design
3 credits

How do we actively design to create truly sustainable results? In this course students examine this question and apply leading-edge practice methods for innovative sustainable and regenerative design solutions. Recommended for novice and veteran designers and innovators alike, this course explores the theoretical frameworks, green standards, and practice techniques used by leading sustainable designers, thinkers, and architects. The design methods applied in this studio course fit any discipline at any scale, from the smallest object to the most complex system. Through studio projects and exercises, students learn to integrate the theory of sustainable design frameworks into their practices (i.e., systems thinking, life-cycle analysis, material health, green standards, eco-labels, supply chain topics, etc.).

SD 7630 Collaborative Product Design
3 credits

How do we design real products for real companies, benefiting customers, the companies themselves, and the rest of the world? And how do we know they are better? This studio course provides tools for sustainable design innovation and metrics to measure success. Students use creative and analytical skills, generating new ideas and 3D CAD renderings and evaluating designs with screening-level life-cycle assessments and two eco-labeling systems (Cradle to Cradle and EPEAT). Green innovation tools taught include systems thinking, energy effectiveness, lightweighting, design for lifetime (repair, recycling, etc.), material choice, biomimicry, and persuasive design. Some assignments are individual and theoretical, but the bulk of the course is spent working in groups, using tools such as message boards and screen-sharing video chats.

SD 7010 Graduate Sustainability Practicum
3 credits

This professional practicum provides an opportunity for students to gain practical experience in the evolving field of sustainable design and innovation. The practicum may be arranged by the director of career development, the sustainable design program office, or initiated by students, and all practicums must be preapproved by the sustainable design program office. For a practicum to be approved, a mentor relationship and learning experience must exist beyond a simple employment opportunity. Three-credit professional practicums require working 120 hours toward the practicum project (can be accomplished remotely) and keeping a journal or blog to document hours, activities, and learning process.

Electives

Sustainable Design Electives (Choose 2)

SD 6600 Innovation Tools and Techniques
3 credits

Innovation is applied creativity. Designers need to know personal practice, innovation techniques, and how to implement their ideas. This course teaches all three techniques through a combination of reflection, focused exercise, and the creation of plans. Each week, students learn one technique for idea generation along with one technique for sustainable innovation. Students reflect on their personal practices (e.g., how they reflect sustainability, what their best practices are, and how they can improve) and engage in ongoing dialog with fellow students to learn and critique their practices. The course projects stress multiple approaches to design situations, focusing on the design customer and implementation of ideas.

SD 6610 Biomimetic Design
3 credits

In this course students learn how to abstract functional strategies from nature to apply to the process of innovative design. This project-oriented studio course covers core biological principles, astounds students with the wealth of design solutions available in nature, and provides numerous case studies of innovative designs inspired by natural models. Overall, this course provides powerful metaphors and methods for looking to nature as model, mentor, and measure in our designs.

SD 6700 Visual Communications for Sustainability
3 credits

We are increasingly surrounded by data, and information is collected and categorized in the smallest of increments. Data on sustainability is no exception. How do we use and present data in a way that is relevant for consumers? In this course students learn about the growing field of information design and critically evaluate how it relates to communicating sustainability. Customized project-based assignments take students deeper into real-life situations.

SD 6810 Packaging Sustainability
3 credits

We handle packages every day and they account for a third of our waste stream. Using the format of a product-repositioning study, students in this course examine the core ideas of consumer perception and market triggers, material selection, environmental impact, and long-term strategic thinking. By the end of this course, students are able to maximize a package's appeal while minimizing environmental impact.

SD 7010 Graduate Sustainability Practicum
3 credits

This professional practicum provides an opportunity for students to gain practical experience in the evolving field of sustainable design and innovation. The practicum may be arranged by the director of career development, the sustainable design program office, or initiated by students, and all practicums must be preapproved by the sustainable design program office. For a practicum to be approved, a mentor relationship and learning experience must exist beyond a simple employment opportunity. Three-credit professional practicums require working 120 hours toward the practicum project (can be accomplished remotely) and keeping a journal or blog to document hours, activities, and learning process.

Total Credit Hours
30