The Best of Both Worlds

The three-year curriculum blends courses from both the MFA in Design and MBA in Design Strategy programs.

The curriculum blends courses from the Graduate Program in Design and MBA in Design Strategy programs and offers completion of degrees in each.

Students complete all critical courses in each program (with no electives) in order to satisfy the requirements of both specific degrees. Each semester equals 15 units combining studio and academic courses.

Sustained Focus

Because the Graduate Program in Design and the MBA in Design Strategy program each shares compatible perspectives on design and business, including some overlap in course material, select students are now able to complete both degrees without missing critical learning or experience.

Dual-degree MFA/MBA in Design Strategy program students are required to reside locally, at least for the first two years of the program. Students create two theses: one at the completion of the second year; and one at the completion of the third year. This latter thesis can build on the previous one or be entirely new.

An Intimate Program

For admission consideration in the dual-degree program, prospective students will submit one application but must complete all related admissions requirements for each. Only one application fee will need to be submitted for a dual degree applicant.

Annual enrollment is limited to just two or three students, and potential enrollees must be accepted to each graduate program to be considered.


Choosing to pursue a dual masters degree at CCA was a great decision. By widening my scope of study I have become a more holistic designer and am now capable of participating in discussions outside of my primary job description. The two programs meshed brilliantly, often reinforcing critical concepts without being repetitive.

Jason Linder, Experience Design Manager, Adobe

I can’t think of a better program to have prepared me for not only my current role, but for where Design is heading. Increasingly, design is becoming the strategy for a company, rather than an afterthought. The dual program offers the best of both worlds: the MFA gives you the chance to dive deeply into the theoretical and conceptual future of design, while the MBA intelligently integrates quantitative and qualitative learning with hands-on opportunities. In the end, you develop a holistic and meaningful process: you’re thinking, creating, making, applying, analyzing, applying, and launching, all while considering not just your own perspective, but that of all the stakeholders involved. It truly is full circle.
Verna Bhargava, Creative Director, Lux Design


Our full-time, three-year MBA/MFA program bends the best of both degrees, condensed into three years. Unlike either standalone graduate program, electives are omitted in the Dual Design degree to ensure students can complete all of the requirements for earning both degrees.

In addition, unlike the MBA in Design Strategy program, students in the Dual Design (MFA/MBA) degree program must reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, as most courses require weekly on-site class meetings.

For descriptions of specific courses, see each program’s curriculum page:

First Semester

Form Studio

Form Studio is the introductory studio class in the Graduate Program in Design. This class offers students a strong foundation in the making, assessing, and critiquing of visual materials and begins a discussion that will reverberate through the rest of their studies. Students learn the use and structure of materials and media and the development of a rigorous and disciplined process through which they can create and analyze what they create. Much is made of the relationship between intention and reaction and the sharpening of an awareness of physiological sensation as an integral part of design development. Successful students ultimately develop the necessary skills of experimentation, articulate criticism. and constructive questioning necessary to generate remarkable work.


Topic Studio 1

“Information” has become the new code word for what is largely an overload of fast-paced images and sound bites, infotainment, and infomercials. Countries, ideologies, religions, artists, preachers, youth, celebrities, and politicians alike are branded and sold to audiences as if consumer products. Our analytical goal is to sift through this clutter of logos, slogans, and hidden persuasion in order to unravel some of the contradictions that result from the mediamakers’ access to power, knowledge, and financial resources. In the associated studio course, students explore the ideas presented in the seminar context through making. For example, analysis and insights are put to use in the design and making of antidotes, parodies, and other alternative constructions. Likewise, students are called upon to use methods of communication and persuasion in formmaking for socially positive ends. Prerequisites: Form Studio, Design Research.


Design Research

Design Research cultivates skills for sensing, observing, understanding, rationalizing and finding patterns in the functioning of the physical, psychological, social and cultural environment in which design lives. This course will help prepare students to develop capacity for managing ambiguity at the front end of the design process. In addition, students will learn to manage the process of gathering insights and translating insights into design. Students will also learn and deploy research methods – including secondary research, quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research, and other participatory design research techniques.


Live Exchange

More that just learning the right vocabulary, effective communication relies on an understanding of how words structure thought, action, and outcomes. Live Exchange is an inquiry into learning how teams constitute and sustain themselves through their communicative repertoires. This course constructs a specific new asset-based language for business that serves as a foundation for building and repairing trust, strengthening leadership and developing listening, and assessing and speaking skills to move constructive action forward.

Second Semester

Topic Studio 2

This studio explores the intersection of the physical and digital world. In it students will explore contemporary issues, users needs, and cultural ideals. The students will draw on insight and inspiration from user research and design solutions that are both tangible and interactive. As part of the design process, we will take a system approach to the user experience, we will use rapid visualization strategies and we will develop iterative mock-ups. Throughout the course, students will fine tune their process, further develop research capabilities, and advance their interaction design and industrial design skills. The final deliverable is a physical and digital solution that solves a real world problem and tells a compelling user experience story.


Design In Context: Topics

The goal of this writing course is to narrow the gap between what we aspire to create as designers and how we discuss our work, and the work of others, in writing – as well as in class discussion. The course will emphasize writing praxis. We will keep a semester-long design notebook, where we will work through a series of weekly exercises, registering specific ideas about both design and the critical study of design, while also mastering key skills for effective written communication. We will explore and experiment with key forms for the profession: How designers use writing in both the academic and the professional worlds – from critical essays to project proposals, classic to contemporary. We will look at how design is reported on in publications like The New York Times, on the Web, as well as in books like Bauhaus to Our House, by Tom Wolfe. In addition, we will read On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Writing for Design Professional, by Stephen Kliment.


Leadership by Design


Leadership is a team sport. Rather than depending on a strong, vocal, “charismatic” person who exercises control over others, successful work is accomplished with others through clarity of vision/outcomes, clear communication and agility with inevitable conflict, and facility with creating a culture based in trust, shared values, and dedication to an overarching purpose. The ability to adapt to change, and the willingness and skill to work through difficult moments with others, are critical leadership and life skills.

This course focuses on how people and organizations are influenced and motivated to change. It provides practice in becoming more personally open to change, as well as developing high-functioning teams. It offers the opportunity to reflect on and refine one’s own leadership style. It provides the opportunity to practice leading, and learning to consciously create a culture that provides the foundation for a sustainable, successful and fulfilling work environment.

Business Models & Stakeholders

A business model is a “blueprint” for a strategy implemented through organizational structures, processes, and systems—chiefly how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value. This course discusses effective for-profit, non-profit, and other types of organizations in terms of their business models, stakeholders, and organization design. Competitive advantage is achieved through focused and innovative business models. Business models innovation often spring from the unsatisfied needs of customers, new technology innovations, or new and unique value propositions. In order for companies to operate effectively and competitively they need good business models that create virtuous cycles.

Third Semester

Thesis Studio 1

This course is the beginning of a year-long thesis study that asks the student to articulate, test and demonstrate their notions about WHAT DESIGN IS. The intention is that the student’s thesis work will contribute to current discourse on critical design issues and bring continuity and fresh thinking to existing research and/or pedagogy. Prerequisites: Design Research; Business of Design.

Design In Context: Methods

As part of the comprehensive thesis term, this course will help students delineate the range and objectives of their thesis writing, utilizing research, language, and graphical representation to frame and explain their thesis process and artifacts.

Thesis Making: Presentation

Thesis presentation is an arena focusing on how to build your personal brand. The class will consider how to present ideas, strategies, and made work in a professional setting. How is a job interview and its demands linked to a talk about thesis work? How is a client presentation different than a talk about a personal project? While some time will be spent pondering the final gallery talk on individual student work, this course helps students gather the tools and tricks needed for a polished, professional presentation – across topics. Expect low-stakes exercises that stretch public speaking skills, to include a range of styles and approaches, and ample time to study some of the great speakers in design today. Students will deliver a final presentation and receive feedback from pros.

Financial & Managerial Accounting

An overview of the principles and procedures of managerial accounting, this course prepares students to interact with the accounting professionals they will rely on to operate a organizations effectively. Students learn how to evaluate the performance of an organization, and whether for-profit or nonprofit, assess an organization’s financial and resource opportunities, evaluate the effectiveness of market and operational decisions, and use these understandings to shape more sustainable organizational decisions. Topics including understanding financial statements, bookkeeping, budget techniques, and measures of corporate performance are discussed alongside issues such as accounting for and measuring social and environmental values, creating integrated bottom lines, and brand value.

Fourth Semester

Thesis Studio 2

Thesis Studio offers Graduate Design students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty advisor. During the semester, students also meet with fellow advisees to share critical perspectives and insights.

Design In Context: Thesis

As part of the comprehensive thesis term, this course will help students delineate the range and objectives of their thesis writing, utilizing research, language, and graphical representation to frame and explain their thesis process and artifacts.

Thesis Making: Exhibition

Exhibition is the culminating expression of the work and spirit of the MFA Design class. All members of the class contribute to the content and production of the show, and a core group of students research, design, and curate the exhibition, a process which includes readings, field trips, prototyping, and meetings with technical and creative experts. Whether the students choose to think of their thesis exhibition as a gracious showcase for existing work or as a completely new piece, they will test all assumptions about what an exhibition can and should be.

Market Insight Studio

A critical element of any good marketing strategy is the insight gained from the market, especially customers. The most successful companies use market insight to shape strategies of what to produce, not merely how best to produce or promote it. This hands-on studio addresses both quantitative and qualitative, traditional and cutting-edge approaches to marketing, promotion, and advertising, focusing on market research that drives valuable, actionable, and accurate insight of customers, competitors, and markets. Students learn how to conduct effective research that illuminates unseen opportunity and enables a deep understanding of customers.

The curriculum for this course has been open-sourced under a Creative Commons license.


Fifth Semester

Experiences Studio

This studio course introduces the development processes for products, service ecologies, and other experiences, and examines the relationships among them and especially, the value it creates. Students develop rich product and/or service solutions to opportunities and present their solutions professionally. Students gain experience working collaboratively in teams as they research, develop, and share their solutions.

The curriculum for this course has been open-sourced under a Creative Commons license.


Operations & Systems

Operations involve the effective management of human, financial, and natural capital, as well as processes such as supply chain management, quality assurance, process design and improvement, service ecology management, facilities, and human resources. This course explores strategies for optimizing both production and process, in addition to solution sustainability, innovative operational design, and systems design. Students’ work in the course culminates in the development of a professional operations plan for a real or imagined company.

Managerial Finance

This course introduces concepts of corporate financial management for optimizing economic and social value, including asset management, liquidity, revenue models, measures of productivity, rates of return, net present value, and management of financial risks. It also explores the role of design in organizational management and system design. Traditional financial strategies are compared to newer models to assess project feasibility as well as the impact of design, development, and manufacturing decisions on budgets and returns. Through assignments and presentations, students practice devising and communicating financial strategies, often for an outside firm. They also discuss models for measuring and reporting corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Managerial Economics

This course is designed to help business leaders increase their effectiveness by learning the fundamental principles that underlie market economics. The course begins with an overview of neoclassical microeconomic theory, such as supply-and-demand theory, market capital, profit and production maximization, types and structures of organizations and markets, market failures and inefficiencies, and the economic understanding of “the public good.” It also explores new approaches to integrating and measuring economic impacts for human and natural capital—not only financial capital—and examines how design and innovation can drive strategic value for an organization, as well as for the market as a whole.

Sixth Semester

Venture Studio

In this final studio course, students review and integrate all learning from the program into a thesis project. Through faculty critiques, project domains and solutions will be nurtured and evaluated from all aspects of the program’s goals: design innovation; product/service/experience integration; meaningful application for customers; market competition; financial viability; and financial, social, and environmental sustainability. Deliverables for this course include both a critically examined market solution and professional verbal and visual presentations.

Strategic Management

This course integrates themes and techniques from all previous courses in order to build students’ knowledge and experience in crafting and managing corporate strategy. Students explore the differences between strategy and tactics; market and societal trends that affect market performance and organizational responses; various management approaches; communicating organizational goals, measures, and structures; and the resounding impact of strategy at personal, corporate, and societal levels. Students learn practical techniques for short- and medium-term management, as well as long-term insight and innovation tools such as scenario planning. Throughout the course, students develop a professional strategic plan for an existing organization.

Business Law & Negotiation

An overview of corporate and government laws concerning corporate strategy, this course introduces existing U.S. laws and outlines recent and potential changes to those laws that may alter how business is conducted. It focuses on various forms of intellectual property, including trademarks, patents, and copyrights, as well as how new trends in the areas of open-source information and the collective commons affect innovation. Students examine standard legal agreements, such as nondisclosures, contracts, and licenses, and explore how corporate charters can affect liability or enable new corporate values to emerge through organizational behavior, or both.

Sustainability Studio

While sustainability is a theme throughout every course in the program, this studio focuses exclusively on developing solutions that directly affect financial, natural, and human capital as well as the systems that govern them. The course takes an in-depth look at various frameworks and approaches to sustainable development, using both historical and contemporary examples. Throughout the semester, students use practical tools and techniques for identifying issues, developing solutions, troubleshooting problems, and measuring progress. A semester-long project challenges students to apply sustainability skills to a solution; including a sustainability analysis and implementation plan.

The curriculum for this course has been open-sourced under a Creative Commons license.


Apply to the Program


Hint: Increase Your Likelihood of Being Accepted:

  • The single biggest reason we turn-away applicants is that they don’t have enough professional work experience. Highlight your work experience and professional projects.
  • The second biggest reason we turn-away applicants is that they don’t answer the essay questions listed here.
  • Incude your LinkedIn URL and link to us (if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, start one).

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