A New Kind of Business Program

Master the tools to make change and move beyond profit

The groundbreaking MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts prepares the next generation of innovation leaders for a world that is not only profitable, but also sustainable, ethical, and truly meaningful.

Create Socially Responsive, Culturally Relevant, and Technologically Appropriate Lasting Value

Organizations haven’t always been—and don’t need to be—focused only on money. Each semester, students develop individual and collaborative solutions to a variety of economic and social challenges.

They apply design techniques that include customer-centered research, prototyping, critique, and iteration as well as business strategies and metrics.

Solutions are evaluated according to how well students serve customer and market needs for social, cultural, ecological, and economic impacts, as well as long-term organizational and stakeholder value.

Our students work with local businesses and nonprofits to investigate real challenges within their coursework. In addition, students may take advantage of graduate-wide electives.

Study at the Global Center of Innovation

With two campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area, CCA sits in the heart of one of the world’s most fertile innovation centers — and a leading hub of sustainability and social change.

CCA’s Design MBA program leverages this proximity to build close ties and partnerships with industry-leading companies and consultancies throughout the region as well as internationally.

Our program has dedicated studio space on CCA’s San Francisco campus, the location of its nationally recognized design and architecture programs. Students have access to model making and rapid prototyping studios (featuring 3D printers) as well as media studios for editing digital media, film, video, and sound.


“They were spectacular. Working with the CCA MBA in Design Strategy Program was a revelation for La Cocina. We are often paired with student groups … but CCA’s students made a particular impression in their vision, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and impact. In a very short time, the students proved effective at understanding our business model, communicating effectively and efficiently and going deep into the project on their own time. They provided resources and results that went above and beyond our project expectations, and their impact continues to be present in the everyday work that we do. Not only will we consider the recommendations of the students but we will also implement several of them, saving us time and otherwise unnecessary waste. I would be thrilled to work with students of this caliber any day.”

Caleb Zigas, Executive Director, La Cocina

“I was impressed with the work product from the team of DMBA students. They were dedicated and put in a lot of effort to make their document useful and workable for our organization. The students were well prepared when they met with me to discuss the important issues and they came up with creative and insightful suggestions. It was clear they had done their homework. I made copies of the final Operations Plan report and distributed it to my Board at our recent meeting. All of the Board members were impressed with the quality and depth of knowledge shown by the student team.”

Marcia Gibbs, Director, Sustainable Cotton Project


Our full-time, two-year MBA program has a flexible structure (five once-a-month, four-day weekends of instruction and interaction each semester) that allows students to commute from all over North America.

 The program encompasses 60 units of instruction, combining 20 full-time residencies of in-person instruction with 6 units of online interaction over a two-year period. While the program’s schedule is flexible, it is a full-time program (not an executive program).


First Semester

Each semester, students develop individual and team solutions to a variety of economic and social challenges using design techniques (such as user-centered research, prototyping, critique, and iteration) as well as business metrics.

Solutions are evaluated according to how well they meet user and market needs as well as their clear business or organizational value. Sponsored projects allow students to work with leading businesses.

Seminars address traditional business and organizational issues, such as finance, economics, operations, and marketing, always incorporating design approaches and processes. Students work individually and in teams to research and present findings in discussions, group projects, and presentations.

In addition, students may take advantage of graduate-wide electives from any program within the school.

Innovation Studio
This studio course gives students the opportunity to put theory into practice by designing product or service solutions that incorporate innovation theory and design and user research. Students learn to use professional design tools and techniques that will enable them to successfully communicate solutions verbally, visually, and experientially. Each semester, the theme for the course changes, allowing students to investigate new domains that are current and challenging and that build on their knowledge of customers, materials, solutions, and organizations.

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.

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.

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.

Second Semester

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.

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.

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.

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

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 use new tools, such as the waveline, to 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.

Fourth 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.


In addition, students may take any course within CCA they qualify for as an elective.

Money Strategies
This course closely examines various sources for funding new organizations as well as new initiatives within existing organizations, whether for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid. Through projects, assignments, and readings, students explore various capital markets, their workings, and their effects; different exit strategies; alternative and private markets; debt vs. equity approaches; and the ways in which established and new global financial systems function within global economies.

Strategic Foresight
Forecasting the future of culture requires specific tools that inform design and architecture. This project-based course uses practical, professional tools, used by large organizations to develop strategic plans 5-50 years into the future, to explore alternate directions society may take to provocative interventions and develop designed, strategic responses.

Brand Strategy

This course offers students an opportunity to understand and explore the professional processes and techniques of building, transforming, and managing brands. It starts with the fundamentals of the development of contemporary brand experiences and, though projects and examples, helps students understand how to approach branding in a customer-centric way from both an internal and external organizational perspective. Topics and techniques include measuring brand impact and equity, developing brand strategy from a holistic perspective, championing change within organizations, and working with a variety of stakeholders to synchronize brand elements and expressions through a range of media and customer touchpoints.

Social Ventures (summer)
Building on market insight and business models, this course offers  students an immersive introduction into social issues and ventures in the United States and, potentially, abroad. Students explore a series of issues to gain an understanding of the field of social ventures, the stakeholders and business models, and the realities of starting a social venture. Through a combination of in-person and virtual courses, students explore key concepts in social entrepreneurship: cultural sensitivities, economic structures, business models, and social issues. The goal of this class is to give students exposure to the social venture landscape and begin to understand and influence the factors that contribute to systemic social impact through the use of marketing and design thinking.

Featured Alumni

Adam Dole (2010), Healthcare Innovator

Adam Dole was one of the pioneering cohorts who joined the program in its first year and graduated in our first class, in 2010. As an interaction designer, he was focused on gaining new skills that would allow him to lead innovation within the healthcare world in order to make it work better for all kinds of people. Throughout the program, he used project opportunities to explore his interests and, upon graduating, became the Business Planning Manager for the Mayo Clinic’s West Coast innovation center, building-out their Silicon Valley innovation Center. His primary responsibility is to incubate opportunities for future Mayo Clinic products, services and businesses. His  focus includes creating new services that extend Mayo Clinic’s reach and impact beyond the hospital walls. In 2013, he was invited to the White House to be one of the 100 inaugural White House Innovation Fellows, specializing as a liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. As one of the few designers, surrounded mostly by engineers and coders, he’s lead initiatives for citizen health reporting and new services.

Mei Lan Ho-Walker (2010), BT Financial

Mei Lan was a designer looking to expand her opportunities. Throughout the DMBA program, she explored ways of changing business and, upon graduating, moved to Sydney, Australia to join an exclusive innovation group within BT Financial, one of the largest banks in the world. He responsibilities include identifying new business opportunities that serve customer needs across the bank’s diverse businesses, developing and prototyping new services, and presenting these innovation opportunities to the board of directors and senior managers within the bank. Australia was a place she never thought she’d live but she’s now thriving in its hotbed of innovation.

Kurt McCullouch (2011), Steelcase

As an Applied Research Consultant at Steelcase Inc., Kurt leverages business strategies to strengthen and align the relationship between people, culture, and the work environment. One of his responsibilities is to delivering Steelcase insights that illuminate customer challenges in a variety of evolving work settings. His architecture background, combined with the business and sustainability skills he learned in the DMBA program, help him build, lead, and nurture strong consulting relationships with global clients, both inside Steelcase and outside the company.

Vinitha Watson (2010), Innovation Incubator

Vinitha was a serial entrepreneur when she came to the DMBA program, having started her own textile importing company and helping to set-up Google’s Indian headquarters. She came to the program to hone her business skills, having relied on her intuition and natural abilities in her work before. After graduating, she fulfilled a dream to create a music incubator in Oakland, CA, with her husband David, and together they help musicians and singers record and produce albums and programmers and entrepreneurs create new music apps and software. Their incubator, Zoo Labs, has thrived for four years and Vinitha has recently joined CCA’s board of trustees where she can influence the strategic direction of the school that gave her the opportunity to explore her own creativity.

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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