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A Deep Dive in 5 on SJSU’s New Master of Design


This fall, applications open for the new Master of Design (MDes) program at San José State University — the first of its kind in all 23 of the California State Universities. 

According to Associate Professor Josh Nelson, MDes program coordinator, the recency of the MDes designation within the last 10 to 15 years is representative of the significant emergence of the field of design and the role that it is playing in the world right now.

In this “Deep Dive in Five,” SJSU Newsroom’s Tiffany Harbrecht talks with Nelson about the advent of this master’s degree — and how it will help take students’ careers and SJSU’s Department of Design to the next level.

 Associate Professor Josh Nelson, MDes program coordinator

Associate Professor Josh Nelson, MDes program coordinator

Q: Why has the Department of Design decided to start this program at SJSU? Why now?

A: We’re really excited about it. The Bay Area is a natural fit for the program in terms of all that is happening with technology and industry in Silicon Valley, and there are so many digital products that are currently being designed here. SJSU is really well positioned to be a leader in developing talent to drive that into the future. 

The MDes is the Department of Design’s first graduate program, and we see it as an evolutionary step for what we are doing here. This program will build on the success of our undergraduate design programs, while inspiring future generations of designers. To enable that, we’re going to make opportunities available for faculty and MDes students to collaborate with each other on design and research projects.

Q: How is this program unique? 

A: We’re going to have two areas of specialization: experience design and animation. This fall, we will begin accepting applications for the launch of the experience design specialization that’s happening fall 2023. The animation program will launch shortly thereafter in the fall of 2024. 

Experience design is connected to the idea that when you design something, you shape the experience that plays out around that thing through interaction. We want to focus on using design to shape experiences and take it to another level. Our curriculum is built around that, and we hope to send our students back out into the world to be leaders in this field — in particular, the kind who push boundaries when creating the experiences of the future. 

These ideas aren’t just limited to digital things; they can be applied to anything you might design because designers are now getting involved in all sorts of things, like helping businesses innovate their internal processes and creating services that make their customers smile. With that in mind, we envision that the experience design program will have broad applications.

The animation specialization is a very exciting aspect of the MDes program, because our undergraduate animation program is huge and insanely popular. The major animation studios in the Bay Area have a great connection to our program, and it’s very much in demand. The master’s degree is going to allow for students to take their skills to new levels and dimensions in which they’re using new technologies, thinking about content, creating intellectual property and leading creative efforts

Q: What types of emerging technologies will instructors and students be using in this program?

A: If you think about our undergraduate programs, the students are learning the entry-level skills they need to begin a career in design. With the introduction of graduate education in design, we can now have students come in with that skill set already, and we can then have them experiment with, test and learn about emerging technologies that are right on the edge — things that aren’t even adopted yet — and think about how industry might adopt those things.

We’ll definitely see some experimentation applying extended reality, artificial intelligence, generative design, and computational design to design practices.

A lot of it will be what our students end up generating when they come here. They are going to have the freedom and support to pursue projects that they’re interested in and explore the direction they want to take their careers in as well.

Q: What career opportunities are MDes graduates best positioned for in Silicon Valley? And beyond?

A: We think this degree can help both design and animation students transition from junior or senior level positions to positions that require advanced credentials or experiences, and are focused on creative direction and leadership. 

We see lots of opportunities in the design of digital products, in particular at a higher strategic level where companies need people thinking about the big picture of the product, how it works and how it serves people.

There’s also opportunity within user experience design and user interface design (UX/UI design), or any of the design disciplines that are related to that, such as industrial design and graphic design as well.

Q: What about this program has you the most excited? 

A: I’ve been teaching here for about 10 years, and I love my undergraduate students and the work that they do. Thinking about having graduate students getting into advanced topics in design, tackling problems and issues that are more challenging and complex — experimenting with interesting technology or design methods — it will be super exciting to see what they come up with and what they can do while they’re here with us. We’re the university that is all about transformation, and these students will be the ones that transform the experiences of tomorrow. 

Learn more about the MDes program. 



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