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Launching the Doctor of Design Program: A Collaborative Journey

The new online program in design research fuses academia and technology to create a student-centered educational experience. This flexible program incorporates online learning with the traditional benefits of a one-week on-campus residency, each semester. 

Smposium Speakers
DDes Symposium Panel: (LtoR): Karen Lewis, Lesley-Ann Noel, and Aly Khalifa

In August 2018, more than 50 students, faculty, and guests gathered at Talley Student Union for the College of Design’s First Annual Doctor of Design Symposium, concluding the first week of the new Doctor of Design (DDes) program at NC State [photo album]. There was palpable excitement as DDes program organizers reflected on the near decade-long journey of visioning and planning—now a reality. Guests Aly Khalifa (DesignBox and OceanWorks), Lesley-Ann Noel (NC State and Stanford, and Karen Lewis (Ohio State University) each spoke on their “Design Research in Action.” The real stars, however, were members of the inaugural DDes class, a group of eight student-practitioners with the courage and drive to take on an innovative new doctoral program.

The Need for a New Program

Driven by the College’s commitment to meeting the evolving needs of practicing design professionals, the new DDes program complements the existing PhD in Design program. Both programs are committed to developing knowledge and applying emergent technology within a rigorous academic framework, and both have traditional academic benchmarks and culminate in public dissemination of a dissertation.

The DDes program also differs from a traditional PhD program in several ways. Specifically, it is designed to meet the needs of practicing designers working in a variety of industry sectors. In contemporary practice, data about emerging design markets and problem types is readily available but can be hard to interpret. This program aims to give practitioners the research skills necessary to make real-time business decisions and processes. Experienced design practitioners can gain expertise in current issues, advance their careers, and create leadership opportunities. 

Development Team

The DDes program is directed by Professor of Landscape Architecture Elen Deming, DDes, who has taught design and research for 25 years and joined the College in September 2017.

rebecca and elen
Rebecca Sanchez (L) and Elen Deming who together are building the Doctor of Design online courses and developed this story.

Given the program’s innovative and collaborative ambitions, it has been essential to form strong partnerships with others who share the same goals and vision and offer complementary skill sets. Enter the Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) unit of NC State University’s Provost Office. With deep expertise in innovative technologies and pedagogy, DELTA’s mission is to work with faculty to create transformative educational experiences that build student success and benefit a complex, global society. DELTA is represented by Rebecca Sanchez, PhD An instructional designer and project manager, Sanchez has a deep understanding of how to design a quality online learning experience.

The partnership works well. Deming and her faculty team guide the program and curate content while Sanchez uses innovative technology as the conduit for instructional interaction. All parties are committed to active learning and building community in online courses.

(Mostly) Online Delivery

To meet the needs of its unique student population, the DDes program intends to converge technology, innovation, and academic rigor to create an effective, high-quality program. Courses are conducted primarily online, with one on-campus week each semester. This structure provides needed flexibility for working practitioners and makes the program accessible to a is intended number of designers across the region, nation, and world.

DDes student practitioners and faculty_web
Group photo of Doctor of Design student practitioners and faculty of the program.

Every DDes course is developed and taught by collaborating design faculty, giving the courses interdisciplinary breadth and relevance that reflects the reality of design work. Related to this, another core program component provides an opportunity for students to collaboratively share and build knowledge with peers. The program accomplishes this by affording high-quality interactions with peers and faculty, as well as best practices in online course design to align course concepts, content, assignments, and other activities. This transparency helps students understand the purpose of their coursework and achieve the goals of the course and program. The program makes liberal use of online discussion forums, synchronous online class sessions, and easy access to faculty via Zoom. The on-campus residency week each semester lets students interact with faculty, advisors, and other students to reinforce community, partnership, and mutual purpose.

Next Steps

DDes program faculty continue to develop new courses and are actively organizing the next immersion week, scheduled for spring 2019. Events will include workshops, DDes research reports, and a public lecture series that engages all disciplines at the College of Design.

At full capacity, the DDes program will have a continuing student population of between 36 and 40 students, roughly equivalent to the College’s PhD program.

Click HERE to learn more about the DDes program or to submit an application

This post was originally published in College of Design Blog.