This is a named option within the Human Ecology, M.S.

The M.S. Human Ecology program in the Design Studies department is geared toward generating new knowledge and/or insights into design, broadly conceived as both a process and product. The program is geared for students wanting to conduct limited scholarly research in an area of interest. The M.S. culminates in the production of an M.S. thesis that contributes to the knowledge base in the discipline of design (See the program website for for more information on the non-thesis option in textile science). Some graduates of the program may continue their journey into Ph.D. programs while others may find themselves well positioned for jobs in industry. Students who aim to become or continue their design practice may be better suited in the Human Ecology: Design Studies, MFA program.

The Design Studies graduate program provides opportunities for students to pursue topics in depth in design and design’s relationship with human, their environments, textiles and other material objects. The program is highly flexible, as each student works closely with his/her advisor and graduate committee to design a custom-fit curriculum that strives to support each student’s goals after graduation. Due to the centrality of the student/advisor relationship, students will only be accepted if there is a close fit between the student’s area of interest and a graduate faculty member who is willing to commit to serve in this mentorship relationship. In this regard, it is important for each applicant to identify a potential faculty member whom they would intend to work with at the time of the applicant’s submission.  At the same time, students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty from a broad range of departments across the university, including, but not limited to, Art, Art History, Civil Society and Community Studies, Computer Science, Consumer Science, Engineering, Folklore, Human Development and Family Studies, Geography, and Planning and Landscape Architecture.

Areas of Concentration1

MS students can choose areas of inquiry from a variety of choices. Within each area, students are expected to build a self-directed and highly coherent curriculum in close consultation with a major faculty advisor. Topics for inquiry typically fall within the following broad areas:

Design History and/or Material Culture Studies

Material Culture Studies and Design History (DH) examines the relationships between culture, objects and individuals. Students develop expertise and insights into the study of objects and environments, not as isolated entities, but as embedded in social, cultural, aesthetic, anthropological, geographical and temporal contexts. Knowledge gained may result in understanding of the past, or insights into contemporary design. Students may focus on particular designers and makers, design from a particular geographical area or time period, design of textiles, design of environments or analysis of meaning and value.

Environment Design research (Environment Design, Environment-Behavior Studies)

Environmental Design Research (EDR) addresses diverse aspects of design inquiry, focusing on the complex inter-relationship between people and the built environment with an ultimate goal to create environments that are sustainable and responsive to human needs. Previous graduate topics in this area have included environment behavior, evidence-based design, building evaluation, sustainability, aging and environment, environments for special populations and children, participatory action research, and emerging technologies and applications of virtual reality.

Textile Science (Thesis and non-thesis option)

Textile Science provides in-depth understanding of the physical and chemical properties of natural and synthetic fibers and their interaction with dyes, finishes and plasma. Students become familiar with a variety of analytical tools such as Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Electron Spectroscopy for Chemical Analysis (ESCA), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Attenuated Total Reflectance, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR). 

Graduate School Admissions

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic degree programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet requirements of both the program(s) and the Graduate School. Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.  

Fall Deadline December 1
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

To be considered for admission to the Design Studies (DS) M.S. option in Human Ecology, the department requires the following materials:

  • Online application indicating “Human Ecology MS–Design Studies” as your program selection
  • $75 application fee
  • CV/resume
  • Unofficial transcripts or academic records from each institution attended (official transcripts will be required for students who receive an admission offer)
  • Official TOEFL or Melab score (International students only)
  • Three letters of recommendation (submitted electronically through your Graduate School application)
  • Uploaded Statement of Purpose/Reasons for Graduate Study
  • Upload a writing sample
    • Examples of writing samples include prior scholarly work such as term papers, theses, or published articles. All writing samples must be written in English and uploaded to the online application system as a PDF.

Additional information is available here.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

Funding opportunities for Human Ecology graduate students are available and made possible, in large part, by generous donations to SoHE. Every year, these funds are used to fund teaching or project assistantships, award academic excellence scholarships, and provide students doing their masters or doctoral research or final MFA project with conference travel scholarships and graduate research scholarships. See the School of Human Ecology Enrollment Policy on Funding Eligibility and view current funding opportunities on our program website for more information.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Named Option Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 30 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (15 credits out of 30 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations Contact the program for information on required assessments and examinations.
Language Requirements Contact the program for information on any language requirements.

Required COURSES

DS Major and Other Graduate Courses15
Research Methods and Theory6
Seminar in Area of Emphasis3
Research and Thesis6
Research and Thesis
Total Credits30

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Named Option-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 9 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Prior coursework taken at other institutions may not be used to satisfy the minimum graduate residence credit requirement. Credits earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree are not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

With program approval, up to 7 credits numbered 300 or above from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward degree credit; undergraduate courses must be numbered 700 or above to count toward the minimum graduate coursework requirement. No undergraduate coursework may count toward the graduate residence requirement.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 9 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or taken as a UW–Madison Special student. coursework must be numbered 300 or above for residence and degree credit requirement and 700 or above for minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement. Credits earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree are not allowed to satisfy requirements. Use of Special student credit may require payment of tuition difference.


The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.


12 credits

Time Constraints

Master’s degree students who have been absent for five or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.



Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

The School of Human Ecology Graduate Program values the professional development of graduate students and provides financial awards to those who are invited to present at professional conferences/exhibits. The purpose of the support is to encourage participation in professional development, scholarly research, and/or creative endeavor and to help cover expenses not covered by other sources. Students may receive a maximum award of $650 for travel ($750 for international travel) to support conference participation in a single academic year. 

In addition, each academic department within the School of Human Ecology may offer additional professional development grant opportunities. See the program Events Calendar for the most up-to-date information on professional development opportunities. 


Civil Society and Community Studies 

Professors: Cynthia Jasper (chair), Lori Bakken, Constance Flanagan

Assistant Professors: Kendra Alexander, Kasey Keeler, Jennifer Gaddis, Leah Horowitz, Carolina Sarmiento, Shannon Sparks

Consumer science (consumer behavior & family economics)

Professors: Nancy Wong (chair), Judith Bartfeld

Associate Professors: J. Michael Collins, Clifford Robb

Assistant Professors:  Feneba Addo, Lydia Ashton

Design Studies

Professors: Roberto Rengel (chair), Jennifer Angus, Wei Dong, Majid Sarmadi, Mark Nelson

Associate Professors: Mary Hark, Carolyn Kallenborn, Marina Moskowitz, Kevin Ponto, Jung-hye Shin

Assistant Professors:  Marianne Fairbanks, Kristin Thorleifsdottir

Human Development and Family Studies

Professors: Janean Dilworth-Bart (chair), Charles Raison, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan

Associate Professors: Larissa Duncan, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Sigan Hartley, Heather Kirkorian, Robert Nix, Lauren Papp

Assistant Professors: Kristin Litzelman, Margaret Kerr