This is a named option within the Human Ecology Ph.D.

Within the Design Studies Graduate Program, faculty and students investigate a wide range of subject matter and apply a variety of methods, with the common goal of understanding how design (broadly conceived) relates to, responds to, and affects our lives. The program’s graduate faculty is comprised of interdisciplinary scholars, designers, scientists and artists who mentor and assist graduate students as they build individual programs of study. The Design Studies department offers a doctoral program with the aim of preparing students for professional design careers, specialized research, college teaching, museum or archival work, community engagement, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The graduate program in Design Studies is housed within the School of Human Ecology. The Ph.D. program capitalizes on the many rich resources offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a public research university, UW-Madison is known for its high quality of research activity (ranked third in the nation) and comprehensive academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The university environment provides fertile ground for interdisciplinary research necessary for twenty-first-century students to prepare for work in a fast evolving discipline with shifting boundaries and growing global connections. UW’s world-class faculty and staff offer innovative approaches to curriculum and research. The UW-Madison campus is home to 40 libraries, nearly 100 research centers, a state-of-art virtual reality facility, and the Chazen Museum of Art (one of the nation’s leading university art museums).

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Design Studies is the highest degree in the field of design research and scholarship. The program is grounded in the production of original and rigorous research. Students are encouraged to shape their own approaches as they develop mastery of the research and communication skills necessary to complete their research agendas. Through a combination of core courses, concentrations, major specializations, and minor specializations, students acquire content knowledge, theoretical foundations, and methodological approaches needed for their work. The Ph.D. culminates in the production of a doctoral dissertation that contributes to the knowledge base in the discipline of design. Graduates of the program have demonstrated their leadership in the field of design practice and education in the U.S. and internationally.

The Ph.D. program currently offers three areas of concentration. Within each area, students are expected to build a self-directed but highly coherent curriculum in close consultation with a major faculty advisor. The tracks are:

Design History (DH Track)1

Design History seeks to understand design in its historical context, as both a process and a product. Our program defines design broadly to include architecture, interior design, industrial design, decorative arts, and other areas of material culture. The Design Studies department offers many opportunities for interdisciplinary study on the UW–Madison campus and has strong ties to other disciplines including art history and landscape architecture. Design History Ph.D. students also have access to coursework and faculty members from allied programs, including the Material Culture Studies Certificate and the Buildings–Landscapes–Cultures Program (a collaborative research degree offered through UW–Madison and UW–Milwaukee).

Environmental Design Research (EDR Track)1

Environmental Design Research addresses the interaction between people and they’re built, natural, and/or virtual environments with a clear goal to create environments that are sustainable and responsive to human needs. The faculty and graduates of the program have pioneered studies in environment-behavior, evidence-based design, building evaluation, sustainability, aging and environment, children’s environment, environments for special population, and emerging technologies and applications of virtual reality.

While drawing from campus-wide resources, the faculty and students in EDR closely work with its allies within the School of Human Ecology, which include community psychologists, developmental psychologists, and scholars from consumer science. EDR students also have the opportunity to work with the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, and with the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Textile Science (TS)1

Textile Science investigates on the interaction of dyes and finishes with fibers, yarns, and fabrics. Faculty and students in this program focus on sustainability and work to develop chemicals and processes that are safer for the end-user, textile workers, and the environment. Students achieve this by developing and using chemicals, dyes, and finishes, and by reducing the amount of chemicals, water, and energy used in these processes. The DS Textile Lab offers equipment for textile quality control, dyeing, finishing, and plasma. The Materials Science Lab offers analytical equipment such as ESCA, an Atomic Force Microscope, an Electron Microscope, and FTIR. Depending on their research interests, students will have the opportunity to work with other UW departments including Chemistry, Material Science, Forestry, or Electrical and Computer Engineering.


 Applications are accepted once per year for fall admission and are due by December 1 of the preceding year. Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly competitive. The Ph.D. builds on knowledge acquired typically through a master’s degree and provides students with further training to teach and conduct research at the highest level. Competitive candidates will hold a master’s degree (M.S. preferred) in design, architectural history, environmental design, or other related fields. Promising applicants who do not have sufficient educational background may be admitted, under the condition that he or she take pre-doctoral preparation courses.

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

  • Online application indicating “Human Ecology PHD–Design Studies” as your program selection
  • $75 application fee
  • Curriculum vitae/resume
  • Unofficial transcripts or academic records from each institution attended (official transcripts will be required for students who receive an admission offer)
  • Official Graduate Record Exam scores (GRE Institution code #1846)
  • International students only:
    • Official Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or Melab scores
    • International students who hold degrees from U.S. institutions do not need to submit language test scores
  • 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.
  • Personal bio statement
    • Describe concisely how your personal background and life experiences motivated you to further pursue graduate education. The personal biographical statement is not a statement of purpose that describes your academic plan. This statement should be no more than 500 words and should be uploaded to the online application system as a PDF.

Additional information is available on the program website.

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.  

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 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (26 credits out of 51 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 3.30 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 Qualifying Research Project: The Qualifying Research Project (3 credits) is part of the Core Course requirements for every Ph.D. student, and must be completed prior to preliminary exams. The Qualifying Research Project provides students with an opportunity to conduct independent research in their area of specialization in preparation for their dissertation. While limited in scope, the project should be comparable to the final dissertation in terms of its intellectual tone and quality. The project could be a self-contained research paper that could later be incorporated into one of chapters in the final dissertation, building theoretical model for the dissertation, or proposal and conduct of pilot study for their final dissertation. Students are encouraged to disseminate the project broadly, in the format of conference papers or published journal articles in their respective fields.

The Qualifying Research Project may be based on work completed as part of any UW graduate seminar. Students often enroll in an independent study with their major advisor to complete this project. The project must be submitted to and approved by student’s major advisor; the project must receive a passing grade in order for the student to sit for the preliminary examination.

Preliminary Examination: All Ph.D. students sit for a preliminary examination after satisfactorily completing coursework and the Qualifying Research Project. The exam is intended to demonstrate the students’ broad knowledge in the field of design, and specialized expertise in both a major and a minor area. Students must pass the preliminary examination before submitting a dissertation proposal, and before advancing to dissertator status.

Research and Thesis: Students with dissertator status are expected to enroll for 3 credits directly related to dissertation research or production. These credits are generally research and thesis credits, independent studies, or required seminars; they must be at the 300 level or above. Three credits is the minimum credit load per semester for dissertators during each of the fall and spring semesters; this is considered a full time load.Dissertators must register for 3 credits each semester until the Ph.D. thesis is filed.
Language Requirements Foreign language proficiency may be required for students in the Design History track; if their major or minor areas or dissertation requires work in a language other than English. Students in EDR Track may be required to fulfill the foreign language requirement if the student’s research involves the use of a language other than English. Competency may be acquired independently or through structured coursework and is assessed through examination. Exams must be taken before students advance to dissertator status.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements All doctoral students are required to complete a minor.


Ph.D. students must complete a minimum of 51 credits. Of these, 42 credits will include Core Courses, courses in a Major Area of Specialization (Design History or "DH track"; Environmental Research Design or "EDR track"; or Textile Science or "TS track")1, courses in a Minor Area of Specialization, and a Qualifying Research Project. The remaining 13 credits may be fulfilled through foreign language competencies, independent studies (i.e. to prepare for qualifying examinations), or Dissertator credits. At least 50% of credits (26 of 51 total credits) applied toward the doctorate degree must be from courses designed for graduate work; courses numbered 700 and above or courses numbered 300–699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students generally satisfy this requirement. Students must maintain a 3.3-grade point average to remain in good standing.

Pre-Doctoral Preparation Courses 1
Design History
Art / Architecture / Design History Survey (2 courses)
Design History or Art History Research Methods (1 course)
Design History Research Seminar (1 course)
Environmental Design Research
Introductory research methods (2 courses):
Research Methods
Research Methods in Human Development and Family Studies
Methods of Sociological Inquiry
Introductory statistics course (2 courses):
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Accelerated Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences
Classical Sociological Theory:
Classical Sociological Theory
Textile Science
Introduction to Theory and Methods of Mathematical Statistics II
Applied Regression Analysis
Statistical Experimental Design
Introduction to the Theory of Probability
Core Courses 215
Prior to doctoral candidacy, all Ph.D. students will be expected to enroll in 15 credits distributed among the following Core Courses:
Seminar in Design Studies
Design Studies Seminar (select one as appropriate):
Person and Environment Interactions (EDR track only)
Seminar in Design Studies (Topic: Seminar in Design History; DH track only) 3
Seminar in Design Studies (Topic: Seminar in New Developments in Textiles; TS track only) 3
Research Design and Methods (select one as appropriate):
Methods for Design History (select from Dimensions in Material Culture, Architectural History Methods, or Art History Methods) (DH track only)
Practical Research Design and Methods of Empirical Inquiry (EDR track only)
Seminar in Design Studies (Topic: Textile Science Research Methods; TS track only)
Graduate Student Instructor Course
Qualifying Research Project
Major Area of Specialization 415
Minor Area of Specialization (Doctoral Minor) 59
Qualifying Research Project3
Qualifying Exam/Preliminary Exam (Non credit)
Elective Credits6
Research and Thesis3
Total Credits51

VR Technology Focused Minor

The Design Studies program offers a unique minor area of specialization in Virtual Reality1. Students in both the DH and EDR tracks may minor in this field. The minor provides a technology-focused approach for students looking to develop new Virtual Reality technologies or to utilize Virtual Reality technologies in their research. The School of Human Ecology houses a newly developed Virtual Reality system to which students undertaking this minor will have full access. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to work with other Virtual Reality and simulation environments around the UW–Madison campus. Students looking to undertake the VR technology minor should be familiar with concepts of computer programming and programming languages.

Students in the TS Track should develop expertise in both technology and chemistry. Students have the opportunity to develop a minor in the emerging field of technical textiles. If a distributed minor is desired, students must take a minimum of 6 credits in technology and 6 credits in chemistry (12 credits total).

Required during the first semester:
DS 501 Special Topics (Topic: Design in Virtual Reality)1-3
PSYCH/​COMP SCI/​ED PSYCH  770 Human-Computer Interaction3
DS 501 Special Topics (Topic: Wearable Computing)1-3
COMP SCI 679 Computer Game Technology3
COMP SCI 559 Computer Graphics3
COMP SCI 777 Computer Animation3
COMP SCI 838 Topics in Computing (Topic: Advanced Modeling and Simulation)1-3
COMP SCI 838 Topics in Computing (Topic: Advanced Graphics)1-3
COMP SCI 838 Topics in Computing (Topic: Visualization)1-3

Read more about the minor here.

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 18 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or as a UW–Madison Special student (with a maximum of 9 special student credits as part of the 18). Prior coursework taken at other institutions may not be used to satisfy the minimum graduate residence credit requirement. Credits earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral 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 18 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or as a UW–Madison Special student (with a maximum of 9 special student credits as part of the 18). coursework must be numbered 300 or above for residence and degree credit and 700 or above to satisfy the minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement. Credits earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral 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. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. 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.

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.

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


12 credits

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten 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.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.



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), Constance Flanagan

Associate Professors: Lori Bakken, Brian Christens

Assistant Professors: Kendra Alexander, 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, Dee Warmath

Design Studies

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

Associate Professors: Mary Hark, Carolyn Kallenborn, Jung-hye Shin

Assistant Professors:  Marianne Fairbanks, Marina Moskowitz, Kevin Ponto, Kristin Thorleifsdottir

Human Development and Family Studies

Professors: Janean Dilworth-Bart (chair), Charles Raison, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Linda Roberts, Stephen Small

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

Assistant Professors: Kristin Litzelman, Margaret Kerr