Head Graduate

Portfolio Deadline & Online Application deadline: December 6, 2011

The focus of Stanford’s Design Program at the graduate level the intersection of technology with human needs. This program is a collaborative offering of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Art & Art History. It provides students with a design experience at the Masters level that synthesizes technology, human need, business, cognitive science, and aesthetics. At Stanford we are particularly interested in the front end of the design process where we frame the question "What should we create?" Students are taught to use design processes such as need-finding, ethnographic field work, rapid prototyping, and iterative user testing to approach design problems.

Due to the overwhelming interest in the program we are not able to offer individual campus tours or visits with faculty. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to make plans to attend one of the informational sessions about the program scheduled each Fall. These meetings will offer the chance to meet faculty, visit with current students in the program and tour the design loft. Information regarding the dates and other details of these meetings will be provided on our website around the beginning of July.

Requirements for Applications: Masters of Science – Design

Stanford is a selective University with high standards for admission to its graduate programs. General information about the University can be found at http://www.stanford.edu/. General information about graduate admissions can be found at http://gradadmissions.stanford.edu/.

General information about graduate student issues, including financial aid, teaching assistantships, classroom assistantships, and graduate student life is available through Stanford's Graduate Life Office.

We require a minimum of one year's experience in life after your undergraduate work prior to your application to the Stanford Design Program. There are no exceptions to this rule.

This year can be professional experience, service experience (the Peace Corps, an NGO, etc.), or several years solo sailing the world or mountain climbing in the Himalayas. Typically our students average four years of real world experience and we find that this experience and maturity becomes a major resource in the Loft as the students progress through the program. Work-study, internships, and other experience gained during you undergraduate education do not count toward this requirement.

A complete application to Stanford’s Design Program in the Mechanical Engineering Department consists of:

Questions about submitting application materials, other than the design portfolio or case study book, should be directed to Patrick Ferguson in Student Services.

* Transcripts, design portfolios, and case study books must be mailed directly to:

Mechanical Engineering
Graduate Admissions Office
Stanford University
Building 530, Room 125
Stanford, California 94305

** Due to the increased volume of portfolios (and case study books), it is no longer our policy to return portfolios to applicants after they are reviewed and the application process is completed. If you would like yours back, it will be available for pick up around the beginning of April and no later than May 15, 2011. If you live in the U.S. you may also have your portfolio or case study book returned via FedEx. If you choose this option, make sure the packaging used to ship it to us is resuable and follow the instructions listed here to arrange pre-paid pickup through FedEx Ground service. Portfolio return options are not available outside the United States.

Application Details

Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose describes your motivation for studying in our program. Stanford’s Design program is one of a kind. No other program that we know of combines the elements of art, engineering, psychology, ethnography, and business quite like we do. Because of this, most of our applicants only apply to the Stanford Design Program because they are seeking something special – a real “fit” to their unique personality. If you apply, you are probably one of those people. You have a reason that you’ve decided to come to Stanford to study design in our radical, multidisciplinary program. We want to know what that reason is.

What we do not want in the Statement is a recapitulation of your resume, work, and educational experience. Instead use this opportunity to tell us what you are passionate about and how Stanford can uniquely create a place for you to realize that passion.

Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation are required; one letter should come from an academic source, although we realize that this might not be possible if your undergraduate experience was many years ago. If your background includes industrial experience, involvement in performing arts, athletics, public service, or entrepreneurial activities, you may wish to include one reference who can comment on that part of your experience. Recommendations must be submitted online. Please see the "Recommendations" section of the online application for information.

GRE General Scores

General GRE test scores must be submitted as a part of the application and must be received before the application deadline. Scores must not be older than 5 years old and no other graduate school test scores, ex. GMAT, LSAT, etc, may be substituted in place of a general GRE score.


The portfolio demonstrates the candidate's design abilities, design process, leadership abilities, aspirations, problem solving ability, and imaginative capacity.

A physical portfolio is required. We will not accept a portfolio in digital format. For example, do not submit any of your portfolio materials on CD, DVD, on the web or other electronic format. Other than this requirement there are no specific guidelines on the kind of portfolio you submit or how many pieces should be included in the portfolio. Think of the portfolio as your vehicle to demonstrate who you are and how you think. Given this, each portfolio is expected to be unique. However, please do not provide too large a portfolio, with repetitive examples of the same media, process, or end-product. If a piece of your work is very large or extremely heavy please send a photo in lieu of sending the piece itself. We are looking for breadth as well as depth and will judge the quality of your presentation and its appropriateness by your editing and selection.

Your portfolio should be about your design process, your design thinking, the types of design and subjects you're interested in. It should demonstrate your ability to visualize things. It should show us how you develop new and innovative solutions. These solutions can be in almost any area but we are particularly interested in new products, services, environments, information, and smart spaces. It should have an example or two of completely finished pieces of artwork/craftwork (2D or 3D) that you are passionate about. It should express your independent thinking on the subjects that you think are important.

Alternative to a Portfolio – The Case Study Book

A portfolio is typically a collection of your best pieces of art, design, and engineering, and it is a tried and true way to demonstrate your creativity. However, given the change in focus of our curriculum toward more Design Thinking, strategic innovation, and design leadership, a portfolio may not be the best way to present your unique set of skills. We are adding a new format, the case study, to the admissions process because we want to make sure that design thinkers and developing leaders have the best opportunity to show us why they should be considered for our program. A traditional portfolio might not capture important information about their candidacy. For instance, we think that case studies are a particularly useful way to demonstrate a holistic portrayal of the way you approach thinking and problem solving. Case studies are a great way to explain your creative process and can include all the “messy prototypes” and “important failures” that just don’t fit in the portfolio format. Case studies are also one good way to show us non-design projects that emphasize your leadership skills and your strategic thinking.

A case study is typically a one or two page description of a project. It should include some description of the original problem and lots of visual information about the process that resolve it. We are not looking for a lot of writing. As designers, we prefer case studies that are more like narratives or storyboards, not like research papers, but some writing may be necessary to frame the story for the reviewers.

A case study book will contain a series of these case studies and may also include an overview or explanation of how each individual case is related to a larger theme. Of course, you are going to ask “how many cases” and we are going to answer “its hard to say”. In general six to eight examples, each illustrating different aspects of your work should be plenty. However, you may have completed one or two very large and comprehensive projects that demonstrate a variety of your skills and want to focus on these. In this example two (or even one) case studies might be sufficient. These are likely to be multi-page, multi-topic studies so their organization and clarity become even more important.

There is no preference given in the admission process to either a portfolio or a case study book – either is equally acceptable. Choose the format that you think will be the best way to represent your skills and your potential. We welcome both.

Additional Questions regarding application materials for MS applicants are addressed in the Frequently Asked Questions Document below.

Stanford Design Program Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
Additional Questions about the program, your application or your eligibility to apply to the program?

We are not able to offer individual tours of the program or arrange personal visits with faculty. Instead we are offering informational sessions for prospective students who are thinking about applying to the program this coming Fall Quarter. We highly recommend that prospective students plan to attend an information session on campus during the fall quarter prior to applying to the program. These sessions will offer the opportunity hear faculty speak about the program, hear more about the admissions process, meet with current students in the program and tour the design loft. The dates chosen are intentionally planned on the same dates as d.school tours so those interested may be able to take part in both. Those interested in attending one of the sessions should RSVP in advance following the directions below.


Event Dates

11a – Noon
Faculty Program Introduction/Q&A Building 550 (d.school)
11:00-11:30a - David Kelley
11:30-11:45a - John Edmark
11:45a-12:15p - Jill Davis & Patrick Ferguson

12:30 - 1:30pm
Lunch (There are several on-campus cafes we will recommend)

1:30 – 2:30 p.m.
Informal Chat with Current Students/Tour of Loft


Meet at 10:45am at:
Building 610 - the Design Loft (NW Corner of Santa Teresa St. & Duena St.)
447 Santa Teresa St.
Stanford, CA 94305


Using the following link enter your full name (first & last) and your e-mail address. (Ex. Jane Doe, jdoe@gmail.com) The e-mail address given will be used to relay other information to you as the date draws closer.

RSVP here: http://www.doodle.com/86r37uvt3vsqn6tq

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