MFA in Collaborative Design
MA in Design Systems


PNCA's MFA in Collaborative Design and MA in Design Systems start with the end in mind: to produce creative leaders who can make a difference in business, government and non-profit sectors. Students, faculty, partners, and clients work together on complex problems using a collaborative, systems-based, human-centered approach. Both programs draw on the city of Portland, the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific Rim as learning labs for graduate students seeking expanded design practices to meaningfully address the emerging challenges of the 21st century. Our faculty, mentors, partners, and participants share a vision where future creative leaders effect systemic change creating equitable, resilient, and profitable solutions for a changing world. 

MFA in Collaborative Design
This 60-credit program is tailored for early- and mid-career creatives who are ready for an immersive experience. Late afternoon and evening classes up-level skills and aptitudes for a rapidly changing design environment. We take a critical and entrepreneurial approach to “wicked” problems such as resource depletion, emerging technologies, climate change and global demographic shifts. 

MA in Design Systems
This 40-credit program embraces the reality that all creative endeavors are embedded within complex systems: of design, relationships, hierarchies, production, power, collaboration, and competition. This program is for the working creative who wants to master those systems, whether inside a firm, between organizations, or among multiple stakeholders. 

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Capstone Projects

The world is becoming increasingly complex. Industry, society and environment cannot be understood or influenced separately. We take on the big issues - resource depletion, energy and climate change, emerging technologies, demographic shifts, equity - in a project-based format with key partners, preparing participants to tackle complex problems at multiple scales using a variety of design techniques.

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Our curriculum takes participants through current and emerging knowledge sets, including systems thinking, problem identification, stakeholder engagement, scenario planning, collaboration, visual facilitation, brainstorming, design research, rapid prototyping, cultural entrepreneurship and creative leadership.

Classes are held in the late afternoon and evening to accommodate early and mid-career creatives who want to accelerate their skills while continuing to work.

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Participants work with the most creative, professional minds in Portland, Oregon – a leading edge of creativity - and access new technologies and partnerships with national and international knowledge networks. Upon completion of the 60-credit, two-year program, graduates leave with a project portfolio that demonstrates their ability to think critically and act entrepreneurially in rapidly changing environments.

They go on to launch successful programs, work for leading design initiatives and nonprofits, create thriving design consultancies, and work in higher education.

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"Collaborative Design prepared me for a life of working with entrepreneurs by introducing me to the world of social innovation and community-oriented design. I am so grateful for the connections I developed with fellow alum, mentors and professionals through the program."

Danielle Olson,
Program Manager
Hatch Innovation


Chair, MFA in Collaborative Design
MA in Design Systems

Peter Schoonmaker is Founding Chair of the MFA in Collaborative Design at PNCA, the first program in the United States to apply collaborative design thinking to real-world wicked problems. He comes to PNCA with a background in non-profit entrepreneurship, working with conservation organizations, community groups, government agencies, and natural resource businesses to design mutually beneficial forest, fisheries and watershed partnerships in the Pacific Northwest. Peter is founding president of Illahee, a non-profit organization that provides a forum for environmental innovators to exchange ideas and increase the rigor of public discourse around environmental, social, and economic systems. He was also board president of Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, facilitating a process that permanently protected 35,000 acres of ancient forest. Peter has held positions at University of Massachusetts, Oregon State University, Willamette University, Portland State University and Linfield College.