PNCA is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by building an inclusive educational environment that utilizes both onsite and remote learning options.

Program Description


The MFA in Collaborative Design and MA in Design Systems start with the end in mind: to produce creative ethical leaders who will apply a whole systems mindset and a tool kit of design, analytical, and entrepreneurial skills to drive positive impact in private, public, and non-profit sectors. Students, faculty, partners, and clients work together on complex problems using a collaborative, systems-based, holistic approach.

Both programs draw on the city of Portland, the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Rim and more globally 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 and better world.

CD/DS believes equity and socially minded, environmentally sensitive designers fosters a more humane world that can better address the multi-causal challenges we currently face including, climate change, racial injustice, poverty and health care.

What is Collaborative Design?

Collaborative Design prioritizes partnership, teamwork, and a holistic design process that assumes that the client is who you design with, not who you design for. Through a multi stage process collaborative design involves research, design sprints, applied system thinking, data facilitation and data visualization to address wicked problems that face the world today. This process is generated and supported by user feedback. This form of creative relationships places those who are most affected at the center as essential partners in the design process, leading to possibilities that more uniquely support the needs of the client and stakeholders.

What are the defining aspects of Collaborative Design? shared ownership, strong team building, energizing the innovation process.

Who Are Collaborative Designers?

Empathetic Listeners
System Mappers
Design Innovators
Business Leaders
Critical Thinkers
Life-long Learners
Creative Researchers

What do Collaborative Designers Do?

Participatory Research
User Design Research
Information Design & Data Visualization
Community & Group Facilitation
Visual Facilitation
Product Design Iteration
Creative Direction & Narrative Building
Visual Communication
Critical Design & Systems Thinking Scholarship
Personal Creative Practice
Social Entrepreneurship
Design & Process Consultation

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choose your path

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.

"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


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.


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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Get in touch

Get in touch with MK Guth: Director of Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies at to learn more.

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