Start Here. Change Everything.
The Masters in Strategic Communication Design (STCM) evolves students into design professionals through a progression of innovative learning experiences within a single calendar year—from August to August—in a series of three contiguous semesters: fall semester, spring semester and summer session D. The program lives and breathes within a learning culture shaped by collective creativity, fueled by design thinking, and focused on innovation that transcends the divide between technology and design. Our mission is to transform our students into professionals able to lead into the future by leveraging the power of design to solve problems.
If you are trying to submit an application and get an error message about the deadline, please contact David Slayden.
The STCM champions the global value of innovation.
We do so through design thinking, pointing to new ways of learning, working, seeing, thinking, and making within the everyday challenges of the 21st century. The boundaries between design disciplines are evolving and increasingly blurring. And so are the traditional boundaries between design and everyday life––between work, play, social innovation, leadership, and management, all of which are accompanied by an increasing awareness and dedication to value-driven efforts. These developments are not singular to design but are evolving throughout an international creative economy that is increasingly led by designers.
We approach design through a lens of collective creativity.
We are situated within a culture of learning fueled by design thinking and our primary focus is on imagining, designing, and building innovative products and experiences that transcend the divide between technology and design. The STCM provides a transformative learning experience that creates design professionals who can and will lead into the future. This is true. Whether your intentions are the pursuit of entrepreneurial options or gaining a leadership position in a firm, agency, or nonprofit, the STCM graduate program elevates and extends your potential as a design professional, wherever and however you choose to apply it.
Per our most recent survey of STCM master’s program graduates, placement outcomes were as follows:
- 43% of students were placed in full-time equivalent (FTE) positions prior to graduation.
- 60% of students were placed within one month of graduating.
- 84% of students were placed within three months of graduating.
- 90% of students were placed within six months of graduating.
Our graduates have worked for:
Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook (Meta), Twitter, Dropbox, AirBnB, Pinterest, Spotify, Logitech, RG/A, Hewlett Packard, Strava, PlayStation, Kodak, Salesforce, Adobe, Comcast and Time Warner
- 50% of our alumni have held or currently hold a position in management with direct reports.
- Check out a series of interviews with our alumni →
Located in a state-of-the art studio in the heart of Boulder's entrepreneurial tech community (Twitter is our upstairs neighbor; TechStars is across the street), STCM's new culture of learning explores the potential of design as a critically useful tool for humanity in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Our positioning is timely and encouraging. Recent figures indicate that design is the fastest growing sector within the creative industries worldwide and it is also increasingly playing a key strategic role in an evolving global economy.
Our graduate design program is entirely project-based and our students learn in a dynamic studio environment. Entering students choose a primary path in either brand design or experience design, providing a throughline which focuses and prepares them to hit the ground running qualified for current industry design positions in branding and UX.
All students enroll in RE, our product-based open studio that combines entrepreneurial design and critical making. RE is where we prepare our students to think and act as designer-founders, who imagine, design, develop, make, and launch products which have the potential to become design-driven startups. To learn more about designer founders, read this.
And all students will also develop their individual portfolios for industry positions in BookLab, our creative laboratory whose purpose is to evolve student project work within a professional portfolio that captures and expresses an original, individual vision that can guide a successful career in design.
We perennially attract and encourage applicants with entrepreneurial aspirations and ambitions. They make their way to our studio from diverse cultural backgrounds and geographies, including Brazil, South Africa, India, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, China, and throughout the United States. There is also diversity in our students' undergraduate academic training, with degrees ranging from fine arts to engineering, advertising, business, environmental design, humanities, film, and social sciences.
The common thread is that all of our entering students recognize the power of design as an adaptive tool to realize their creative potential as professionals. As a matter of course, our graduates go on to become design-based leaders in a variety of positions in top creative companies.
Here's a short list of positions our graduates have taken:
- Product Designer - Client
- Brand Designer - Client
- Product Manager - Client
- Producer - Agency
- Creative Technologist - Agency
- Strategist- Agency
- Account Planner – Agency
- UX Strategist – Client
- UX Designer - Client or Agency
- UI Designer - Client or Agency
- Web Designer - Client or Agency
- Visual Designer - Client or Agency
- Brand Manager - Client or Agency
- Design Researcher - Client or Agency
- UX Researcher - Client or Agency
And here are additional areas our more recent graduates are trending toward:
- Production Designer
- Graphic Designer
- Concept Artist
- 3D Designer
- Environment Designer
- Experience Designer
- CX Designer
- Information Architect
- Experience Strategist
- Visual Interface Designer
- Mobile App Designer
- Art Director
- Creative Director
- Digital Designer
- Prototype Designer
- Front-End Engineer
- Installation Designer
- Systems Designer
Wherever our students go after graduation—client-side, agency or startup—they take with them a distinct point of view focused by design thinking, collective creativity, and an empathic, user-centered approach to problem-solving that makes them effective leaders. They also become part of an exceptional creative industry network comprised of our graduates working at top companies.
Total number of credit hours: 39
Our program is for students who feel they already have foundational skills in design software and the basics of design. These skills may be from previous professional or educational experience. You can still apply for the program if you do NOT have those skills, however, you will be expected to learn the basics as part of your advanced course work. The program does not provide explicit instruction on those skills.
In the STCM program, students evolve from designers to design leaders and will gain advanced skills needed to lead teams, build strategy, and influence business leaders. Students will deepen their skills in screen-based design, but extend themselves into new areas by designing and building products beyond the screen that challenge existing conceptual and executional norms.
Upon entering the program, students select a focus area, specializing in either Brand Design or Experience Design. This drives the mix of classes they take during the year.
Note that the STCM program is a full calendar year consisting of Fall Semester, Spring Semester, Maymester, and Summer Session D, beginning in August of one year and ending in August of the next. It is immersive, accelerated, and transforms students into design leaders within a single calendar year.
Fall Semester - 15 credit hours
Brand Design Specialization Courses
Brand Design 3: Brand (R)evolution - 3 credit hours
- Deepen student understanding of visual design concepts, tools, and systems to evolve and extend brand identities and values beyond core offerings into disruptive visual systems.
Special Topics in Brand Design 1: Brand Cultures - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to apply design skills to a range of specialized focus areas within the cultures of various brands––both new and enduring. Students will work with current industry partners within the STUDIO network to solve problems and leverage opportunities for the growth of existing brands.
Experience Design Specialization Courses
Experience Design 3: Service Design - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to apply design-thinking and experience design process to the development of service-based products.
Experience Design Special Topics 1: Advanced Research Methods - 3 credit hours
- Deepen student skills in UX research and synthesis methods.
About Product Lab
As part of the College of Media, Communication and Information at CU Boulder, Studio lives at the intersection of academe and industry. It provides an intellectual and physical space where technology and design professionals and CU Boulder researchers work together to redefine the boundaries of product and service design through collective creativity, design innovation, and to explore the possibilities of digital transformation to shape the future together. All students enrolled in the one-year degree program are required to take the following classes in Product Lab.
Entrepreneurial Design 1: Product Innovation - 3 credit hours
- Develop student understanding of the product development lifecycle.
- Apply skills in research and analysis to explore problem spaces and develop actionable product insights.
- Develop student understanding of how design fits into and can influence business strategy and the larger business structure.
- Develop student understanding of product management & product strategy process and approaches.
Booklab 2: Designing for Influence -3 credit hours
- Develop students understanding of their role as a designer and team leader.
- How to work with, manage, and creative direct teams.
- How to give and receive feedback.
- Provide a focused critique of student work to help them better apply their growing skillsets.
- Support students in continuing to develop their portfolio.
Critical Making 3: Beyond the Web and Emerging Technologies - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to think and create beyond the web with emerging technologies like VR, AR and 3D Printing.
- Develop student skills in current, critical software to develop in VR.
- Deepen student understanding of code structures and approaches.
- Develop student skills in current, critical software for 3D printing.
Spring Semester - 15 hrs
Brand Design Specialization Courses
Brand Design 4: Brandscapes - 3 credit hours
- Deepen student understanding of visual design concepts and tools.
- Design and manifest brand identities in urban environments, locally, nationally, and globally.
Brand Design Special Topics 2: Making Meaning and Embedding Value in Branded Objects - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to apply developing skills to a range of specialized focus areas, including exposure to industry partners.
Experience Design Specialization Courses
Experience Design 4: Emerging Interfaces - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to apply design thinking and experience design processes in the development of products for emerging interfaces - voice, AR, VR, Web of Things.
Experience Design Special Topics 2: Critical Tactics - 3 credit hours
- Deepen student skills in critical areas of experience design.
- Explore tactical topics such as accessibility, typography, animations, micro-interactions and prototyping.
All students in the one year program are required to take the following classes in our Product Lab:
Entrepreneurial Design 2: Product Innovation - 3 credit hours
- Develop student understanding of the product development lifecycle.
- Apply skills in design, business strategy, prototyping, and branding to develop a launchable product.
Booklab 3: Ethics, Issues and the State of Design - 3 credit hours
- Develop student ability to think critically about design as a discipline, with the ability to understand and analyze industry trends and issues and develop and communicate informed opinions.
- Continue to guide and support students in the development of their portfolios. Class structure includes open discussion, debate, and analysis among guest speakers, faculty and students.
Critical Making 4: Advanced Product Development - 3 credit hours
- Deepen student abilities to bring products to life by providing instruction and guidance in support of the products being developed in Entrepreneurial Design 2.
Maymester - 3 credit hours
Design Sprints - 3 credit hours
- Students apply their skills in 3 week-long design sprints with industry partners.
Summer Session D - 6 credit hours
Entrepreneurial Design 3: Product Innovation - 3 credit hours
- Complete program capstone project by finalizing, pitching and launching the product that has been developed over the course of the year.
Booklab 4: Portfolio - 3 credit hours
- Finalize the development of student portfolios in preparation for graduation and job search.
STCM MA Program - 39 hrs
XD 3 - Service Design
XD Special Topics 1 - Advanced Research Methods
BD 3 - Brand (R)evolution
BD Special Topics 1 - Brand Cultures
CM 3 - Beyond the Web - Emerging Technologies
Ent D 1 - Product Innovation
Booklab 2 - Designing for Influence
XD 4 - Emerging Interfaces
XD Special Topics 2 - Critical Tactics
BD 4 - Brandscapes
BD Special Topics 2 - Making Meaning and Embedding Value in Branded Objects
CM 4 - Advanced Product Development
Ent D 2 - Product Innovation
Booklab 3 - Ethics, Issues & the State of Design
Maymester 3 hrs
Ent D 3 - Product Innovation
Booklab 4 - Portfolio
Students must successfully complete 39 credits, including all required courses. Attendance is mandatory for every scheduled class meeting, along with completion of every assignment on deadline. Students must participate actively in class discussions, collaborative projects and create an original body of work represented in their portfolios––which must pass a final critique. Graduation depends on final approval of student’s portfolio by the critiquing board of professionals. Documentation of approval of final portfolio projects must be on file in the APRD department to be eligible for degree conferral.
- Students must satisfactorily complete their degree within contiguous semesters one, two, Maymester and semester three, unless given an official extension by the Dean of CMCI.
- Students are required to remain in good academic standing, per the requirements of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado.
Please note: Requirements are subject to review and change by the executive director, when such change is warranted.
Applications are reviewed on a rolling admissions basis for the STCM masters degree. What this means is this: We evaluate applications as they are completed, which means acceptances are meted out on a first-come, first-served basis for each prospective student.
Once an application is complete with all supporting documents, we review it through the online form and get back to you within three weeks from the completion of your application.
We are currently accepting applications for the 2022-2023 academic year. We will continue to review applications on a rolling basis until the cohort is full. The final calendar deadline for the 2022-2023 academic year is May 31, 2022.
Applicants to the Strategic Communication Design master's degree program (STCM) are expected to hold a baccalaureate (bachelor’s) degree from an accredited college or university, and to have an undergraduate grade point average of at least 2.75.
How to Apply
Your application will be listed under Strategic Communication Design on the Graduate School site. The online Graduate School application is available here.
Required forms that are linked to in the application, are as follows:
- Personal Statement
- Please indicate which studio (Brand Design or Experience Design) you would like to apply to, and provide a link to your online portfolio if available. This statement is an essential part of your application. In a maximum of 1500 words, please supply long-form answers to the following questions:
- What attracts you to the program at this time? What do you envision as the most compelling opportunities for you as a designer and also a future leader?
- What particular experiences––personal or professional––have prepared you for work in design?
- Why is interaction design important to you and how would you use it to change the world?
- Three letters of recommendation
- These should come from professionals and/or professors. No personal recommendations please.
- Unofficial transcripts
- Writing Sample
- Submit a sample of your writing that you feel is exemplary and representative of your writing abilities.
- If you have a portfolio please include a link in your personal statement. If you do not have a portfolio, use your personal statement to tell us why you would be a good fit for the program and what you hope to get out of it.
- International applicants must have a TOEFL score of at least 600 (IBT 100).
- A nonrefundable application fee of $60 is also required ($80 for international).
Below are frequently asked questions from applicants. If you have any additional questions, please send those to us. See our “Contact” information below.
You have a rolling admissions policy? What is that?
Rather than a single static deadline, we have a rolling admissions policy. Here is the how and why: we examine and accept applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to judge all applications concurrently. Schools with rolling admissions can be great for finding out early on whether or not you are accepted, so you can plan accordingly.
How many students do you accept?
It can vary annually depending on the quality of applicants but we typically accept no more than 24 each year.
The degree is in Strategic Communication Design. What does that mean?
Students apply to the STCM program overall but you must indicate on your application what your primary focus will be. You have two options––either Brand Design or Experience Design.
Where are classes held?
All classes take place in our state-of-the-art STUDIO located in downtown Boulder. Students have 24/7 access to the CMCI STUDIO. The Studio also has showers, lockers, and a bike room for secure storage.
Can I work full-time while I take the program?
Some students manage to successfully do free-lance projects but working full-time is not advisable.
See the STCM program handbook for more information.
The contact person/email for your application is: Matt Laszewski, Graduate Program Assistant. Feel free to email him.
STUDIO is a collective of designers, researchers, and entrepreneurs whose work transcends the divide between technology and design. We are dedicated to learning, innovation, and exploration across disciplines to reimagine possible alternative futures for a rapidly changing world.
STUDIO lives at the intersection of academe and industry. It provides an intellectual and physical space where technology and design professionals and CU Boulder researchers work together to redefine the boundaries of product and service design through collective creativity and innovation by design.
In all of our R&D efforts, we explore the possibilities of digital transformation in business and education––to shape the future together.
An outgrowth of CMCI––the new interdisciplinary college at the University of Colorado Boulder––we focus on the power of design to leverage the possibilities of a world increasingly shaped by rapid and constant change driven by new technologies. Our studio is located in the heart of downtown Boulder. We leverage our location to interact with the thriving Boulder startup community. But we also work with creative companies worldwide, including Uber, Made By Many, Google, Apple, RGA, Arity/Allstate, Future Partners, to name a few.
STUDIO’s efforts range from a nontraditional graduate design program (STCM) to executive workshops, innovative short courses, industry-sponsored projects, ongoing advanced research groups, new product development, and an array of public-facing events from experimental art to performance, music, interactivity, media showcases, popups, and openings.
STUDIO is positioned to serve as a bridge from industry to academe; together we embrace disruption, challenge disciplines, and cultivate risk in a creative learning culture that encourages innovation to address the challenges and realities of the 21st century global creative economy.
- Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design
- Critical Media Practices
- Information Science
- Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance (PhD)
- Media Studies
- CMCI Certificates
- CMCI Minors
- Communication & Society Residence Academic Program (CMCI CommRAP)
- CU in DC Program
- Graduation with Honors in CMCI