Design in the future tense starts here.


In the creative economy of the 21st century, design increasingly plays a strategic role. The one-year professional masters in strategic communication (STCM) transforms students into design professionals who can hit the ground running, capable of solving real problems in the worlds of advertising, design, marketing, and business––whether the outcome is a product, a service or a branded experience delivered through the creative use of new technologies.

Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, the program is unique. It totals 39 hours and is a single, dedicated year in duration––from August to August––made up of four contiguous semesters. As follows: Fall semester, Spring semester, Maymester, and Summer Session D.  Focused, accelerated, and transformative, the STCM masters degree program is integrated with our professional network throughout the full range of our activities and offerings. 

The STCM’s learning model is the epitome of a new culture of learning, designed to address the realities of a changing and accelerated century where play is an essential basis for cultivating imagination and innovation. Studio-based, immersive and accelerated, students in the graduate program choose a primary emphasis in one of three studios: Brand Design, Critical Making, or Experience Design. Throughout the year-long degree program, all students are also required to enroll in our two open studios, BookLab and RE. In these studios, students will work on solo and group projects, exploring the techniques, processes, and benefits of collective creativity.

We accept 36 students into the graduate program for each year. Students are required to indicate on their applications which studio will be their primary focus, indicating whether they are applying for Brand Design Studio, Experience Design Studio, or Critical Making Studio.  Of the 39 total hours in the program, 18 will be taken during fall and spring semesters in a student’s primary area of focus (Brand Design, Critical Making, or Experience Design). During the three-week Maymester, 3 hours will be taken in Design Sprints with projects from our industry partners. All students will enroll in 3 hours of RE and BookLab during fall semester, spring semester, and summer session D.

BookLab is dedicated to producing an exceptional professional design portfolio. RE is our entrepreneurial design studio focused on new product development. Regardless of their primary emphasis, all students must produce a body of professional work in BookLab and pass a final critique of that work by our faculty and industry experts. Work developed in RE will result in an original product with a viable to-market strategy; it will also be judged by our network of entrepreneurs from the startup world. In order to graduate, all students must pass final critiques of their work in the final semester of these two studios, BookLab and RE. 

Studio-based and dedicated to cutting edge design theory and practice, the STCM originated as BDW in 2009. By 2016, BDW produced 124 graduates who now comprise an international alumni network that advises us on current and future practices in regard to design and innovation. Leaders from our alumni network also teach in the STCM program and/or guest lecture and recruit from our classes. Our graduates are industry professionals leading strategic design efforts at companies ranging from Apple to Uber, ESPN, Pinterest, Google, Dropbox, RG/A, Wieden and Kennedy, CPB, Deutsch LA, and 72 and Sunny to name a few.

BDW evolved and is now the strategic communications design masters (STCM) in CU’s College of Media, Communication, and Information.

All classes in STCM take place in our downtown Boulder location at the CMCI STUDIO, with full 24/7 access to our state-of-the-art tools, on-site bike room, showers, lockers, and bathrooms, of course.

We are a design collective of thinkers and doers. We innovate at the crossroads of collective creativity, technology, and design.

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.

CMCI 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.

Through its downtown Boulder location, CMCI 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 innovations that can address the challenges and realities of the 21st century global creative economy. Students in the STCM benefit from the proximity of these initiatives and interaction with the professionals leading these initiatives.

BRAND DESIGN STUDIO focuses on concepts of branding and visual design, including tools and workflows, principles of aesthetics and branding, along with visual tone and brand identity––all of which contribute to a strong understanding and capability in successful brand design. 

Offered in the fall semester:

APRD 5001, Brand Design Studio 1 
APRD 5003, Brand Design Studio 2 
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Brand Design

Offered in the spring semester:

APRD 5013, Brand Design Studio 3 
APRD 5015, Brand Design Studio 4 
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Brand Design

EXPERIENCE DESIGN STUDIO concentrates on deriving actionable insights and translating them into compelling design artifacts and experiences. Topics can include responsive web design, mobile app design, UI patterns, research and prototyping relevant and necessary to designing branded experiences. 

Offered in the fall semester: 

APRD 5002, Experience Design Studio 1 
APRD 5004, Experience Design Studio 2 
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Experience Design

Offered in the spring semester:

APRD 5014, Experience Design Studio 3 
APRD 5016, Experience Design Studio 4 
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Experience Design


CRITICAL MAKING STUDIO leverages core concepts of critical making to bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration through hands-on productive activities that integrate new and emerging technologies with human activities. In short, they break down the divide between thinking and making, ––including a variety of creative hacks of existing technologies to bridge physical and digital environments. 

Offered in the fall semester:

APRD 5005, Critical Making Studio 1 
APRD 5007, Critical Making Studio 2 
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Critical Making

Offered in the spring semester:

APRD 5017, Critical Making Studio 3 
APRD 5019, Critical Making Studio 4
APRD 6871, Special Topics in Critical Making


RE is an ENTREPRENEURIAL DESIGN STUDIO (required for all STCM students)

Dedicated to using the power of design to change the world and how we engage with it, the RE studio classes are future-focused on re-imagining and re-designing the world, especially regarding the possibilities of emerging Interfaces. Design explorations and builds in these studios typically take students beyond the screen to explore the Web of Things, Voice, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Wearables, Enchanted Objects, Biological Interfaces and even No Interface whatsoever. 

 Offered in the fall semester:

APRD 5006, RE: Studio 1 

Offered in the spring semester:

APRD 5008, RE: Studio 2 

Offered in the summer session D:

APRD 5012, Advanced Projects Lab 

Students will produce and present a fully functional prototype by the end of the summer session D. This prototype will be presented to our VC community at the end of summer session D.


DESIGN SPRINTS  (required for all  STCM students) 

This series of design sprints result in an ability to move rapidly against a design problem––a critical skill in the creative environments of today. Students work in teams to design against real-world problems for real-world clients. Concepts are developed along with client representatives and presented for review by the client, helping students develop communication and collaboration skills with industry professionals and project stakeholders. Clients have included Uber, Allstate's innovation group, Arity, Microsoft, ESRI, among others. 

APRD 5010 Design Sprints I, 2, & 3  are offered annually throughout the three-week Maymester. 


BookLab is required for all STCM degree students. It is focused on producing a finished professional portfolio. Fall and Spring semesters in BookLab include studio visits and guest speakers who show and tell what makes a top-level portfolio in different design areas. You’ll both see what great work looks like and learn how it came about––through process, methodology, and plain hard work and attention. The summers sessions of BookLab will consist of digging in for eight weeks and moving your work to another level, with the aid of professional critiques each and every week. Summer BookLab results in a juried professional review of each portfolio at the end of the summer session and prior to graduation. 

APRD 5011 BookLab

Offered in the Fall, Spring semesters. An intensive version of BookLab is offered in Summer Session D and includes repeated critique sessions and visit and evaluations of student work by our industry partners who will also be recruiting at this time.

In addition to the curriculum for STCM students, we offer special topics courses and workshops throughout the year, including summer session D.

Take One of Our Special Topics Courses. You don't have to be in our graduate degree program to take our special topics courses. We offer special topics courses open to all graduate students at CU Boulder throughout the year, including summer session D. These vary in duration, from 1-3 credit hours––depending on the course topics––but they are all project-based studio courses that take place in our downtown studio. 

Take a Workshop with us.  We offer a variety of non-credit workshops throughout the year and they are open to everyone: CU students––undergraduate and graduate––and the public, including working professionals and teachers from all levels of education. These workshops can vary in duration but are typically 4-12 hours in length and are offered on weekends in the CMCI STUDIO.

Here is a partial list of our workshop offerings:

Traction & Innovation: How to Determine if Your Idea Has Resonance in the Marketplace. This course offers tools and strategies for understanding the full customer journey to validate an idea and is intended to assist entrepreneurs in developing a practical understanding of product strategy.

Paper to Prototype. Build experiences from concept to prototype. By quickly iterating from whiteboard to wireframe to high fidelity prototype, we can produce and test experiences and ideas quicker than ever. Learn the basics of using design and technology to solve business problems and improve lives. Tools used : Paper and pen, Sketch, Invision, Framer,

Executing Design Trends. Objective - Use the Adobe Creative Suite apps at an intermediate/advanced level.

Experience - Hands-on intensive exploration of advanced tool usage and implementation of complex techniques in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Discussion of tools and techniques across each application.

Results - Students will learn how to achieve popular and contemporary effects and develop an understanding of Creative Suite that will allow for self-guided advancement in the future.

Crafting a Complete Brand System. Objective - Develop a brand strategy and creative direction, and translate those concepts into a compelling brand identity system.

Experience - Conduct research and ask thoughtful questions to determine a brand’s strategic direction. Learn how to guide clients from conceptual conversations towards design execution. Explore all the key elements of a brand system - logo design, art direction, visual language, copywriting, and other expressions.

Results - Students will know how to craft a brand from start to finish, with an understanding and appreciation for how strategy, marketing, and other non-design aspects of branding contribute to the final result.

UX Research Fundamentals.  Learn how to conduct a comprehensive yet scalable research discovery process from info gathering to synthesis through testing. Research methodologies covered will include user interviews, surveys, personas, feature value matrix, task analysis and more. At the onset of class, each student will be given a brief and be guided through hands on application of the research discovery process. Case studies shown in class are selected from the wild, real life UX research that changed product design and strategy.

Femme Digital Product Lab. Can you imagine a world where C level decisions at every company were made by women? Would the products we use in our daily lives, the media we consume, and the food we eat be different? Femme Digital invites you to reimagine a world made by women for women, and for the benefit of everyone. Bring your idea or ideas to the first class meeting. Together, we will refine, expand and launch each concept. End deliverables that each participant will walk away with will include - product name, mission statement, simple hello-world website and plan of action.

Why We Like Things (Or, Why We Buy Things). An investigation into the world around us and why we make the choices we make. First, we will learn about the unconscious biases that control our behavior. Then, we will look at the products around us and how they use specific language to influence our buying decisions. We will do fun, design challenges which force us to reconsider the messages that we send and receive every day. We will use design software to mock up ads and consumer packaged goods (CPGs) in order to understand how to use colors, shapes, typefaces, and copy to their most effective means.

Advanced Typography Workshop. Deepen your knowledge of type: combining type, understanding the subtleties that makes typography a powerful form of visual communication. Test yourself with some timed design challenges, and have some hands-on creative fun by building words and letterforms out of found objects and photographing them.

Rhino 3D Modeling Intensive. A 3-Day Intensive (Fri / Sat / Sun). Rhino 3D Modeling Intensive is an entry level course for anyone interested in learning how to utilize Rhino 3D, a cutting-edge software package used in architecture, engineering, video game design, fashion design, and product and jewelry design industries. During this 3-day intensive course participants will be introduced to the Rhino environment, user interface, 2D and 3D design techniques, modeling strategies – “How do I model X?”, NURBS modeling, tips and tricks, and best practices when designing for digital and physical prototyping, product design, and fabrication. Participants can expect a strong emphasis on learning by doing and a progressive learning experience where understanding is built up through examples and exercises creating a variety of geometries and objects. The course will culminate in the generation of production ready CAD files for fabrication processes such as 3D printing, laser cutting, and/or CNC routing / milling. Prerequisites: None

Learn the Rules of Typography. Typography is the art of organizing letters in space and time. Students gain a familiarity with typographic terms and technologies, an understanding of classical and contemporary typographic forms, an ability to construct typographic compositions and systems, and an appreciation of typography as an expressive medium that conveys aesthetic, emotional and intellectual meaning. Students are introduced to digital typesetting and page layout software (ILLUSTRATOR AND INDESIGN.

Break the Rules of Typography. (Experimental Type). This class is a laboratory for exploring the edge of the applications and theories of typography. Students will expand their fundamental understanding of typographic form and vocabulary through trans-media experiments to explore visual language for communication and expression. Non-traditional formal exploration, variations in ideation, and transparency in process will challenge and evolve students' assumptions about forms, mediums, and ideas as they relate to typography.

Get Virtual with us. You don’t have to be in Boulder to learn how we think, make, and do at the CMCI STUDIO. Check out our upcoming online courses (scheduled to go live in July 2018).

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 a 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. 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 2018-2019 academic year. We will continue to review applications on a rolling basis until the cohort is full.  The final calendar deadline for the 2018-2019 academic year is August 1, 2018.  

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, Experience Design, or Critical Making) you would like to apply to, and provide a link to your online portfolio. 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.
  • Portfolio
    All applicants must also submit an online portfolio of relevant work by August 1, 2018. The portfolio should represent your competence in any studio-based field, e.g., graphic design, creative advertising, environmental design, film, fine arts, and so on. Applicants are encouraged also to include examples of passion projects (e.g. not executed for a client). that demonstrate their thinking and problem-solving approach. The portfolio is the single most important component in your application.
  • 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. 

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?

We accept 36 students annually. Students apply to the STCM program overall but must indicate on their application which studio will be their focus: Brand Design, Experience Design, or Critical Making.


When are classes held?

Classes are held Mondays through Thursday in the CMCI STUDIO. Students have 24/7 access to the CMCI STUDIO, located in downtown Boulder. The Studio also has showers, lockers, and a bike room for secure storage.


Can I work full-time while I take the program?

No. This is a 39 credit-hour program completed in one year and requires single-minded dedication. Some students have managed to successfully do free-lance projects.  


What is a design sprint? Why you do these?

Design sprints evolved from design charrettes in architecture and refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers draft solutions to a design problem. Google Ventures adapted this practice into five-day design sprints––a proven five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.  A design sprint is a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.  We use them in the three-week Maymester on projects with our industry partners.


What are some of the jobs I might expect to do when I graduate? 

Depending on which of our three studios you choose as your emphasis, below is a list of positons our graduates have taken. The unique design of the program also ensures that, whatever your specialization, you will be able to communicate across areas and disciplines and bring an entrepreneurial mindset to projects.

Where our graduates have gone and what they are doing:

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

Additional areas where we see our future graduates 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

Can I do this degree remotely?

No. Culture and the advanced technologies available in our studio are crucial to the learning experiences that makes our graduates successful.


I’m really interested in the program but I don’t think that I currently have the skillset to be ready for the classes I want to take.  Should I apply anyway?

We have accepted students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds who have managed to build out the necessary skillsets for success.  We are currently developing a series of online courses that applicants can take prior to enrolling in the full-time program.  We will be rolling these out in early July 2018. We will continue to add to the online catalogue as new opportunities and needs for learning present themselves.

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