M.DES. in Graphic Design

The School of Art offers a Master of Design in Communication Design degree. Launched in fall 2022, this degree program focuses on graphic and communication design, the first of its kind in the state of Arkansas.



True to the mission and purpose of the state flagship institution, the Master of Design program prepares designers to build a better world through design that strengthens their community, the state of Arkansas, and beyond.

The MDes at the School of Art is an accredited, two-year residency program. Through applied and speculative studio projects, the Master of Design prepares students for emerging roles the field can play in involving communities in participatory design processes that generate equitable and sustainable solutions to design problems.

Students will have the opportunity to facilitate and participate in activities with the Design Clinic, a community space dedicated to outreach through design that supports advancing social justice causes catering to the nonprofit and entrepreneurial community in Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding region.

Throughout the program, there will be an emphasis on designing with accountability and understanding the role of design in reproducing the problems it aims to solve. These experiences culminate in a final thesis project, informed by the curriculum and each student's own interests and objectives.

Thanks to the transformational gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, all graduate students accepted into the program will receive funding support during the two-years of study.  We are able to provide a range of graduate assistantships to all of our students, which includes a full-tuition waiver. An annual research stipend as well as a research fellowship are also available. The local presence of campus partners and multinational corporation headquarters in the region, along with a rich ecosystem of supporting design firms and agencies, fuels collaborative learning experiences and unique research opportunities that will evolve from year to year.

Visit Campus

Graduate students are encouraged to visit the school firsthand or to speak with the faculty about their interest in the program before applying. Graduate students can also schedule tours through the office of admissions.

To learn more about the MDES program and/or set up a tour of the School of Art, please contact Bree McMahon,  bmcm@uark.edu, Director of Graduate Studies and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design.

How to Apply

The School of Art application is free and submitted through Slideroom, a web-based portfolio and document submission system.

The application deadline is January 15 at midnight, CST, to start the application click here: http://uarkart.slideroom.com/ .

Please note that the GRE is not required for applicants to the Master of Design program in Art Education at the School of Art at the University of Arkansas.

NOTE:  Applicants who have been granted admission by the School of Art will be asked to submit a secondary application to the Graduate School before they can be fully admitted to the university (a link to the application will be provided with the School of Art's offer letter). The Graduate School application fee is $60. For more information about the circumstances in which the application fee can be waived, please review:

Applicants submit the following materials to the School of Art, using Slideroom:

    1. A brief statement describing why the applicant is interested in the Master of Design degree
    2. A 1-2 page autobiographical statement outlining the applicant’s education, experiences, achievements, and goals for graduate study
    3. A one-page statement addressing the applicant’s perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
    4. Resumé/Curriculum Vitae
    5. A professional portfolio comprising 12 projects captured as digital images and uploaded as directed with appropriate attributions. Consideration should be given to high levels of detail, consistency, and a curated body of work representing professional and/or research interests. The uploading of these assets must conform to outlined standards. Physical examples of work will not be accepted nor can a personal website substitute for this component of the application.
    6. A PDF of unofficial transcripts from all previous college/universities attended. GPA of 2.85 and above
    7. 3 letters of recommendation
    8. English Proficiency Test Scores if necessary (See Graduate School and International Studies admissions for more information)

More Information About the M.DES. Program

This degree will prepare students to advance their professional practice as culturally responsive designers and bring community-centered mindsets to leadership positions in any industry or sector.

With coursework relating to pedagogy and opportunities for teaching assistantships, graduates will also be qualified to pursue careers in design education to further inform and define the discipline.

The curriculum also addresses a research-led professional context increasingly defined by information, product, and service ecologies in which digital technologies are primary means of delivery and venues for citizen and consumer experiences.

Through coursework, research, faculty mentorship, and the completion of their thesis students will:

  • Explore power sharing and ethical relationships between designers and communities in solving social problems.
  • Frame scenarios in which design intervention shapes preferrable consequences in a variety of contexts.
  • Explore the various technological and visual strategies that inform design decisions and applications across different types of problems.
  • Develop a perspective on design, assessing the evolution of the field and its role in society.
  • Evaluate and select design methods appropriate to the task and the collaborative and participatory goals of the program.
  • Apply storytelling methods to construct compelling design narratives and arguments supported by evidence and citation.
  • Demonstrate equitable and culturally responsive attitudes that define leadership in teaching and practice.
  • Interpret and apply theories and principles from design and other fields in writing and studio work.
  • Demonstrate how research contributes to framing design problems by articulating various lenses through which to view seemingly ambiguous situations

Students admitted to the Master of Design degree program must complete a minimum of 60 credit hours to graduate.

The curriculum includes a core curriculum of design studio courses, supported by seminar courses and electives.

Of the 15 credit hours needing to be completed per semester, students are required to complete 9 semester hours of core curriculum in GDES courses.

Students must take the following nine courses that comprise the core curriculum of the program:

  • GDES 6316: Design and Technology 6 units
  • GDES 6346 Design and Futures 6 units
  • GDES 6306 Design and Communities 6 units
  • GDES 5333 Design Research Methods (seminar) 3 units
  • GDES 5393 Design Theory: Past, Present and the Future (seminar) 3 units
  • GDES 5303 Design Pedagogy and Leadership (seminar) 3 units
  • GDES 5383 Design Writing and Dissemination (seminar) 3 units
  • GDES 6366 Thesis Preparation 6 units
  • GDES 6399 Design Thesis

Special Topics courses will rotate year-to-year and will be determined by faculty, taking into consideration student feedback and demonstrated interest. Topics will often be selected based on pressing issues in discourse of the field, opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and content, and in support for any current semester studio projects.

Special Topics may also be offered in conjunction with visiting designers, or designers-in-residence and may also run during the summer.

Examples of Special Topics:

  • Design and Feminism
  • Machine Learning
  • Design and Entrepreneurship
  • Design and Community Organizing
  • Design and Data
  • Design and Consumer Experience
  • Design and Sustainability
  • Designer as Author
  • Critical Design Issues
  • Decolonial Design
  • International Design Collaboration
  • Anti-Racist Design Thinking and Facilitation
  • Identity and Heritage in Design

The following list is a selection of courses recommended by the graduate faculty that would be of interest to MDes students. When selecting electives, students will work with the Graduate Director to identify electives that support their research interests and to secure the approval of the instructor-of-record.

African and African American Studies

AAST 3103. Diversity, Pedagogy, & Visual Culture

AAST 4323. Racial Identity, Politics, and Public Policy

AAST 4963. Third World Underdevelopment and Modernization


ANTH 4033. Popular Culture

ANTH 482V. Applied Visual Research

Art Education

ARED 3103. Diversity, Pedagogy, & Visual Culture


ARTS 3913. Social Justice and the Arts

Computer Science

CSCE 4613. Artificial Intelligence

Data Science

DASC 3103. Cloud Computing and Big Data

DASC 4123. Social Problems in Data Science and Analytics


ECON 3143. Economics of Poverty and Inequality

English Education

CIED 4403. Understanding Cultures in the Classroom

Human Development and Family Sciences

HDFS 4313. Building Family and Community Relationships Information Systems

ISYS 4013. Principles of Data and Cybersecurity

International & Global Studies

INST 3673. Social Entrepreneurship

INST 4653. International Food Security and Food Sovereignty


PHIL 4323. Philosophy of Race and Gender

PHIL 4333. Feminist Philosophy

Political Sciences

PLSC 4173. Community Development

For those applicants who derive from interdisciplinary undergraduate degrees or require a foundational design education prior to entering the Master of Design’s two-year sequence, a Preparatory Year (Prep Year) will be offered and encouraged.

This single year non-degree status program enables instruction in foundational tenets necessary to succeed within the subsequent Master of Design program. Students accepted into the Preparatory Year will automatically be enrolled in 9 credit hours of Graphic Design courses delivered at the Sophomore and Junior level.

The Preparatory Year is designed to develop students' investigative curiosities and improve design abilities in typography, visualization, theory, and systems thinking. Students will meet with the Graduate Director or another assigned faculty member twice a semester (midterm, final review) to discuss challenges, assess progress, and frame the next steps.



Dina Benbrahim, Endowed Assistant Professor of Graphic Design

David Charles Chioffi, Professor Graphic Design

Gaby Hernández, Endowed Associate Professor of Graphic Design

Tom Hapgood, Associate Professor of Graphic Design

Nadia Issa, Teaching Assistant Professor of Graphic Design

Marty Maxwell Lane, Associate Professor of Graphic Design and Director of the School of Art

Ali Place, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Program Director of Graphic Design

Bree McMahon, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Director of Graduate Studies in Graphic Design

Ryan Slone, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design



All students in the MDES  program are fully supported. We are able to provide full assistantships to all of our students, which includes a full-tuition waiver and awarded assistantships with $15,200 annually.

In addition, there are opportunities for research, travel, and/or assistantship funding for the summer.

All students are provided a graduate assistantship.

Types of assistantships include:

  • Faculty Research Assistance
  • Studio Management
  • Print Lab Support
  • Teaching Assistant, only four teaching assistantships will be offered, see below for the process.

Prior to students being selected for a teaching assistantship, they must enroll in the course, Design Pedagogy and Leadership (or relevant experience), which will be offered every fall. This course will serve as a means to train teaching assistants through lectures and projects that are focused on pedagogical approaches to teaching design.

Students will also practice developing curricular components for students and receive feedback from faculty.

After students complete the Design Pedagogy and Leadership course, they may complete an application for a teaching assistantship. The application will inquire about the student’s interests in teaching, their approach to classroom situations (critique, feedback, mentorship...etc), and a sample project evaluation.

Faculty will review the applications and assign students to classes based on subject interest, performance in the Design Pedagogy and Leadership course, and strength of the application.



The Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship will prepare Master of Design students in the School of Art to enter entrepreneurship-based fields and start successful enterprises related to their course of design study. The certificate, concerned with social entrepreneurship, complements the community-based, research-led professional context in which MDES students orient their practice. It is appropriate for any MDES student interested in launching their own products, company, or startup. It will also be a beneficial certificate for students that are interested in larger roles within business and practice, or those with a special interest in non-profit work.

The certificate fits seamlessly into the MDES Plan of Work. MDES students are already required to take two electives and three Special Topics courses. During the Fall of their first semester, students will take Business Foundations for Entrepreneurs which will serve as their first elective. During their second year, they will take New Venture Development I as their second elective in the Fall, coinciding with their Thesis Prep course. New Venture Development II will serve as their Special Topics selection in the Spring, taken alongside their 9 credit Thesis course.

This certificate program is organized in collaboration with the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. To learn more about the Graduate Certificate program, visit their website here: https://entrepreneurship.uark.edu/academics/graduate.php

Quick Info

MDES Information Session
Coming soon

To learn more about the MDES program and/or set up a tour of the School of Art, contact:

Director of Graduate Studies
Bree McMahon

Stay connected with Graphic Design by following @uarkdesign on Instagram

Studio + Design Center
696 W. Praxis Lane
Fayetteville, AR 72701