PhD Browser

Doctor of Design Program (DDes)

Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
United States
Architecture & Design

The Doctor of Design (DDes) program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design is a leading doctoral degree program for highly creative and motivated professionals who wish to conduct rigorous, intensive design research.


The three-year program is geared towards applied research that advances design related knowledge in a broad range of scales from product design to buildings and landscapes to urban design and regional planning. Common to the diverse range of DDes research investigations is the belief that design research makes essential contributions to understanding, analyzing and ultimately improving the built environment in our increasingly complex world.


DDes research is often multidisciplinary and encompasses a broad range and combination of theoretical, applied and technological topics that represent the cutting edge of applied design investigation. DDes research is intimately linked to ongoing investigations of the GSD’s research labs and programs that integrate many DDes students both intellectually and operationally as investigators in ongoing research projects.


Research topics are proposed during admission and are decided upon entry into the program. Student research should align with current faculty research interests, allowing for affiliations with faculty and, possibly, the research labs. Applicants are expected to clearly articulate their research topics in the application by submitting a concise and well-structured research proposal. Typical research areas include studies in urban design and theory, landscape urbanism, novel design techniques and technologies including material systems, design computation, and building technologies, planning and real estate studies, and theoretical investigations of emerging trends in digital design culture. Thesis topics investigate more specific issues within individual or combined research areas, and do not necessarily correspond to individual academic disciplines. Instead, they are often interdisciplinary in nature, involving faculty and resources from other graduate schools at Harvard and contribute to expanding the intellectual range of design research.


The DDes program is highly regarded internationally, and DDes alumni have become thought leaders in their respective fields. Their work promotes and advances improvements of the built and the natural environment worldwide. They hold prestigious positions in private practice, industry, government and academia.

We invite you to review the program details at left. Please feel free to contact us for more information.




The curriculum of a DDes student is highly customized according to their respective research topics. It is geared towards completion in three years, but students are able to extend their studies beyond that if needed. DDes students are required to spend four of their six semesters in residence at Harvard GSD. The following is a sequential overview of coursework and exams in a typical course of studies.


First Year

During the first year students take 32 credits of coursework to gain fundamental knowledge of their fields, and acquire the skills pertinent to their thesis topics. Each student enrolls into one required course (4 credits) and three electives (12 credits) each semester. No more than 8 credits may be from independent study and no more than 8 credits from non-GSD courses. DDes students are required to have their course selection approved by their advisors prior to registration. When choosing electives students work with their advisors to construct an appropriate sequence of courses. DDes students may enroll in any non-studio course at the GSD, at any Harvard graduate school, and also at MIT through cross-registration.


Required Courses for students entering Fall 2018 and later:


ADV 9503: Preparation of Doctoral Literature Review (Fall)

Independent study with primary advisor

All DDes first year students are required to submit a preliminary literature review to the primary advisor and to the program office by the beginning of the spring semester.


ADV 9691- Discourses and Research Methods (Spring)

Instructor: Martin Bechthold

All DDes first year students are required to submit a draft prospectus to the primary advisor.


During the fall semester, the program will offer four workshops to build research related skills.


Workshop 1: Literature Search and Review – Mechanics


Workshop 2: DDes research presentations


Workshop 3: DDes research presentations


Workshop 4: Research Methodology


New for students entering Fall 2018 and later:

End of First Year Progress Review: A draft literature review and draft prospectus must be submitted and must meet minimum expectations. An official warning will be issued if insufficient progress has been made.


Second Year

The general examination (GE) marks the end of two semesters of course work during which the student acquires the core knowledge in his/her chosen research field. The GE is ideally taken at the end of the second semester, but no later than at the end of the third semester. The beginning of the second year usually involves the prospectus exam as the second part of the general examination. In preparation for the exam the DDes student authors and coordinates a thesis proposal that outlines specific issues and steps to be addressed through doctoral research. The proposal is evaluated based on originality, contribution to the field, and feasibility. The thesis committee is formed after the prospectus exam, directing and guiding the DDes candidate in the research and the preparation of the thesis (equivalent of 16 credits of thesis research each semester). DDes candidates hold regular meetings with the committee until the completion of their degree.


After passing the general exam, DDes candidates can apply for up to two semesters of leave of absence but must be in residence for at least two additional semesters, including their last semester. During their second year, DDes candidates have the opportunity to work as Teaching Fellows (TF). TFs gain teaching experience by typically supporting larger courses offered by any of the three departments at the GSD. Compensation for work as TF is normally integrated into the GSD’s financial aid package.


Required Thesis Preparation course:


ADV 9504 Thesis in Satisfaction of the Degree Doctor of Design

Independent Study with primary advisor


Students may take up to 4 additional units of elective courses each semester in the second year.


New for students entering Fall 2018 and later:

End of Second Year Progress Review: All students must have passed the general exam or dismissal proceedings will be initiated.


Third Year

In the third year the thesis research is completed and the dissertation is written. The work must be defended in a public defense, and it must be accepted unanimously by the thesis committee. When needed, studies can be extended beyond the third year.


Thesis Preparation course:


ADV 9506 Thesis Extension in Satisfaction of the Degree Doctor of Design


Independent Study with primary advisor


Students may take up to 4 additional units of elective courses each semester in the third year.


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Admission Requirements

The admissions process for the DDes program is extremely competitive and requires that applicants hold a graduate level degree in a design related field such as a professional degree in architecture, landscape architecture, planning or urban design. Applicants with a degree in a related discipline such as engineering, geography, computer science, or industrial design also qualify for admission. Applicants are required to present a concise and clearly articulated research proposal as the core element of the application. Other critical elements include documentation of the academic record, a curriculum vitae including professional experience, the portfolio, and letters of recommendation. Recent GRE scores and, for non-native speakers, TOEFL scores, are required as well.


The program seeks applicants who have demonstrated research and analytical skills essential for advanced doctoral study as well as the ability to pursue such work independently. Applicants should submit a proposal describing the research in which they plan to engage during their studies. The proposal will be evaluated on (1) its promise for original contribution to the design professions, (2) the feasibility of its being completed within the time constraints of the program, and (3) its congruence with research interests of at least two GSD faculty members who will eventually serve on the thesis committee.


Portfolio Requirement

The portfolio for DDes applicants should consist of scholarly, academic and/or professional work and may or may not include visual material, at the discretion of the applicant and as related to the proposed research topic.



DDes students receive financial support and teaching fellowships from the GSD to cover a major part of their tuition. Additional support may be available through funded research and other resources at the school.




A complete application consists of:


-Online application form


-Application fee payment* ($105)


-Transcripts uploaded to the application


-Letters of recommendation


-Statement of purpose


-GRE, where required (see individual program of study page for requirements)


-Demonstration of English proficiency, where required


-Writing sample, where required


Complete your apply process


When you are ready to apply, access our online application by clicking the apply button on the right side of this page (please note that there is no paper application). All supporting materials must be submitted electronically through the online application system.


If you are applying to a program that is part of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences  (HILS) federation, visit the HILS website for additional instructions.


If your program’s admissions committee determines that another department is well-matched to your academic interests, it may forward your application to that department for consideration.


The application for admission, including all supporting materials, becomes the property of GSAS. No materials will be returned to the applicant or forwarded to other schools or agencies.



1.-Upload Your Transcripts


Applicants are required to upload transcript copies from each college/university they attended into our online application system: official hard copy/paper transcripts are not required at the time of application.


Please note that transcripts from international institutions—records of all courses, seminars, and examinations, including grades, scores, grading scales, and confirmation of degree conferral—must be in English. If records are not available in English, original records must be accompanied by certified English translations. All translations must be literal and complete versions of the original records.


For those applicants currently enrolled in a college or university, GSAS does not require submission of fall grades. Should you wish to update your submitted application with fall grades, you may do so using the Fall Grade Report section of the online application. While GSAS will make every effort to ensure consideration of information submitted after the deadline, we cannot ensure that it will be used in the evaluation of your application.


2.- Confirm Letters of Recommendation


Before applying, confirm that three faculty members or others qualified to evaluate your potential for graduate study have agreed to submit letters of recommendation on your behalf. At least one letter should be from a faculty member at the school where you earned your most recent degree, unless you have been out of school for more than five years.


You must provide the e-mail addresses of three recommenders when you apply. GSAS requires your recommenders to submit their letters via an online recommendation system. By law, enrolled students have the right to view their letters of recommendation, unless they indicate otherwise at the time of application. Please note on your application whether you are waiving your right to see these letters. Learn more about your right to inspect letters of recommendation.


We regret that we are unable to accept letters submitted through a recommendation dossier service.


All letters of recommendation are due at the same time as the application. While GSAS will make every effort to ensure consideration of information submitted after the deadline, we cannot ensure that it will be used in the evaluation of your application.


3.- Write Your Statement of Purpose


The statement of purpose is very important to programs when deciding whether to admit a candidate. Your statement should be focused, informative, and convey your research interests and qualifications. You should provide a vivid picture of your intellectual profile: how you formulate research topics, how you pursue them, and how you articulate any interesting findings. As you convey this information, it is important to emphasize how these experiences have influenced both your decision to undertake graduate study and your goals within a graduate program.


4.- Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)


Many GSAS programs require that prospective students present scores of the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Scores from either the computer-delivered or the paper-delivered test are acceptable. Many programs also require one of the GRE Subject Tests. Visit the relevant department in the Programs of Study for more information.


It is essential that you arrange to take the GRE in sufficient time for score reports to reach us by the application deadline. GRE scores are valid for five years (i.e. scores must be from no earlier than September 1, 2014, for fall 2020 admission). If you have personal score reports available from tests taken within the last five years, you can upload them to your online application for consideration by the admissions committee. However, you will still need to ensure that Educational Testing Service (ETS) sends an official score report. Be sure to register for the tests well before administration dates and request that your scores be sent to Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences using code 3451.


5.- Demonstrate English Proficiency, Where Required


Adequate command of spoken and written English is essential to success in graduate study at Harvard. Applicants who are non-native English speakers and who received their undergraduate degree from an academic institution where English is not the primary language of instruction must prove their English proficiency by earning either a minimum score of 80 on the Internet based test (iBT) of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or a minimum score of 6.5 on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic test. Some programs may require a higher score. Applicants who took tests more than two years ago (i.e. before September 1, 2018, for fall 2020 admission) must retake them. No test other than the iBT TOEFL or the IELTS Academic will be accepted as proof of English proficiency; a master’s degree is not accepted as proof of English proficiency.


For those students planning to submit TOEFL scores, please arrange to have an official score report sent to the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences using code 3451. If you have a copy of your Score Confirmation Report, you can upload it to your online application for consideration by the admissions committee. However, you will still need to ensure that Educational Testing Service sends an official score report.


For those students planning to submit IELTS scores, please note that we will only accept official IELTS Academic scores submitted electronically by the IELTS test center via the E-Delivery service. Scores from the IELTS General Training module are not accepted. At the time of test-taking, please specify Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as a score recipient. We do not accept IELTS paper Test Report Forms nor do we verify Test Report Forms (TRFs).


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General information
3 years full time
Martin Bechthold
Not Confirmed
48 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Campus Location
The information of this PhD was extracted from the Official Website of the program.
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