• PhD student Amada Geppert leading a workshop with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood.

    PhD student Amada Geppert leading a workshop with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood.

  • PhD student Jaime Rivera researching visual workflows for design project knowledge management with Interaction Research Workshop classmates.

    PhD student Jaime Rivera researching visual workflows for design project knowledge management with Interaction Research Workshop classmates.

  • PhD student Peter Hodges co-chaired the 2013 Design Research Conference with MDes students.

    PhD student Peter Hodges co-chaired the 2013 Design Research Conference with MDes students.

PhD Overview

IIT Institute of Design was the first design school in the US to create a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in design, and it continues to have the largest doctoral program in design. Our PhD is a program for those who wish to teach or conduct fundamental research in the field of design. The program culminates with a dissertation that extends the body of knowledge about design theory and process. Much of our faculty and students’ research is funded through a variety of grant and fellowship programs.

Applicants to the PhD program must have a demonstrated interest in a research area that aligns with research currently being conducted by PhD faculty at IIT Institute of Design (see research statements below). Admitted doctoral students will be required to submit and obtain approval for a program of study and pass a foreign language requirement. Within two years of being admitted, students take a comprehensive examination. After the comprehensive examination, students will be considered candidates for the PhD degree.

Students who have earned their PhD degree have gone on to lead design programs at other universities, teach, consult, and guide global corporations in their pursuit of innovation and value.

PhD Faculty Statements

Laura Forlano
Assistant Professor

My research is about emergent forms of organizing and urbanism enabled by mobile, wireless and ubiquitous computing technologies with an emphasis on the socio-technical practices and spaces of innovation. As a social scientist, from a theoretical perspective, my work integrates theories from communications, science and technology studies, urban informatics and design. For example, I rely on theories around the ritual view of communications, the social construction of technology, actor-networks, socio-technical systems, and values in design approaches in order to explain the relationships between people, technologies and places in urban and organizational settings. From a methodological perspective, my research is primarily ethnographic and qualitative in nature. In particular, my research engages themes related to digital materiality and socio-technical systems around emergent work practices such as mobile work and coworking. I am also interested in open source modes of production and user-driven innovation.

I am currently working on three main projects that represent my core research interests around emergent forms of organizing and urbanism. First, I am working on a project “Designing Digital Networks for Urban Public Space,” funded by the Urban Communication Foundation, which aims to understand the potential of urban technology for citizen engagement though the organization of a series of codesign workshops for policymakers. Second, “Design for Social Innovation,” in collaboration with the DESIS Lab at Parsons The New School, which investigates user-driven social innovation and the potential of regional social innovation economies through in-depth qualitative interviews in North Brooklyn. Third, “Design Collaborations as Socio-technical Systems,” funded by the National Science Foundation, which is a two-year study of the role of technology in collaboration among designers through interviews and participant observation in New York, Toronto, Barcelona and Brisbane. The key themes that have emerged from of this research include: digital materiality, critique as collaboration, designers as change-makers, and networked design practice.

Stan Ruecker
Associate Professor

I am currently looking for PhD students to work with me on projects that deal with the theorization, design, prototyping, and testing of experimental information artifacts and interactive visualizations. The subject matter of these projects can potentially cover a wide range, including communication, health, business, and the digital humanities. I am particularly interested in dealing conceptually with the provision of overviews of information combined with tools for people to manipulate those overviews. For example, picture a map with pins in it. Now remove the map and replace it with an infographic. The result is a system for producing arguments where there is some data in the form of the structured surface and another kind of data in the placement and characteristics of the pins.

One thread that runs through many of my projects is the need for people to be able to assemble a collection of primary documents, then subject them to interpretive reading. The goal of interpretation is not necessarily to produce a single, definitive answer, but instead more typically to add to the list of existing valid interpretations. To support this kind of activity, we require iterative systems that encourage exploration, discovery of emergent patterns, analysis, synthesis, and communication of results. I am agnostic with respect to metadata standards and programming environments, but do prefer to combine theoretical discussions with specific designs and prototypes that can inform those discussions.

Keiichi Sato
Charles Owen Professor

My research focuses on design theories, methodologies, and tools that facilitate the development of interactive systems, and products and services with convivial qualities and effective performance. I am investigating general design theory and methodology, the development of design methods, tools, and frameworks, and the application research for specific system development. After long time multi-disciplinary experience in developing new areas and enhancing the quality of design research, I have interest in developing research initiatives in new interdisciplinary areas as well as enhancing core areas of design theory and methodology.

My recently funded projects involve robotics and information technology application to health/elderly care environments, systems concepts for future automotive systems, and context-sensitive service systems. The following list exemplifies current research topics and PhD dissertation topics:

Design Information Framework (DIF) and DIF-based methodology development
Product and service system architecture
Ambient Interactive Systems
Interactive Systems as Learning Processes

PhD at-a-glance

Doctoral candidates 9
Students per PhD advising faculty 2-5
Rate of completion 87%
PhD degree granted since program’s inception in 1992 23
PhD alumni holding faculty positions in universities 75%
PhD alumni working in major corporations 25%

Statistics based on the 2009-2010 student body

Tuition + Expenses

Total Estimated $62,734
Tuition for 9 months, 2015-2016 Estimated $47,575
Living expenses, books, and supplies for 9 months Estimated $13,500
Mandatory health insurance $1,439
Other student fees $220

Learn more about Fellowships + Financial Aid
Download the International Student Financial Affidavit

Application Requirements

  • Master’s degree in design or strongly related program
  • Official transcripts
  • GPA 3.0/4.0 minimum
  • GRE 310/340 (3.0/6.0) minimum. New scores will be required if submitted scores are older than five years from the testing date
  • TOEFL 100 minimum for international applicants without a bachelor’s degree from an accredited English-speaking university. New scores will be required if submitted scores are older than two years from the testing date
  • Portfolio required in some cases (may include non-design projects)
  • Completed Statement of Research Interest (found in application)
  • Resume or CV, should include work experience (2-5 years preferred) and demonstrate peer recognition (e.g., publications, lectures, awards)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Interview with advising faculty member and PhD program coordinator
  • Application fee of $100
More Information

For more information or if the application deadline for your desired start date has passed, please contact: