Doctor of Design Degree Program

Doctor of Design

Develop a work-integrated, design-based research program to elevate your career while remaining embedded full-time in practice.

The Doctor of Design is a post-professional program for mid-career design practitioners.

The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary offers Canada's first online, design-based doctoral degree. The DDes is a unique three-year program for architects, landscape architects and planners who want to leverage their expertise in a specific topic area into an innovation with real-world impact

...the DDes is aggregating a unique ecosystem of candidates with a decidedly interdisciplinary approach across the globe, yet galvanizing consistently around both orthodox and novel sophisticated problem-solving methodologies harvested from the tacit knowledge of these master practitioners.

Dr. Marcelo Stamm

Program Critic

The program helps bold design professionals to rethink the status quo ways that buildings, communities and landscapes are designed, built and operated. Students formulate a design-based research question from their existing practice-based knowledge and professional experience. They develop their research through online studio-based pedagogy with a cohort of fellow practitioner-students, working closely with assigned supervisors and participating in dedicated design research symposia to test their work with recognized external experts and thought leaders. Through this research framework, practitioners identify and develop innovations that make ideas 'project-ready' for integration into practice. The findings of the DDes research contribute new knowledge to the design community and can be used to transform the student's practice and effect real change.

It has always been a struggle, therefore, but a passion nonetheless to somehow make a difference in practice, despite the myriad challenges we face. The DDes program at the University of Calgary has opened wide, a door often closed to us in this dramatically changing world of practice – the door to new knowledge.

Barry Johns

DDes'23 Candidate

Explore Student Work

DDes Research

Learn more about the research our Doctor of Design students engage in. 

Class of 2023

Class of 2023 Work

Learn more about the accomplishments of the Class of 2023




Michael Donaldson, DDes Student


DDes structure and completion requirements

The DDes is a three-year program for mid-career professionals to explore a research question in an intense and rigorous practice-based project that is distinct from, but parallel to, their professional work. Students continue to work full-time in their profession during the degree, working closely with their supervisory committee for feedback and mentorship.

Since the research question is based on the student’s own work experience and expertise, the research emerges from the candidate’s substantive existing knowledge and related professional-practice experience. In situations where additional knowledge or expertise is required, candidates work with their supervisor to include into their course of study a learning opportunity that is either informal (through a professional-based experience) or formal (such as a directed study course or online course).  

Three required courses offered in a blended distance-learning format help guide students through the early stages of their research.

Twice a year, all DDes students are required to attend and participate in a four-day research symposium to present the progress of their research work in a ‘studio-crit’ format and receive feedback from their supervisors, fellow students, and a cohort of invited critics. In between symposia, students work remotely with their supervisors to continue developing their projects. The degree is completed with a written thesis document, gallery exhibition, and public defense conducted at the student’s final DDes Research Symposium.

APLA 680 Design Practice Research Project Definition

Introduction to practice research in the design fields. The course will explore the differences between first professional degree training, traditional PhD research and design-based creative practice research. Students will learn contextualize their existing professional expertise and experience as the tacit knowledge required for advanced doctoral research. Students will progress toward defining their doctoral research question through self-reflexive study of their career paths and practice portfolio; attendance at and reflection upon practice research symposium events and peer presentations; examination of published and unpublished practice research case studies; core reading; and writing or their research statement.

APLA 682 Contexts of Design Practice Research

Exploration of diverse contexts crucial to the student’s research question and development of skills associated with the evaluation and use of extant research. The effects on design research of social, political, economic, and cultural contexts, as well as of academic and professional practices, are considered through the assessment of academic literature, case studies, and symposia presentations. Students develop an understanding of how contexts impact the researcher, the research question, the choice of research methods, dissemination of research, and other aspects of practice research.

APLA 684 Strategies for Design Practice Research

This course compares alternative strategies for conducting practice research in the design fields. Emphasizes discussions regarding the appropriateness and limitations of different approaches and methodologies through examination of academic literature, practice research case studies, and the research of peers in the symposium. The research process, drawing conclusions, and reporting findings also are examined with a view toward the student’s crafting their research proposal and work plan in advance of preparation for candidacy.

The Thesis Research Proposal for the DDes is a 3,000 to 5,000 word written document (or equivalent combination of textual and non-textual design-based graphic representations). It must be approved by the supervisory committee and clearly describe the project (Title, Objectives, Background, Methodology, Expected Outcomes, Research Progress to date) and include an explicit component related to professional practice. The Thesis Proposal is typically submitted in the fall of Year 2.

The candidacy examination is typically held at the candidate’s third DDes Research Symposium. The examination is public and will be based on the submitted Thesis Research Proposal, work completed in the three courses, and progress to-date on the research project. After candidacy, students should complete the research over the next 18 months. 

DDes students must complete the following components for candidacy:

  1. All course requirements as identified in the calendar. 
  2. Thesis Research Proposal approved by the Supervisory Committee.
  3. Field of Study (FoS) Examination conducted during one of DDes Research Symposia to evaluate their understanding of 1) the relevant contexts (social, political, economic, and cultural, as well as academic, personal, and professional in which their design-based practice research is situated; 2) the relevant strategies for conducting their practice-based research; 3) the progress of the research to date and a strategy for completing the expected outcomes. The examination will consist of a verbal presentation by the student followed by rounds of questions from the examination committee.

Candidancy requirements are being finalized. Please confirm requirements with your advisor or contact with specific enquiries.

In the dissertation, the student writes a thesis on their selected topic that represents a significant research accomplishment and contribution to knowledge and makes a positive impact in the student’s area of professional practice. Students will present a portfolio of both textual and non-textual work, including a written thesis and supporting artefacts that tell a comprehensive story about the research project, its context, its methods, and for whom the outcomes will have impact. The story of the research will be told through a public exhibition of the student’s work, alongside an oral presentation and oral defense of the thesis during one of the semi-annual symposia, which provide a forum for the communication of the research results. 

DDes typical three-year schedule

Fall term

  • Completion of LAND 680.04 Design Practice Research Project Definition in a blended learning format
  • Development of research project in collaboration with Supervisor                
  • Research Presentation 1 at the DDes Fall Research Symposium                 

Winter term

  • Completion of LAND 680.05 Contexts of Design Practice Research in a blended learning format
  • Development of research project in collaboration with Supervisor                

Spring/Summer term

  • Completion of LAND 680.06 Strategies for Design Practice Research in a blended learning format
  • Development of research project in collaboration with Supervisor.
  • Research Presentation 2 at the DDes Spring/Summer Research Symposium
  • Preparation of Thesis Research Proposal in collaboration with Supervisor 

Fall term

  • Completion and submission of Thesis Research Proposal Document to Supervisory Committee
  • Candidacy examination as Research Presentation 3 at the DDes Fall Research Symposium  

Winter term

  • Development of research project in collaboration with Supervisor                

Spring/Summer term

  • Development of research project in collaboration with Supervisor                
  • Research Presentation 4 at the DDes Spring/Summer Research Symposium           

Fall term

  • Completion of research project in collaboration with Supervisor
  • Development of final dissertation documents in collaboration with Supervisor 
  • Research Presentation 5 at the DDes Fall Research Symposium

Winter term

  • Development of final dissertation documents in collaboration with Supervisor 
  • Post for Defense

Spring/Summer term

  • Preparation of final exhibition
  • Dissertation Defense as Research Presentation 6 at the DDes Spring/Summer Research Symposium  

Message from the Dean

The climate crisis, rising social inequality, and the digital revolution of smart cities, computational design, and robotic fabrication are rewriting the way cities are being designed, built, and operated. This creates enormous opportunities for architects, planners, and landscape architects to expand their practice, increase their value to clients, and make a bigger and more positive impact in the world. Mid-career professionals have the experience to identify and capitalize on these opportunities but often need a framework to help bring these ideas to life.

Our new Doctor of Design (DDes) program is a place for motivated professionals to develop their particular response to these opportunities and get them ‘project-ready’ for integration into practice.

DDes graduates use the knowledge generated through their research to open up new areas of innovation, create competitive advantages, and more clearly articulate their value proposition to clients and the broader public. The Doctor of Design also provides an appropriate terminal academic credential for design-based professionals interested in applying for post-secondary teaching positions.

The new Doctor of Design program is distinct from traditional PhD programs because the research is practice-focused and design-based, with candidates developing a work-integrated research program centered around a unique enquiry emerging from their experience and insights in practice. Students remain fully engaged in their working life while pursuing a research program in an intense and rigorous format that is distinct from, but parallel to, their professional work. 

The DDes is structured to specifically accommodates the needs of active professionals. Candidates from around the world can complete the degree while remaining embedded in their professional offices. The semi-annual symposia, held in Calgary over long weekends in the spring and fall of each year, are important and exciting opportunities for students to come together to share their work and get feedback from their fellow students, their supervisors, and a cohort of experts.

Canada’s first doctoral degree for practicing architects, planners, and landscape architects, a Doctor of Design, is open to mid-career professionals with at least five years of work experience. Applicants are encouraged to apply early. Significant professional experience will be considered in lieu of a graduate academic degree. 

Download the news release.

John Brown, PhD, Architect, FRAIC Dean and Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

Related programs

Interested in expanding your professional expertise through a degree program, but not sure if the Doctor of Design is right for you? Consider:

Master of Environmental Design
PhD in Environmental Design