Cornish views design as a collection of practices, and our students explore a full spectrum of skills and techniques. Here students will find the tools needed to express their own views and visions, as well as increase their digital literacy, learn about systems-thinking, define and solve problems, and question the social and cultural implications of design.

Letter from the Design Chair

It’s a great time to be a designer! Many kinds of design, once in silos, are converging, and graphic novelists now find themselves working with motion, illustrators make package design, UX designers partner with interior architects—the relationships are endless. But underneath, all these kinds of designers have something in common. They have been schooled in identifying and solving problems. They have honed their “conceptual thinking,” that is, their ability to understand problems by identifying underlying patterns and connections, and they then solve problems with these fresh insights in mind. This approach  leads to innovation in design rather than to repetition of known techniques and formulae. At Cornish, students develop into “360 degree” professionals with broad and transferrable skills.

I’m excited by Cornish’s robust expansion. The renovation of many of our downtown campus buildings and the building of our new residence hall and campus center are metaphors for the changes happening in our curricula. In this, the 100th year of the College, we have not forgotten Nellie Cornish’s original vision of a place where students can immerse themselves in innovative programs.

At Cornish, design is participatory, user experience-based and multi dimensional. We’re in the midst of curricular changes that support our belief that the student needs to be at the center, and we’ll be supplementing that experience with integrated Humanities and Sciences and Critical and Contextual studies. In our up-coming “reorg,” research-led and theme-based projects will continue to give students an excellent design education, while an understanding of contexts,  and experiences in the professional arena, will round out their ability to make clear decisions for themselves and others in a complex world.

Welcome to Design

Design is moving faster than ever. As the connected world gets more complex, it demands designers who are able to work across platforms and technologies, seamlessly interweaving print, media, user-experiences and the markets they serve.

Cornish Design has always kept up with changes in technology and culture, but this year it has launched a curricular plan that goes beyond "responding to change" and gives our students the tools they need to lead innovation, rather than merely adapt to it.

Cornish Design offers a student-centered education, currently enrolling 133 students. Our department is small enough to work with every student personally, and we support each student’s particular range of talents. First, students develop the time-honored foundational skills: drawing, 2D fundamentals, and 3D fabrication. Then, while using the most current in digital tools, they incorporate design history, semiotic and systems analysis, and design thinking into their skill-sets.

A solid design education is an exceptional long-term investment. The ways we facilitate problem-solving strategies in our students ensures that they are able to “pivot” and act quickly and intelligently in our evolving world.

Cornish designers never grow stale, because they are not trained in a single agenda or in one way of approaching problems. They learn design as a way of thinking that can be applied to all the different kinds of practice that are currently converging. The Cornish way of thinking about design underlies all aspects of our program's cross-concentrations, and is what makes our education unique.

Design Areas of Study

Design students begin their study as freshmen in the combined Art, Design, Film + Media Foundation year, which gives them the basic skills they need to excel in Design's three concentrations. This first year—a year of project-based learning—hones the student’s skills with work featuring topics ranging from designing for social change to imagining future worlds.

In the sophomore year, the student declares a concentration— either Design: Visual Communications and/or Motion, or Interior Architecture. That’s when important building blocks get into place: digital skills, basic foundational thinking in the concentration’s area of expertise, and the beginnings of critical and systems thinking.

Junior year is more independent, Students develop individual capabilities and take part in our program’s exceptional internship opportunities. Juniors go deeper into what they find most valuable in design, tapping the resources that our department has to offer.

Finally, the senior year focuses on a culminating capstone project—the Degree Project—in which all of the student’s skills in honing design process, systems thinking, creative planning, and hand and digital skills come together in an exhibition at the end of the year.

Through their four years as a part of Cornish Design, guided and mentored by a faculty made up of award-winning, practicing designers, students master the tools and skills needed to become working designers. Perhaps just as important, they learn to question the designer’s role in the world and their own responsibility to that world and to their own talent and well-being.

Interior Architecture

The Interior Architecture curriculum provides an educational setting that enables students to develop into analytic creators and transformers of space. The practice of Interior Architecture creates innovative interiors for existing buildings and integrative design collaborations with architects in the development of new structures, including Living Systems Architecture. Today, the emerging field of Interior Architects strives for economic-collaborative design thinking, as it relates to functional improvement, visual enhancement, and social and psychologically shaped spaces in which we live.


We've divided Design into three major areas: narrative design, informative design, and responsive design. Starting in 2015, our students will explore these three areas by making work around a chosen theme in each five-week chunk of the semester. Through hands-on projects, instructor-led workshops and lectures, mentorships, internships and the advantage of online skill-learning resources, our students will learn to think their way through change, and develop the sense of personal agency that lies at the heart of every successful designer.



The Design program follows a generalized model, but each student’s program is individualized based on placement testing, transfer credits, and individual progress as the student advances. The first year of the program is spent in Foundations. Then the student chooses to specialize in interior architecture or visual communication and motion design.

Design Degree Requirements


Model Programs are updated at the beginning of each academic year. This PDF contains the current year’s model programs for this program. Students should refer to the model program that was in effect for the year and term of their entrance to Cornish. View archived catalogs and model programs.

Design course descriptions

During the first year of study, all Art, Design, Film+Media students are in Foundations courses together. For the second through fourth year of study, students concentrate on their area of interest. Specialized professional practices courses bridging the gap between being a student and becoming a working professional, group study developed by students, and independent study focusing on a special project of the student's choice are available for those who meet the current criteria.

Course descriptions are updated at the beginning of each academic year and available for download. For this and previous years, please refer to the online archive of catalogs

Laptop Policy

All incoming students (Fall 2015) will need to purchase a laptop and software before the start of classes. Provided below is a list for you to make sure you have everything you will need.

In order to redeem the education discount you can either take your Cornish Student ID with you to an Apple store, or you can purchase directly through the Apple online store.

If you have already invested in a different system or have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the Design Department IT Support Coordinator.

Design Learning Outcomes

Our primary goal is to provide the educational foundation for graduates to continue in advanced degrees and to become leading design professionals and active citizens in our local and global communities. To achieve this goal, students engage in a variety of curricular experiences throughout the four-year programs culminating in the following learning outcomes.

Upon graduation, students will be able to:

  • approach design projects confidently by applying a rigorous design process
  • research, analyze and synthesize complex information in the development of innovative concepts for clients and audiences
  • create unique work, grounded in knowledge of composition, form, style,media and materials, both historical and contemporary
  • apply advanced manual and digital skills to the creation and production of design
  • contribute to a team, and have practice in assuming the responsibilities of leadership
  • employ strong oral and written communication skills
  • plan to never stop learning

Faculty & Staff


The program structure is designed to be flexible and responsive, where students work together and have access to open learning spaces and the sharing of facilities. During your four years at Cornish you will work within a studio-based environment supported by a diverse range of media, workshop and production facilities.

  • Print Lab
  • 3D & Sculpture Labs
  • Photo Lab
  • Materiality Lab
  • Drawing Lab
  • Media Lab (video, computing, animation)
  • Digital Print Lab
  • Production Studios ( video & sound)

A unique feature of the program is the exploration of the relationship of old, new, and emerging technologies ... material, chemical, analogue and digital processes and techniques.

Design Galleries

The Main Gallery has been a significant feature and resource at Cornish for many years, and has hosted the work of many renowned artists. Alongside the main space, students are invited to submit proposals to create work for The Collaboratory, a project space located in the gallery that is dedicated to interdisciplinary explorations across the College. This represents the very best of Cornish’s unique identity as one of only three colleges in North America that offers both the visual and performing arts.

Student agency is at the heart of Cornish. The Closet Gallery is a student run exhibition space. It is for the students, by the students. Our goal is to provide a professional environment for students to showcase their work while pursuing their degree. We also strive to provide opportunities for students to see the work of fellow peers while providing a community of supportive feedback. The Closet Gallery is open to all current Cornish students from any department and encourages experimentation along with collaboration,” says Curator, Sam Whalen.

The Visiting Artist Program is a key feature of your study and provides the context to meet artists working professionally. You will also have access to the annual lecture series linked with the Neddy at Cornish.​

​Numerous resources are open to Cornish students such as the Mary Alice Cooley Print Collection, and the Henry Art Gallery Collections at the University of Washington.



September 25, 2015

Illustrator/Animator David Bolinksy Visits Cornish

Cornish students and faculty will meet the man behind the “Inner Life of the Cell,” a movie that has called the equivalent of George Lucas's Star Wars for scientific illumination of concepts in biology. This presentation is a highlight of the South Lake Union Art Walk and is part of a new partnership with the Institute for Systems Biology.

Nearly 1.5 million people have watched David Bolinsky’s TED talk about how he and his team illustr...


August 27, 2015

President Uscher’s Remarks On Opening Of Cornish Commons

At 4:15 p.m. today, President Nancy Uscher and Capstone Development Partners principal Bruce McKee cut the red ribbon to open Cornish Commons, the latest addition to the Cornish College of the Arts' campus. Following are President Uscher's remarks on this historic occaison.

My dear friends: Today we are making history.  The new Cornish Commons is the first ground up b...


August 20, 2015

Dr. Uscher Discusses Cornish’s Many New Projects

Cornish College of the Arts is “rising to new heights” in more ways than one! Most obvious is the state-of-the-art, 20-story Cornish Commons opening August 27, but KING-FM’s Marta Zekan recently talked with Cornish president, Dr. Nancy Uscher, about the expanding facilities and growing academic programs as well as several exciting events coming this fall, including the start of a 5-year residency for the Kronos Quartet.

Cornish College of the Arts has raised its national and international profile significantly in recen...


July 21, 2015

Accelerated Master of Arts In Teaching Offered to Cornish Students

A new program developed by Cornish and the Vermont College of Fine Arts offers five-year combined BFA and MAT.

​Cornish students who envisage a career as teachers of pre-school to 12th-grade art and design now...


July 17, 2015

Williams Win Caps Banner Year for Interior Architecture

With Donguia Scholarship win, Alexa Williams joins fellow Interior Architecture students at the top.

​Design senior Alexa Williams '16, entering her senior year in Interior Architecture, has won a pr...


June 29, 2015

Cornish Playhouse Offers Space To Create

The Cornish Playhouse Arts Incubator program offers local artists a place to create and collaborate. The Changeling Project, part of the 2014/15 Arts Incubator, will be open to the public on Thursday, July 2. Creators Adriana Camoy and Charles McCall invite their audience to enjoy a combination of dance and poetry, then give feedback on their work-in-progress.

In a city where the space to create is hard to find, Cornish Playhouse offers artists interested in...


June 16, 2015

Cornish Joins New MOOC Site Aimed At The Arts

Cornish College of the Arts is one of the initial educational partners of, an online learning platform specifically built for the arts and creative technologies.

Open to learners anywhere in the world, launched on June 16 with “Introduction to...


May 7, 2015

Cornish’s Biggest Student Exhibition Opens May 8

Cornish College of the Art's largest student show of the year opens right before the Centennial commencement. Galleries in two buildings will be filled with the work of 98 graduating artists and designers -- and Friday, May 8, opening promises to be a great block party event.

​The weather prediction is for unseasonably warm temperatures and sunny skies, so the opening of E...


April 22, 2015

What’s Your Game?

Student designers in Systems Communication make the study communication within sociological structures fun by redesigning games.

Educators know what every kitten and puppy knows: play teaches. Consider a kitten batting a ball ar...


April 21, 2015

Anne Bogart Selected As Commencement Speaker

As announced in March, author and award-winning theater and opera director Anne Bogart will address Cornish’s seniors during the 2015 Commencement on May 9 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center. President Nancy J. Uscher will award honorary degrees to Bogart and to choreographer and McArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Liz Lerman. In addition, this year’s Distinguished Recent Alumni Awards will go to Jerick Hoffer and Richard Andriessen and the Distinguished Alumni Award will go to Kent Devereaux.

Many Cornish theater majors already know the work of award-winning stage/opera director and author A...