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


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.

Jeff Brice
Design Chair

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.

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.


First Slide

May 25, 2016

Cornish Challenged To Meet $35,000 Match For Visiting Artists

Cornish's supporters have been challenged and we need your help to spread the word! Three generous donors are matching up to $35,000 in contributions to the Cornish's new Visiting Artists Fund. Donate online to the program of your choice and help continue a storied tradition that brings amazing guest artists to our students for in-depth and up-close interactions through master classes, residencies, workshops, and presentations.

Alumni and Cornish supporters are spreading the word that a donation to the Visiting Artist Fund giv...


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May 17, 2016

Commencement 2016 Welcome: Be Thoroughly Outrageous

In her welcome to the graduating Class of 2016, Dr. Nancy J. Uscher, President of Cornish College of the Arts, exorted them to not only be ready for what comes next, but to meet it head on, to be thoroughly outrageous in their approach to the arts and to life.

Delivered May 14, 2016 Commencement 2016 Welcome by President Nancy J Uscher, PhD. This is a mome...

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May 5, 2016

BFA EXPO 16, Microsoft HoloLens Exhibit, Thrill Viewers

Every year it's a circus at Cornish — the kind you want to see — as graduating seniors exhibit their BFA work at EXPO. This year, the exhibition opening featured a special treat, a collaboration between students and Microsoft.

​EXPO 16: Art & Design Exhibition of BFA students in the visual arts at Cornish was, as usual,...

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April 7, 2016

Talking With Zootopia’s Kira Lehtomaki

“Never give up and never stop learning. The animation industry is competitive, but if you truly love what you do and you’re willing to put in the time and effort, I do strongly believe that you will get a break.” — Kira Lehtomaki, Animation Supervisor, Disney's Zootopia

by Marciana Romero '17 Recently I, a sophomore design student at Cornish, was given an amazing opp...

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April 2, 2016

Inside Interior Architecture: Drawing is Hard

What's life like as a student in Cornish's dynamic Interior Architecture program? Junior Carrie Gerstenberger gives us the low-down on some skills students need to develop.

​ By Carrie Gerstenberger '17 I am not a doodler. I have never been. I’m a list taker. The tho...

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March 23, 2016

Tony Award Winner Ben Vereen To Give 2016 Commencement Address

Broadway legend Ben Vereen will give the Commenncement address as part of the 2016 graduation ceremonies at McCaw Hall on May 14.

Cornish College of the Arts President Nancy J. Uscher announced today that Honorary Doctorate degree...

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February 20, 2016

Kronos Quartet Residency Begins This Month

As previously announced, the Kronos Quartet will be in Seattle from February 20 to 24. They will lead a two-day interdisciplinary residency on campus with Cornish students that extends well outside of the music department. There will also be a number of free off-site events for students.

Cornish students from all departments will have an opportunity to interact with the famed Kronos Qua...

The Kronos Quartet—David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cel...

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January 13, 2016

The College Opens its Doors to the City with Spring at Cornish

Cornish moves to radically extend its non-undergraduate extension program with Spring at Cornish: the spring schedule of courses is a step towards synching up a year-round education for all ages with its degree programs.

​Not everyone can immerse themselves in the high-energy, high-density life of a full-time Cornish...

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December 4, 2015

President Uscher Announces She Will Leave In July 2016

The Cornish community learned yesterday that Dr. Nancy J. Uscher will not seek to renew her contract when it ends in July 2016. Dr. Uscher announced her decision yesterday to allow for an orderly transition. During her five years at Cornish, Dr. Uscher has overseen the building of Cornish Commons, the establishment of the film/media program, the beginning of online courses, and several more projects intended to last well into Cornish's second century.

President Nancy J. Uscher announced to faculty, staff, and students yesterday that she will leave he...

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November 18, 2015

Cornish’s Second Century Starts With Worldwide Classes

Cornish’s second century began with the college’s first massive online open course hitting a top ten list in November. The same week, the college offered its first music master class via Google Hangouts, bringing composter/pianist Yitzhak Yedid in Australia together with students at PONCHO in Kerry Hall.

As Cornish began its second century this month, two of its global offerings let people around the wo...