How to write the perfect design dissertation

Tutors and students from top design colleges share their advice.

product design dissertation examples

Studying design is about crafting a great design portfolio that will wow potential employers, right? Well, yes. But don't discount the importance of astute creative thinking, and expressing yourself eloquently through the written word. In short, your design dissertation matters.

"I don't believe that design students should be focused entirely on portfolio work," argues Myrna MacLeod , programme leader for Graphic Design at Edinburgh Napier University. "They should also be able to demonstrate an interest in the contexts that underpin their work, and the histories and connections that have informed our practice."

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"Think of a dissertation as an opportunity, not a burden," urges Craig Burston , Graphic and Media Design course leader at London College of Communication (LCC). "It gives us visually-minded people an opportunity to demonstrate that we too can construct arguments and distil complex notions." 

As Burston points out, this is not just an academic exercise: the power of persuasion is often key to success as a commercial designer. "Clients seek clarity, and project concepts or proposals need to be put into context," he says.

Read on to discover some top tips from leading tutors and their students for nailing your design dissertation…

01. Treat it like a design brief

"A great dissertation should be a designed artefact, and portfolio-worthy in its own right," says Burston. And like a design brief, it should be about solving a problem: "Make sure it has clearly stated aims, strong focus, and doesn't lack opinion or rhetoric," he adds.

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"The value of a designed dissertation as a portfolio piece is that it's a holistic view of the individual," agrees Sarah James , senior lecturer in Visual Communication at Arts University Bournemouth (AUB). 

"It shows, type, editorial, research and aesthetic skill, as well as the personal interests and convictions of the individual."

James identifies AUB student Maarit Koobas , who investigated responsive type in both her dissertation and final project, as a particularly strong example of this. "Her design version was one of the most authentic, restrained and elegantly expressive I have ever received," she enthuses.

Koobas conducted a huge amount of initial research into both the contexts in which responsive type can be seen – such as advertising, product design, science and material cultures – and the theories behind its analysis, including semiotics, philosophy and politics. "Creating and analysing ideas, before they end up in your portfolio, is what design is all about," argues Koobas.

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02. Write about your passion

"To develop essay questions, AUB students are asked to consider what they love, hate or are puzzled by in their practice – essentially, what moves them," says James. 

"A poor dissertation is inauthentically chosen for ease as opposed to interest," she adds. "It rambles and blusters, using complex language to mask insufficient research." 

"You can tell a mile off when the writer isn't interested," agrees Burston. "How can you expect the reader to care about it if you don't? Write about something that reflects your interests, focus and direction. I've read fascinating dissertations on topics as diverse as patterns in nature, and Brutalist car parks. Make me interested in what interests you."

For Edinburgh Napier graduate Fiona Winchester , this topic turned out to be typography in graphic novels. "I love reading them, but I think people still don't take them seriously as an art form, which is a shame," she says. For her dissertation, she conducted qualitative interviews using modified pages with and without imagery (shown above). 

Her advice is simple: "Narrow down your idea to be as precise as possible. The smaller your question, the easier it is to research and try to answer it."

If you're struggling to get the ball rolling on the actual writing process, Winchester advocates starting with whichever bit you have ideas for. "If you're stuck, it's so much easier to write in whatever order it comes to you, and then edit it into a dissertation, than to try write straight through from beginning to end," she insists.

03. Don't be afraid to talk to people

"I always think my students get the most out of the new streams of knowledge they find from talking to people," says McLeod. "It breaks down barriers and allows them to find answers to problems. Hopefully they will adopt that approach when designing for people also."

In some cases, this can involve interviewing your design heroes. "Students are very surprised when they send a question to Stefan Sagmeister , Milton Glaser or Michael Wolff and they reply with the most precious nugget of knowledge," smiles McLeod. 

But remember: it's your dissertation, so don't get lazy and expect your interview subject to do all the heavy lifting.

In other cases, it could be as simple as asking friends or family to help proofread. "It is quite daunting writing such a large body of text," admits Kaori Toh , a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins, whose dissertation explored the politics of design and technology.

"I often felt I'd get lost in all that text and research," she confesses. "Therefore, I would often send my drafts to a couple of friends to have them look through, and keep my writing cohesive."

04. Reflect on your design practice 

Most of all, dissertations are an opportunity to reflect on, and develop, your creative process as a designer. "Ultimately, it's your job to make your work relevant and credible, and the dissertation helps you learn how to do this," adds Burston. 

Of course, writing doesn't always come easily to visually minded people – and Burston highlights the fact that dyslexia is not uncommon amongst designers. 

"You're not on your own – in our profession, quite the opposite in fact – so do seek academic support, and just enjoy thinking and writing about 'stuff' that informs your practice," is his advice.

One of Burston's stand-out students from this year, Tom Baber , welcomed support from the university to help with his dyslexia. Baber's dissertation focused on type design, and particularly the extent to which the longwinded design process is worth the effort, compared to using an existing typeface.

"I saw it as an opportunity to approach other type designers and see what they thought. Turns out I'm not the first to ask the question," he smiles. "Writing my dissertation helped me change from a 'maker' mentality to a 'designer' mentality, and be more critical of my ideas."

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Home > Industrial Design > Industrial Design Masters Theses

Industrial Design

Industrial Design Masters Theses

The Master of Industrial Design program explores design as a vehicle for addressing social, cultural, environmental and other concerns, recognizing that design is not simply a professional service, but rather a way of connecting individual interests and values with a social framework. Students with undergraduate degrees in other fields or with limited design experience are invited to enter the program during Wintersession as a means of preparing to begin the two-year master’s program the following fall.

ID covers a broad range of fields, from product and furniture explorations to design for aerospace and medical applications. Graduate students work independently under the guidance of a faculty advisor and thesis committee, and present their final work verbally, visually and in writing. They also participate in the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition , a large-scale public show held annually.

“Graduate candidates in ID don’t necessarily need an undergraduate degree in the field, but they do need strong visual communication skills. For those without an ID background, learning CAD, drawing and model making can be beneficial, and taking a general product design course can provide insight into the design process. Materials-based courses in a medium such as metal, glass, textiles, ceramics or wood also provide a good basis for work in ID.” - Andy Law, Graduate Program Director

Graduate Program Director: Andy Law

These works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License .

Theses from 2022 2022

Ready made, made ready: everyday objects for everyday emergency , Dara Benno

Memories unboxed: connecting people with stories of our possessions , Megan Tzu-Hsien Chao

To be seen to be heard: embracing social anxiety in the workplace , Jingxuan Chen

Attuning the viewfinder , Ian de Silva

Disoriented: navigating the nuances of communication , Ann Dinh

Sobremesa , Charlie Herbozo-Vidal

Vulva gazing: power and the gendered body , Aaliya Jamal Zaidi

A fleeting landscape: resurrecting the edges of the estuary , Vrinda Mathur

Material Illumination , Lauren Mikaela Glenn

Extended reality interface , Neil Nelson

Breaking | Grounding | Growing: Expanding the Rhode Island gardening reentry programs as a pathway towards stability , Juliana Soltys

We got this... , Julian Wellisz

Sub Sequence : building a participatory infrastructure , Aaron Wright

Theses from 2021 2021

Designing for space; exploring ways of simulating nature and everyday activities in zero-g environment , Sayit Alisan

Psychological well-being through music listening , Majed BouGhanem

Shoes for advanced urban surfaces , Karan Buasakdi

After plastic waste : plastic bottle knitting machine - design for value of recycling plastic , Du Cheng

Katti-Batti : a digital tool for young adolescents to transgress the limitations of gender socialization through empathy & friendship , Chetan Dusane

Beyond conscious: the knowing of self-owned anxiety , WenYu Du

Rebuilt the fading vicinity , Yifan Du

The portal : a tool for uncertain times , Sophie Engel

Inter - : design for fostering action-oriented awareness towards sustainable transition , Elena Danlei Huang

Move in the internet , Jennifer Ziyuan Huang

Living objects , Katie Tzu Hua Huang

The art of microbe maintenance: value and applications in design , Yujin Hwang

Distilling the Narragansett Bay , Parker Ives

Kitsch study and Chinese kitsch market , Jiaqi Ellie Liu

Beacon Public Library: expanding radical civic care for an uncertain future , Katrina Machado

Ars Technica , Bayan Mashrequi

Inside the bubble 2.0 , Sunny Yuqing Ma

Wild things: outdoor toys for nature play , John Mawhorter

Indefinite origin: decentralizing knowledge , Tong-June Moon

No winners: transgender athletes in cycling , Max Pratt

Zoomorphic extended body , Nicholas Tamas

Uncertainty wanted: deconstructing gender gap in parenting mentality , Zimeng Xiang

A family game: tell the stories that shape us , Zhuoyan Xie

Theses from 2020 2020

Sol , John Beck

Repairer's recipe : volume 0 , Joyce Chang

Experience the world: How the ever-present accessibility of hands-on opportunities & play enhance logistical learning , Mary E. Chavez

Ocean state food stories , Charlotte Clement

Beautiful dirt : exploring the American taboo of death through the things we leave behind , Jake Dangstorp

Designed body , Jingwei Deng

Acute , Alex D'Haeseleer

Mimesis : human-centered digital profiling visual identity , Yangyang Ding

Voran Test Lab : An exploration of teaching collaborative problem solving and critical thinking through emergent gameplay , Taber Gifford

inVisible: a guide to understanding & designing for introverts , Ashesh Gohil

Through the labyrinth , Rebeca Gonzalez Morales

+ one : a new companionship , Vivien Mengjiao Han

Lift a life , Vidur Madhav

Night Knights: reminding children that their nighttime fear isn't something they have to face alone , Ji Hyung Moon

Fifty fifty: redefining domesticity , Ziying Qiao

The objects around us. , Rohit Sen

Accessibility to possibilities : discover the unknown unknown worlds , Yutong Shen

Totem: An embodiment of human character and personality in footwear design , Sushant Shivaram

Togather: To gather together , Kyungah Sohn

Surviving in a gregarious world , Shiyang Yao

Ether: a social design , Zihan Zhou

Theses from 2019 2019

Biomatters : future of biology as material source , Tareq Alzawawi

Mindful interactions , Shreyans Bhandari

Unimproved : land observation at the edge of progress , Adam Somers Bowen

Bitter son , Adam Chuong

Pekka : social software to improve in-game dynamics , Yu Mo

Theses from 2018 2018

Autonomous vehicle futures : designing experiences that enable trust and adoption , Jeremy Bass

Foodways for earthlings : recipes and tools for eating in extreme environments , Maggie Coblentz

Curious things , Allison Davis

Idiosyncratic uniform , Erica Efstratoudakis

Really clean no problems at all , Christina Johnston

Letsqube , Biniam Assegid Kebede

For a better normal : fostering the informal sector in post-hurricane Puerto Rico, as a pathway for economic stabilization , Jonathan W. Melendez Davidson

Harmless Studio , David Thomas Pittman

Dispatches from planet nowhere , Aaron Field Simmons

Radically normal : the menstruation issue , Kathryn Smiley

Talking to computers , Jen Spatz

A place for plastics : bioplastics, bacteria and our thoughtless acts , Megan Valanidas , Yu-Hsing Wu

Theses from 2017 2017

Communicatronics , Adi Azulay

Balance speaker : efficient work and break , Jin Cao

Talistones : a handful of help for homecoming soldiers , Atulya Changanty

Magkasama , Christina Chen

Retooling : experiments in digital apprenticeship , Ryan Ferguson

Body (less) fitness , Dan Gioia

Love view , Wudi Hong

Connections : a new model to customizing everything , Shao-Hsuan Hou

Motivated motivation : a consulting tool to find new platforms for business , Xiaoxio Jin

Embracing traditional Chinese culture through design , Jiaxuan Li

P-Lax : toys for adults, to play & relax , Zhizi Liu

Empowerment of people of all abilities , Kasia Matlak

Jettison all stories : experimenting with our relationship to the physical , Alyssa R. Mayo

Transitions : designing acceptance in a world of change , Hanna McLaughlin

FLoop : improving eating habits , Namrata Phirke

Transforme : a look at sports beyond the gender binary , Courtney Skabelund

Good times , Tim Stoelting

Blood in the water : tracing an interspecies alliance between at-risk humans and jellyfish in the Mediterranean , Ala Tannir

Bodypart + object , Creama Wong

Impractical community , Zixin Xiong

The emotional intelligence of machines , Lokesh Zope

Theses from 2016 2016

Context clues , Brynn Trusewicz

Obsessed with obsessions: design for obsession , Vara Yang

Interplayable surface: an exploration on augmented GUI that co-exists with physical environments , Hoon Yoon

Theses from 2015 2015

Mealspace : beyond the table , Lauren Tedeschi

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Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation . One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer’s block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

This article collects a list of undergraduate, master’s, and PhD theses and dissertations that have won prizes for their high-quality research.

Table of contents

Award-winning undergraduate theses, award-winning master’s theses, award-winning ph.d. dissertations, other interesting articles.

University : University of Pennsylvania Faculty : History Author : Suchait Kahlon Award : 2021 Hilary Conroy Prize for Best Honors Thesis in World History Title : “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the “Noble Savage” on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807”

University : Columbia University Faculty : History Author : Julien Saint Reiman Award : 2018 Charles A. Beard Senior Thesis Prize Title : “A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man”: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947

University: University College London Faculty: Geography Author: Anna Knowles-Smith Award:  2017 Royal Geographical Society Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Title:  Refugees and theatre: an exploration of the basis of self-representation

University: University of Washington Faculty:  Computer Science & Engineering Author: Nick J. Martindell Award: 2014 Best Senior Thesis Award Title:  DCDN: Distributed content delivery for the modern web

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University:  University of Edinburgh Faculty:  Informatics Author:  Christopher Sipola Award:  2018 Social Responsibility & Sustainability Dissertation Prize Title:  Summarizing electricity usage with a neural network

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty:  Education Author:  Matthew Brillinger Award:  2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Humanities Prize Title:  Educational Park Planning in Berkeley, California, 1965-1968

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty: Social Sciences Author:  Heather Martin Award:  2015 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title:  An Analysis of Sexual Assault Support Services for Women who have a Developmental Disability

University : University of Ottawa Faculty : Physics Author : Guillaume Thekkadath Award : 2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Sciences Prize Title : Joint measurements of complementary properties of quantum systems

University:  London School of Economics Faculty: International Development Author: Lajos Kossuth Award:  2016 Winner of the Prize for Best Overall Performance Title:  Shiny Happy People: A study of the effects income relative to a reference group exerts on life satisfaction

University : Stanford University Faculty : English Author : Nathan Wainstein Award : 2021 Alden Prize Title : “Unformed Art: Bad Writing in the Modernist Novel”

University : University of Massachusetts at Amherst Faculty : Molecular and Cellular Biology Author : Nils Pilotte Award : 2021 Byron Prize for Best Ph.D. Dissertation Title : “Improved Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Helminths”

University:  Utrecht University Faculty:  Linguistics Author:  Hans Rutger Bosker Award: 2014 AVT/Anéla Dissertation Prize Title:  The processing and evaluation of fluency in native and non-native speech

University: California Institute of Technology Faculty: Physics Author: Michael P. Mendenhall Award: 2015 Dissertation Award in Nuclear Physics Title: Measurement of the neutron beta decay asymmetry using ultracold neutrons

University:  Stanford University Faculty: Management Science and Engineering Author:  Shayan O. Gharan Award:  Doctoral Dissertation Award 2013 Title:   New Rounding Techniques for the Design and Analysis of Approximation Algorithms

University: University of Minnesota Faculty: Chemical Engineering Author: Eric A. Vandre Award:  2014 Andreas Acrivos Dissertation Award in Fluid Dynamics Title: Onset of Dynamics Wetting Failure: The Mechanics of High-speed Fluid Displacement

University: Erasmus University Rotterdam Faculty: Marketing Author: Ezgi Akpinar Award: McKinsey Marketing Dissertation Award 2014 Title: Consumer Information Sharing: Understanding Psychological Drivers of Social Transmission

University: University of Washington Faculty: Computer Science & Engineering Author: Keith N. Snavely Award:  2009 Doctoral Dissertation Award Title: Scene Reconstruction and Visualization from Internet Photo Collections

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty:  Social Work Author:  Susannah Taylor Award: 2018 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title:  Effacing and Obscuring Autonomy: the Effects of Structural Violence on the Transition to Adulthood of Street Involved Youth

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  1. How to write the perfect design dissertation

    Read on to discover some top tips from leading tutors and their students for nailing your design dissertation…. 01. Treat it like a design brief. "A great dissertation should be a designed artefact, and portfolio-worthy in its own right," says Burston.

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  4. Industrial Design Masters Theses

    ID covers a broad range of fields, from product and furniture explorations to design for aerospace and medical applications. Graduate students work independently under the guidance of a faculty advisor and thesis committee, and present their final work verbally, visually and in writing.

  5. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation.