M.A. in Design: Creative Project

The Creative Work Project (CWP) Proposal describes the topic that the M.A. candidate will explore in the culminating work, whether a Creative Work or Thesis. A Creative Work usually includes a research component as well as design(s) related to the research, whereas a thesis is primarily a research/analytical document. (Most students in our program complete a Creative Work DES 894, not a thesis, DES 898.)

The proposal should raise a clear question(s) or identify a problem(s) on the basis of the background research. Subsequently, the proposal attempts to address that question or to suggest a potential solution/solutions. It is due to your committee in October of your second full time year, and upon successful review it is forwarded on to graduate studies.


  • Proposal is 15-20 pages in length (5,000-6,000 words).
  • Use American Psychological Association’s (APA) guidelines for captions, headings, footnotes and references. Consult the APA website for examples.
  • Annotations should be included at the end of the paper as endnotes, rather than at the bottom of the page as footnotes. You may include in-text citations in the body of your paper, following APA style.
  • Number the sections of your CWP according to the example below (I. Introduction, II Literature Review, etc.)
  • The tone is formal; (in most instances) rely on third person. (i.e. do not use “I” or “you”)


The CWP Proposal and final CWP Written Document should include/address the following:

  1. Introduction: Introduce the problem and research goals. Include 3-5 reference notes, facts and statements to establish credibility. The introduction should clear and thorough.
  2. Literature Review: Proposal demonstrates a strong literature review. This establishes a command of the existing body of knowledge about the research topic. All items referenced in the Literature Review section should be included in the Reference List.
  3. Statement of Problem: State the problem or the central question very clearly - “This research will…” (a few sentences stated very clearly). A clearly stated problem is essential to your Proposal.
  4. Anticipated Sub-Problems: Additional issues to be addressed or affected by the research.
  5. Scope and Limitations: Explain what types of questions will be excluded from the research and why.
  6. Significance of the Problem: What contribution will this research make? Why is this important or innovative? Who is affected by the outcomes, or success of the work? Use research facts about numbers involved; money involved; people involved.
  7. Tools and Methods for Gathering and Analyzing Data: What methods and data gathering tools will be used? How will they be used?
  8. Presentation of Outcomes: Creative Work. Describe the type of design or designs that you will produce as outcomes (deliverables) of your Creative work Project? The creative design response should be related to analysis and conclusions drawn from research. You may include schematic designs, prototypes, iterations, or design development here.
  9. Reference List: List all the references that you have used in your research and literature review, in APA style. Alphabetical order. X. End Notes. Use the APA format for inside reference notes, as well as final endnotes.

(Optional) Glossary of Terms: If the language used is obscure—resembles an alphabetized dictionary.

Evaluation: The CWP Proposal will be evaluated by members of the CW Committee and/or Graduate Coordinator. If the CW Committee members approve, the CWP Proposal will be forwarded to Graduate Studies in October of the second year of study. Proposals that are not satisfactorily reviewed by Committee and/or Graduate Coordinator will not be submitted to Graduate Studies until they have been improved. NOTE: Final outcomes that are surveys or reviews are not considered a valid CWP. A satisfactory CWP demonstrates the development of an original creative project in an area of design endeavor.

For thesis support, consult the Division of Graduate Studies Thesis Guidelines.

1. Creative Work Project Defined

The M.A. Creative Work Project (CWP) completion deliverables typically are in the form of print, digital or tangible artifact(s), and a written document giving evidence to the research and design process of the Creative Work Project. The CWP is considered the Culminating Experience of the M.A. program and is related to the DES 894 course designation, or DES 898 in the case of a written thesis. The majority of students complete a DES 894.

The CWP represents engagement with a set of ideas clearly stated and researched, and the development of original artifacts, research outcomes, prototypes, and examples that coherently express the outcome of the research and design effort. The Creative Work Committee and other guests will be invited to participate in the year- end CWP Final Thesis Presentation, and M.A. students are encouraged to invite other guest who will add to the dialogue about their projects.

2. Creative Work Project Grading

Upon successful delivery and completion of the Creative Work Project Written Document*, Final Thesis Presentation**, and signature/s by student’s graduate committee, student is awarded a CR/NC grade. Assuming all other requirements have been met, the Graduate Student is then eligible to receive their degree.

* The CWP Written Document is submitted at or shortly after the Final Creative Work Presentation (Week 14, spring semester). The Written Document is evaluated by the student’s committee and may also be reviewed by the Graduate Coordinator. Written documents must be received in advance of Graduate Studies’ Final Deadline for receipt of culminating experience materials.

3. Creative Work Committee

The Creative Work Project committee can have up to five members. A minimum of two Tenured/Tenure Track (T/TT) faculty members on their committee is required. Non T/TT faculty can act as additional member/s of the committee if they agree. If a committee member leaves SF State or is unavailable to supervise a student due to leave, etc., then the student is responsible for selecting another committee member.

4. Creative Work Primary Components

* Research leading to and indicating the value of the project

  • Literature Review
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Research
  • Problem Definition
  • Design Specification
  • Overall and Detailed Project Schedule
  • Project Ideation (sketches, etc.)
  • Design Research Project
  • Project Prototyping
  • User Testing (if applicable)
  • Final Prototype (tangible, print and or digital components)
  • Written Document recording the project process

The written document recording the Creative Work Project and its outcomes must be delivered in pdf format to your committee members and uploaded to the course management platform (ilearn) at the time of the final presentation of Creative Works. Printed copies of this document are not required.

5. Creative Work Process

5.1 The Creative Work Proposal is due with the ATC (Advancement to Candidacy) form one semester before enrolling into the Creative Work 894 or 898 Master’s Thesis culminating experience. The proposals and ATC are typically due five weeks after the fall semester begins, toward the middle/end of October. Changes to the Creative Work Proposal are often requested by the faculty committee. Therefore, the student should give their committee a minimum of two weeks to review the Creative Work Proposal prior to submitting it to the Design office. Proposal must be evaluated by committee members and/or graduate coordinator. A PDF of the approved CWP Proposal is submitted to the Graduate Coordinator for department records and may be kept in a student’s academic file.

5.2 Midterm Review Presentation: Midway through the Culminating Experience semester, M.A. students will present their CWP progress before the full CWP Committee and any invited guest/s. The CWP MidTerm Review is held every Spring, usually in mid-March.

5.3 A student who fails to complete the Creative Work Project during their enrolled semester will receive a grade of “RP” (Report in Progress). They will not be required to enroll again during the following semester*; there is a one-semester grace period for students to continues to work on their Culminating Experience. Students who have not completed the Culminating Experience within the two semesters allotted are required to maintain continuous enrollment through the College of Extended Learning (CEL) until the degree is earned. The five year “time to degree” rule will be in effect. The course cost is subject to change per semester. For step- by-by instruction on how to enroll in a Culminating Experience Continuous Enrollment course, visit the Division of Graduate Studies website.

*NOTE: This grace period only extends if the Culminating Experience is the only requirement left to fulfill on the student’s ATC. If student has additional course credit/s to satisfy, student will be required to re-enroll. Students who complete their CWP during a Fall semester grace period are required to return the following Spring to give their CWP Final Project Presentation as final presentations are generally done in Spring only.

5.4 The Creative Work Project needs to be completed within the five year SF State University enrollment period.

5.5. Student must meet with their CWP Committee a minimum of three times during the semester in which they are enrolled in the Creative Work (or Thesis) Project. Student is responsible for scheduling.

5.6 It is the student’s responsibility to have their CWP Committee chairperson complete and sign the following forms upon CWP completion:

  • Report of Completion
  • Change of Grade - from an “RP” to “CR” (if applicable).

5.7 Grade for DES 894 (or 898, if applicable) will not be issued until requisite copies of the CWP Written Document (hard and soft copies, (specified above) have been received.

5.8 At the end of the final Creative Work Semester, students will present their work in a public forum called the Creative Work Final Presentation. Students will have approximately 30 minutes to explain in detail their project and design process with illustrations, and to answer questions from the audience. The Creative Work Committee members must be present at the Final Presentation. Students may be asked to invite a non-committee faculty member to their Creative Work Final Presentation.

6. Creative Work Project Examples

The M.A. program explores design as a vehicle for, but not limited to the following: contemporary issues in design; addressing global/sociocultural issues; design history; identity/gender politics; ecological/ sustainability; universal design and accessibility; design education; inclusivity and scales of economy/ economics; and interdisciplinary topics.

6.1 Visual Communication: Creative work projects from former students have included instruction books or manuals; projects about societal and/or environmental concerns; issues around personal identity and history; emerging content areas such as social networking, virtual worlds, user experience; virtual worlds; game design; related arenas such as environment/museum display. Projects have used both traditional print and digital media approaches, sometimes a combination of the two.

6.2 Product Design: Creative work projects from former students have included redesigns of existing products leading to user improvements; product innovation based on new and emerging technologies; socially responsible and/or community design projects; sustainable design projects; innovative uses of materials and manufacturing techniques; universal design approaches; soft goods; design incorporating unique interfaces or visual languages.

6.3 Other

  • Design of educational methods and curriculum developed into an educational tool
  • Project working directly with an industrial partner, executing your original idea(s)

NOTE: CWP that are surveys or reviews are not considered Creative Work Projects. A satisfactory CWP demonstrates the development of an original creative work in an area of design thinking or endeavor

7. Creative Work Project Document Components

The design specs, layout, binding and dimensions are not required to adhere to SF State University Thesis Standards. M.A. students can either follow the University’s Thesis Guidelines, or design a document of their creation—in terms of layout, use of typefaces, dimensions, etc. Other University and proper rules of grammar, annotation, credit, etc. still apply - consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) latest edition, or its website.

7.1 Front Matter:

  • Title page
  • Certification of Approval
  • Acknowledgements [optional]
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables [if needed]
  • Abstract (which summarizes the key ideas throughout your work, approx.. 250 words

7.2 Body of the Work:

  • Introduction to and establishment of the significance of the central problem
  • Statement of Design Problem and Sub Problems
  • Literature Review
  • Documentation of quantitative and qualitative research including charts, summaries, etc.
  • Evidence of design iteration, development prototyping and production process
  • Analysis of insights and conclusions
  • Presentation of your Creative Work on paper
  • Images, Drawings, Etc.

7.3 End Matter:

  • References (alphabetized and annotated with APA)
  • Appendices (leftover data that doesn’t neatly fit into the body of your work) again, annotated with APA)

7.4 The cover should clearly state the Author Name, Project Name and Date. Images may be used but are not necessary.

7.5. Suggested Binderies:


Project Schedule: Submitting
Semester Submitting Creative Work Project Proposal (Semester before registering in DES 894) Schedule
Write Creative Work Project (CWP) Proposal Prior to Semester Start (summer)
Select and Confirm Culminating Experience Faculty Committee Semester Week Three
Review and Approval of CWP Proposal by CWP Committee Chair and members Semester Week Three/Four
Submit approved CWP Proposal to DES Office with ATC Semester Week Nine

NOTE: Proposal is evaluated/graded using the Rubric for Graduate Writing

Project Schedule: Registered
Semester Registered in Creative Work Project, DES 894 Schedule
Register for Creative Work Project Semester Week One/Two
Meet with Committee (Three Times During the Semester) Semester Week Two/Three
Second Meeting with Committee (Mid-Semester Review)* Semester Week Seven/Eight
Third Meeting with Committee**
(Written Document submitted and Final Evaluation)
Semester Week Thirteen/Fourteen
Presentation and Committee Sign-Off on the finalized Creative Work Project*** Semester Week Fourteen and Fifteen
Project Schedule: Continuing
Semester(s) Continuing on Creative Work Project, DES 894 Schedule
You do not need to register for the culminating experience if you have taken the class once and are continuing to work on the project. Meet with each member of your committee at least once during each semester of your continued progress on the Creative Work Project. Follow directions for Mid Semester Review and Presentation of final CWP listed above.

Most students will complete the Creative Work in the semester that they are registered. Occasionally, students will take an extra semester to complete (continue on) their creative work project. This may be the case when students have not been able to pass their CWP successfully and/or were unable to complete the required deliverables in a timely fashion.

Continuing Students will still be required to submit the written documentation and to present their final project once the project is fully completed.


* Mid-Semester Review is an open and public forum - presented to your CWP Committee and invited guest(s).

** If completing Creative Work Project acquire committee sign-off on approval documentation.

*** Final CWP Written Document is submitted to CWP Committee (Week 10 or 11) and CWP Final Thesis is presented to your CWP Committee and invited guest(s) the Friday of Week 14 or 15. All members of your CWP committee are expected to be in attendance.