Application and portfolio guidance for MA Design courses

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Application and portfolio guidance for MA Design courses

We use your application to decide whether you will likely succeed in the course. Alongside your written application, we expect you to submit a portfolio of work. This is because the quality of your creative work, your communication skills and your understanding of design are very difficult to assess only from your qualifications and a short-written statement.
The main things we want to find out from your application are

Design skills

In your portfolio, we expect to see a range of good design skills and presentation appropriate to your background. It is important that applicants have previous education or experience in the design discipline they wish to study on the MA, and we will be looking for a professional standard of work.

Technical knowledge

We expect you to demonstrate a good knowledge of the technologies relevant to your design discipline.

Imagination and creativity

We want to see clear evidence that you can think imaginatively and develop appropriate, creative responses to the design problems and situations that you have been faced with.

Written communication

We wish to see evidence that you can present ideas and information clearly and intelligently in writing. We will look at both your application and your portfolio to help us assess your writing communication skills.

Professional practice experience

You have some professional experience in design or a related field, and we want to know about that and find out what you have achieved and understood.

Contextual understanding

This is one of the most important issues. We want to find out how well you understand the context of your work. A designer must be able to develop a rich understanding of the circumstances surrounding their work and the factors which affect its success.

Appropriate expectations

We want to know what you expect to achieve on the course and ensure you understand the challenges of postgraduate study.

Critical position

We want to find out if you are a person who can take an intelligent, independent view of ideas, situations, objects and problems.

Your portfolio

All applicants are expected to show us a portfolio of creative work which helps us to assess their creative and visual thinking.
Your portfolio should contain examples of design work and any other creative work which may be relevant to your application. We will be looking for evidence of professional knowledge and skills, good written and visual communication and, especially, good creative thinking evident through examples showing your design process.
All work in the portfolio should have clear, descriptive text saying what the images show, what was the project brief/context for the work and what were the main points you aimed to address in the work. You should also indicate when and in what circumstances the work was done, for example, BA, professional practice etc. Your portfolio may be reviewed in your absence, so make sure your text and images tell us the project stories so we can clearly understand them.
We are interested to see examples of the development process that went into your work, as well as the outcome. We will also be looking at the level of organisation and communication skills which went into preparing the portfolio.

Design in depth

Many students set out to explore a field of activity or knowledge to discover an opportunity for new designs, which have a significant effect on the people who use a product and the success of a company which produces it.
This goes beyond the usual approach of working on a design brief by putting the designer in the driving seat of innovation. David Allan investigated sports science and the dangers of dehydration to discover and develop ideas which could make a big difference to the health and performance of athletes. Mark Fisher focused his MA project on improving the lives of asthma sufferers through improved inhaler design and medication delivery. He now works for the University’s User-centred Healthcare Design research centre.

Become an expert

By concentrating on a specific area of human activity or technology, designers can greatly strengthen their chances of finding the job they want. Tim Fish used the MA to build on his design knowledge for outdoor pursuits. He went on to work for Berghaus, one of the top companies in this field and has since left there and established his own highly successful design consultancy.


You may be an experienced designer who wants to make the jump into a more strategic leading role in your profession. Simon Cran gained the knowledge he needed to become a design manager in the multinational company Adtranz.

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