Design Discovery Virtual

Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) is a 3 week virtual academic program that engages an international audience of individuals 18 years old to mid-career professionals interested in an introduction to design, its media and methods, across the three disciplines of Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Planning + Design.  The program explores the potentials of design to address a series of relevant contemporary issues within the built environment.  Program participants benefit from a cross-disciplinary lens on the collaborative development of design responses to weekly topics through visual communication with an emphasis on digital media for design drawing and modeling.  Students are taught by a global group of Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) faculty, masters, and doctoral degree program graduates in addition to daily interaction with a broad, diverse network of design talent invited to serve as guest lecturers and critics for the program. 

Successful participants receive a program certificate, student evaluation, and produce a draft portfolio of design work that can be shared with design program admission committees, potential design employers, collaborators, clients, or home school programs for course credit consideration.

Image of Design Discovery Virtual program participants on a computer screen along side images of three-dimensional design software with a model of a house, an image of a house, and an image stating the name of the program, Design Discovery Virtual.

Who Attends

Design Discovery Virtual students represent a broad range of cultural backgrounds, geographic locations, ages, lifestyles, and training (most have no previous design experience). The collectives drawn to this program from across the globe make the virtual format a rich and stimulating space within which to learn about design. Many participants are college students or recent graduates, but the program is also helpful to professionals in their 30s, 40s, or older who are interested in learning about design to inform their work and/or who are considering a career change. We host an average of 225 participants per year.

In the summer of 2021, participants from 21 countries and 34 US states enrolled in the program.

Alumni profiles

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Ariana Ayusha.

Ariana Ayusha

  • Participated from Washington, DC, US
  • Background: Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College
  • Program Goals: To be able to register and advance my ideas and observations about the world in a more knowledgeable and visually nuanced way.

“As a total newcomer to design education, the Design Discovery Virtual program was an incredibly helpful and meaningful experience.”

______Ariana Ayusha

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Kuem-Hee Rhee.

Kuem-Hee Rhee

  • Participated from Seoul, Korea
  • Background: Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley
  • Program Goals: To clarify disciplinary boundaries while learning about the scales and media of each in order to inform her design practice.

“I achieved goals I did not know I had.”

______Kuem-Hee Ree

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Ataberk Yilmaz.

Ataberk Yilmaz

  • Participated from Ankara, Turkey
  • Background: Bachelor of Architecture from Cankaya University
  • Program Goals: To better understand the similarities and differences between Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning in their scale and approach to address relevant topics.

“As someone who already has a design background, I can’t say I haven’t heard the topics discussed in the program before.  However, I believe that I have developed both my empathy and design skills by getting the chance to look at each discussed issue from different disciplinary perspectives.”

______Ataberk Yilmaz

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Emilia Astorga Calcagno.

Emilia Astorga Calcagno

  • Participated from Santiago, Chile
  • Background: Universidad del Desarrollo
  • Program Goals: To study the potentials of design across scales and through various digital media.

“I was unsure about my own capabilities, but the environment established in the program made me feel curious about design and fortunate to be a part of it. By the end of the program, I felt capable of expressing my ideas for the final project in a range of visual ways, so I was able to mix media, from digital 3D models in Rhino to photo collages in Photoshop and hand drawn diagrams, to capture what I was interested in and to create an original design proposal through this digital media.”

______Emilia Astorga Calcagno

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Alice Crazy Bull.

Alice Crazy Bull

  • Participated from Billings, MT, US
  • Background: Bachelor of Fine Art from the Institute of American Indian Arts
  • Program Goals: To gain experience with what the design process is like across the three disciplines of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design.

“I studied three entire fields in a month in an attempt to understand them and I now look at my own neighborhood differently. I also met some very cool people from around the world.”

______Alice Crazy Bull

Photograph of Design Discovery Virtual participant, Alex Stewart.

Alex Stewart

  • Participated from Atlanta, GA, US
  • Background: Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College
  • Program Goals: To gain technical design skills through the use of digital media to advance my ideas through visual and spatial means.

“I enrolled in this program with the goals of honing my technical and artistic design skills while deciding on my career goals; Design Discovery Virtual was incredibly successful with helping me to achieve these goals, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and learn from my international peers. The program exceeded my hopes and expectations.”

______Alex Stewart

Learning Format

Program Time Commitments

What?When?How much?Description
Flexible synchronous meetingsWeekdays3 hr/dayStudio, seminar, and workshops
Flexible synchronous meetingWeekdays1 hr/daySmall group meetings with instructor and peers
Asynchronous contentBased on individual availability1 hr/dayPrerecorded lectures and tutorials
Preparation timeBased on individual availability4 hr/dayIndependent design thinking and making
Total time 55 hr/week

Program Format

Participants in our program commit themselves fully to a path of intensive studio work, lectures, and design technique workshops within the virtual format of the program. Immersed in a culture that is both challenging and rewarding, they experience what education and work are like across the disciplines of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Urban Design. The cross-disciplinary approach of the Design Discovery Virtual program reveals areas of similarity and difference among these three design disciplines. Participants emerge — often inspired and exhilarated — with a more profound understanding of the impact of design on the global built environment and what possibilities for further design study and practice exist that better informs the choice they will make.

This program is taught remotely and has a hybrid format inspired by both seminar and studio teaching by Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) faculty and advanced masters and doctoral students of the school. In addition to providing design exercises, Design Discovery Virtual will have lectures and discussions that tie the design fields to larger social concerns and to the roles they play in making a resilient, just, and beautiful world. Synchronous discussions and group work are combined with asynchronous content to accommodate time zones outside of the East Coast United States. A participant-to-instructor ratio of no more than 10:1 highlights the collegial and collaborative nature of the program as a true reflection of the act of design, more generally.

Three weekly themes structure the curriculum, and one day each week is dedicated to examining the current theme through the three lenses of Urban Planning and Design, Landscape Architecture, and Architecture. The remaining days are filled with workshops and tutorials, office hours, desk crits, and presentations that focus on design production and its methods. In the last week of the program, participants have the opportunity to create and refine a draft portfolio of their produced design work.

Image of Design Discovery Virtual program participants next to three-dimensional modeling software showing a three-story home alongside an aerial map of city blocks and an image containing the title, "Cities & Climate Change."
Image containing digital design work produced by Design Discovery Virtual participants.


Design Discovery Virtual consists of synchronous and asynchronous content. Synchronous blocks are taught live on Zoom and include tutorials, exercises, and studio work. Participants are required to attend synchronous sessions at the scheduled time. Asynchronous content is available on demand (pre-recorded lectures and tutorials) and participation includes the time it takes to prepare readings, assignments and work on design projects outside of live instruction. Participants are free to complete asynchronous content when it best suits individual schedules, but we recommend that participants set and follow their own schedule.

To accommodate participants in different time zones, Design Discovery Virtual offers two synchronous schedule options, A and B, that are shown in the below table based on Harvard’s time zone (UTC-4:00). You can select either the A schedule session or the B schedule session for synchronous instruction and have to plan your asynchronous work accordingly. The link below the table provides sample schedules for a selection of time zones. Please note that DDV requires a full-time commitment. Many participants choose to spend more time than is outlined in order to make full use of the program’s offerings.

General Schedule

Sample Schedules

The below sample schedules include suggestions for how participants can schedule independent work throughout the program. You may choose to spend more time than is indicated, however, it is not unusual for students taking studio-based courses to spend more time on projects than indicated on this schedule.  The time commitment for each project will depend on many factors including (but not limited to) the specific skills you would like to improve and the program content you are most interested in.

Click on schedule images below to enlarge them.

Evaluation + Certificate

Each successful Design Discovery participant receives a written evaluation from his or her instructor and a certificate from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Although the GSD cannot offer undergraduate academic credit for Design Discovery, some colleges and universities will award academic credit for a student’s participation in our program, including Harvard College, which awards eight (8) credits (or the equivalent of two courses).

Requesting a copy of your evaluation

Participants will receive a digital copy of the written evaluation following the conclusion of the program.

Although we cannot provide an official transcript of your work in the program, we can send a letter explaining the nature of the program and a copy of your evaluation. If you would like to request this letter and/or a copy of your evaluation, please email [email protected], including the following information:

  • Full Name
  • Email Address
  • Year attended CD/DD
  • Number of copies of evaluation written by studio instructor
  • Number of copies of written explanation of program
  • Names and addresses of document recipients
  • Other comments

tuition + financial aid

Tuition for the 2021 Design Discovery Virtual Program is $2,500. Please expect to purchase additional materials and supplies for projects throughout the course of the program. Depending on your location this could be as much as an additional 200.00 USD.

Payment Policy

A nonrefundable application fee of $80 must accompany each application. If admitted, your decision and tuition are due within two weeks.

Financial Assistance

Financial aid takes into account many factors; however, as a guide, if the applicant and/or parents (if appropriate) have a combined gross income that exceeds $40,000, an aid award is unlikely.

To apply, please submit a Financial Aid Application Form along with the required documentation by the deadline of April 30, 2021. Please see the application for more information.

Please Note: Design Discovery Virtual financial aid is not federally subsidized and is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. International students are not eligible to apply. Requests for aid will not be considered without a completed program application. Late applications will not be considered.

Tuition and Financial Aid FAQ

A: Yes. Further payment instructions will be provided in your admittance letter. Tuition payments must be submitted online via the online system.

A: Tax forms from parents are required for every applicant under the age of 30.

A: No. We are unable to waive the application fee.

A: No. Design Discovery Virtual financial aid is not federally subsidized and is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. International students are not eligible to apply for financial aid.

A: Yes. The Design Discovery Virtual financial aid application form is part of the program’s online application. Once you indicate an interest in applying for aid, the aid application option will appear on your online status page. In order to apply for aid, submit this form and supporting documents online with the rest of your application by the deadline.

A: Design Discovery Virtual financial aid funds are need-based awards, which means that funding is based on the financial situation of the student. Financial aid takes into account many factors; however, as a guide, if the applicant’s and parents’ (if appropriate) combined adjusted gross income exceeds $40,000, an aid award is unlikely.

A: Yes, you need to complete the Design Discovery Virtual online application in order to access the financial aid application form. We advise submitting the financial aid application form prior to receiving your admissions decision letter.

A: No. You will be notified in a separate email from the Design Discovery Virtual Program Administrator, Kelly Wisnaskas, about your financial aid award.

A: Late financial aid applications will not be considered.

A: Awards only apply towards tuition and possible support for a computer device.

Faculty + Staff

Section Instructors

Design Discovery Virtual sections are taught by graduating or advanced GSD students who have a concentration in the field they are teaching. Sections have a maximum of ten students per instructor. Each section is coordinated by current GSD faculty.

Coordinating Faculty


Urban Planning & Design

Landscape Architecture

Program Director

Headshot of Jenny French

Jenny French

Assistant Professor in Practice of ArchitectureView Profile

Stephen Gray

Associate Professor of Urban DesignView Profile

Headshot of Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich

Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich

Lecturer in Landscape ArchitectureView Profile

Photo of Megan Panzano

Megan Panzano

Senior Director of Early Design EducationLecturer in ArchitectureView Profile


Design Discovery invites exceptional professionals and academics to give lectures and join career panel discussions on design, history, theory, office practice, and other aspects of each profession. Speakers are often available for informal conversations afterward.

Past speakers have included:

Panel discussions have included:

Design and Planning Practices, Career Options, Public Process and Design , Design Research, and Preparing a Portfolio.


To apply for the Design Discovery Virtual program, please submit the following required materials:

  • An essay (500 words max) that describes a particularly satisfying project you have undertaken. This project need not be related to design or planning, although this is preferable. You might, for example, write about participating in a political campaign, mastering a musical instrument, doing research on a special topic, or organizing a social event.
  • A resume or CV which includes the following information: employment; education; extra-curricular collegiate and community activities (note whether an office held was elected or appointed); honors; awards; professional registration; professional societies; publications; avocations; hobbies; travel. If you served in the military, indicate rank on entry and rank on separation.
  • Transcripts should be submitted online by the applicant and are required from all colleges and universities from which the applicant has received credit. When uploading a transcript, please make sure the scanned version is legible. Transcripts that are not in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation. If the university or college does not issue transcripts, a certified letter and certified English translation must be provided. It should list courses and examinations taken, grades, and degrees and dates of degrees received. Admitted students who have attended a school outside of the U.S. may be asked to submit a WES (World Education Service) certified transcript, at the applicant’s expense.
  • A non-refundable $80 application fee is due upon application submission.
  • International applicants, except those from countries where English is the native language, must submit ONE of the following:
      • Duolingo test
        The minimum required score is 115.
      • A valid score from the TOEFL internet-based test
        The minimum required TOEFL iBT total score is 92, with the following minimum section requirements: reading, 23; speaking, 23; listening, 23; writing, 23. Please have test results submitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, institution code 3455. For further information about the TOEFL exam, please visit applicants who are currently enrolled in a university within the United States are exempt from this requirement.

Application Deadlines

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis beginning in late February. Applications will continue to be reviewed until June 1 or until all spots are filled. Early submission is strongly encouraged.

Online Application OpensFebruary 15, 2021
Financial Aid Application DeadlineApril 30, 2021
Application DeadlineJune 1, 2021
Registration/Payment DeadlineWithin two weeks following admission
Cancellation Deadline for Full (100%) Refund*June 18, 2021
Withdrawal Deadline for Partial Refund**July 2, 2021

*Contact Design Discovery Virtual to cancel your enrollment by this date to receive a full (100%) refund of the $2,500 program fee.

**Contact Design Discovery Virtual to cancel your enrollment by this date to receive a partial (50%) refund of the program fee (amounting to $1,250).

Frequently Asked Questions

A: Once decisions have been made, you will receive an email notifying you of an update to your application.

A: No, the Design Discovery Virtual program does not grant deferrals. If you are admitted but unable to attend, you would need to reapply.

A: No. Any former applicant wishing to reapply to the GSD Design Discovery Virtual Program must resubmit all forms and documentation.

A: Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. A high level of academic skill is necessary to take full advantage of our rigorous program.

A: Transcripts should be submitted electronically through the online application. Applicants should scan a copy of their transcript(s) and upload these documents into the online application. During the application process, it is not necessary to send an official transcript.

A: Scanned transcripts can be unofficial or official. If we need further information, we may ask for an official transcript to be sent to our office for review.

A: Contact the Design Discovery Virtual office by emailing [email protected].

A: That is exactly what we teach. The program is as much about the ‘mindset’ as it is about the ‘toolset’ of designers. Many of our students have gone on to other disciplines, taking with them what is now called ‘design thinking’; the processes, mental habits, and methods of research and collaboration that are second-nature to designers which can be beneficially applied to all fields and areas of study.

A: Admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis. Applicants will be notified of decisions by email. Only completed applications will be reviewed.

A: A device with a stable internet connection and sufficient resources to run Zoom and access the web-based Canvas course management software is required. Harvard will provide all participants with licenses to use these tools, as well as the Adobe Creative Cloud. Rhino will be available as a free trial. Financial aid applicants may request computer support.

A: Studio work is about much more than physically working in a studio; it comes with specific mental habits, patterns of collaboration, and an open-minded exploration of possibilities, all of which translate well into a remote format. Needless to say, a remote studio comes with limitations as far as space, materials, tools, and social interactions are concerned. We have spent the last year studying best practices of remote teaching at the GSD that have inspired us to reinvent design exercises in ways that integrate easily obtainable everyday materials and encourage a collaborative work environment and we’re confident that this will allow you to immerse yourself in studio-based learning remotely.

A: To request a copy of your evaluation, follow the instructions above under Certificate and Academic Credit.

A: To unsubscribe from our mailing list, email a request to [email protected] with your name and address as they appear on the mailing label.