Design Discovery

Design Discovery (DD) is a 3 week in person academic program that takes place at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in Cambridge, MA and engages an audience of individuals 18 years old to mid-career professionals interested in gaining knowledge within a single, selected design discipline.  Participants enroll in either Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Planning + Design.  The program explores the potentials of design to impact the built environment and the active conditions it choreographs through the material and scale specific to a particular design discipline.  Program participants direct design to contemporary issues with an emphasis on hands-on physical modeling, material capacities, fabrication, and assembly, in complement to the Design Discovery Virtual program’s digital media emphasis.  Students are taught by Harvard GSD faculty and masters and doctoral degree program graduates in addition to engagement with a broad and diverse network of design talent, across the three disciplines, invited to serve as guest lecturers and critics. 

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, clients, collaborators, or home school programs for course credit consideration. 

Who attends

Design Discovery students represent a broad range of ages, lifestyles, and training (most have no previous design experience), and this contributes to a stimulating environment. Many 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 and/or who are considering a career change. We host an average of 225 participants per year.

Discipline Concentration

Geographic Origin



Alumni profiles

Anjerrika Bean

  • Attended: After first year of doctoral studies
  • Design background: None
  • Interest: Urban Planning & Design
  • Today: Research Assistant, Howard University Department of Sociology and Criminology; community builder and co-founder of an organization to help rebuild inner-city neighborhoods in Baltimore, MD.

“We all came to the studio at Design Discovery with such different perspectives. We only see what we know as individuals, so our viewpoints enriched one another. In the end, we were all richer for sharing the experience together. In addition to working with a diverse group of students, it was amazing to interact with many great instructors and have access to stakeholders, including local city officials, to whom we presented our final projects.”

______Anjerrika Bean

Marcus Mello

  • Attended: After sophomore year in college
  • Design background: None
  • Interest: Architecture
  • Today: GSD graduate with dual Master degrees in architecture and urban planning; works as an architect at Boston Planning and Development Association; has taught at Design Discovery

“Design Discovery is intense — and completely worthwhile! Its structure and options appealed to me, and the projects were very challenging, but in a good way. I had to stay focused. I learned about design and the grad school experience, and it opened my eyes. Sketching at my desk and out in the field, near Fenway, I started seeing Boston and Cambridge with an entirely new perspective, through the lens of design. Design Discovery also revealed a broader spectrum of design careers. The experience helped me start a portfolio and build a network that advised me when I applied to design schools and pursued a career in architecture. I highly recommend the program.”

______Marcus Mello

Svafa Gronfeldt

  • Attended: Mid-career
  • Design background: None
  • Interest: Architecture
  • Previous career: Education and university leadership
  • Today: EVP at Alvogen and Entrepreneur-in-residence at MIT’s designX innovation accelerator

“When I was young, I wanted to be an architect, and when I turned 50, I revisited this idea through Harvard GSD’s Design Discovery. The experience was even better than I had imagined. Design Discovery promotes design as a way of thinking, a way of approaching decisions, that’s applicable to all aspects of a design-centered career. I’m not aiming to become an architect in a firm, but I don’t have to — I can still be engaged in design. As an instructor at MIT, I help innovators launch and grow their ventures by combining business principles with the principles of design and planning. This new journey integrates my educational background and career experience with the design mentality, which is about problem solving and the constant search for improvement through iteration. This approach is applicable to just about any profession or field.”

______Svafa Gronfeldt

Jiayu Zhou

  • Attended: After junior year in college
  • Design background: None
  • Interest: Architecture
  • Today: College graduate, working in the design sector.

“From Design Discovery, I learned that design is not only about drawing or making beautiful models but more about thinking. Studio art involves the exchange of cultures, values, and concepts, which takes design far beyond what we see on floor plans and textbooks. Design is everywhere, and it is influenced by government, law, businesses, and NGOs. Design Discovery helped me understand that architects, landscape architects, and urban planners are leaders in society who cooperate and innovate to improve or even revolutionize that society. As participants in this program, we learned how to design things that are “good” — things that support positive changes in the way people interact, think, and live.”

______Jiayu Zhou

Christian Long

  • Attended: Mid-career, after graduate school
  • Design background: None
  • Interest: Architecture
  • Previous career: Education
  • Today: Co-founder at Wonder and founder of a national design camp for young creatives

“The ideal Design Discovery candidate is someone who seeks an intense experience exploring how the design mindset can apply to all fields and challenges. The program gave me a tangible opportunity to intensely explore the field of architecture as I was contemplating a career shift. While it helped me realize that I actually didn’t want to become a traditional architect, it did lead me toward significant strategy and visioning roles in the field of school design and architecture. Since then, I’ve started four design studios and have been designing schools and universities around the world.”

______Christian Long

Learning Format

Participants in our program commit themselves fully to a path of intensive work thinking through making within the studio of Gund Hall at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. The program complements studio design time at the desk with a series of lectures and workshops on the process of design, representation of ideas and intentions, as well as fabrication and modeling workshops. Deeply immersed in a culture that is both challenging and rewarding, participants experience what education and work are like in the design and planning professions. They emerge — many of them exhilarated — with a more profound understanding of the possibilities ahead and with more information about their relationship with the potentials of design in order to inform their choices.

Studio Format

Design Discovery studios focus on short, intensive projects similar to first-year graduate school projects within one of three selected design disciplines – Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design. Studios involve one-on-one guidance from design instructors, group discussions and reviews about design work, training sessions in graphics and model making skills, and individual presentations to instructors and guest professionals. Participants have direct access to select spaces within the GSD’s Fabrication Lab and Frances Loeb Library — one of the country’s foremost design and planning libraries.


As a Design Discovery student, you will engage in an iterative exploratory design process of drawing, fabrication and model making within the context of a design studio. This process will help build your ability to translate observations about the world into a visual and spatial language. You will receive instruction in the fundamental design methodologies specific to each of the following disciplines, and you will select one of them as your program concentration:

  • Architecture is the design of individual buildings and their settings, with the understanding that buildings are the choreographers of dynamic conditions inside their walls and in their outside surroundings.
  • Landscape Architecture is the planning, design, and preservation of built and natural landscapes, from rural landscapes to urban parks and infrastructure projects.
  • Urban Planning & Design is the analysis and synthesis of forces that shape and reshape the built environment, with a focus on envisioning and illustrating places that reflect and support the diverse needs of society.


Most students work evenings and weekends in the studio.

Lecture by design or planning professional
Lecture by design or planning professional
Lecture by design or planning professional
9:00-11:00am Career Panel
Career Options
Review of studio problem
Studios open all weekend 7:00am-10:00pm
Introduction to studio problem
Representation skills lecture
Media design and techniques lecture
Review of studio problem
Studios open until 12:00amStudios open until 12:00amStudios open until 12:00amStudios open until 12:00am8:00pm
Movie night

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

Faculty + Staff

Section Instructors

Design Discovery 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:

tuition + Financial Aid

Tuition for the 2022 Design Discovery 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 250.00 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, 2022. Please see the application for more information.

Please Note: Design Discovery 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 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 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 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 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 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.


To apply for the Design Discovery 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 International 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 to cancel your enrollment by this date to receive a full (100%) refund of the $2,500 program fee.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

Video content: To hear about the following subjects, scroll to the video timestamp indicated. 00:06: Introduction 00:45: Program History 03:52: What do you learn in the six-weeks? 04:40: What does a designer do? How does a designer solve a problem? 06:55: Pedagogical format/What do you mean when you talk about studio? 11:57: Who are the instructors? 13:40: Trajectory of the six weeks 16:30: What do people do after the program? 22:10: When is the best time to enroll in Design Discovery? 24:03: How is the program funded? 26:25: Is there financial aid? 27:37: Do participants receive credit? 28:45: Questions and Answers

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

A: No, the Design Discovery 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 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 office by emailing [email protected].

A: Yes. Design Discovery is a program designed to introduce Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning & Design to those who have interest in the areas but have little to no experience with the disciplines.

A: Participants of the program are exposed to all three concentrations through lectures, but your studio work will focus on only one chosen concentration. Participants have one week to switch concentrations once the program has begun.

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: Beginning in January, admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis. Applicants will be notified of decisions by email. Only completed applications will be reviewed.

A: A good portion of participants live on campus in dormitories provided by the Harvard Law School. Others live within walking distance of the school.

A: Participants are given access to all programs on the GSD network. It is required that all participants bring a laptop. Wireless internet is available in Gund Hall as well as in the dormitories.

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.