MDes candidate Q&A: Elle Miller

A Master of Design can transform your career—whether it’s in design or something else.The MDes program at CCAD welcomed its inaugural class in 2017. Elle Miller, who will be part of the first MDes graduating class in 2019, shared her experience in the program.

elle miller

Elle Miller works on MDes project

Why did you decide to enter CCAD’s MDes program?

I’ve always felt not having a degree in my professional field, interior design, was holding me back. I was starting to feel stagnant and, frankly, a little bored, at work. I wanted to be the expert in something rather than justifying why I was capable without formal education in the field. I was deciding between an online graduate program in interiors and a design research program elsewhere. Neither seemed like a truly ideal fit.

Having looked about a year before, I went back to CCAD’s website on a whim and discovered the new MDes program. I typically pride myself on being a very logical person, so the fact that CCAD “just felt right” was difficult to justify—especially when you’re paying for it yourself and have two kids at home—but now I can. With the MDes program, I found my undergraduate degree in speech and hearing science was no longer a misstep in my career as a designer. It gave me an alternative perspective, which in the program translates to an advantage. I’m embarrassed to say, I grew up in Columbus, but had never been to CCAD nor knew anything about the school. I don’t know how I missed such a jewel.

Has the MDes curriculum expanded your ability to problem solve?

To an extent, yes, we learn steps in problem-solving processes. The most valuable thing we’re learning, however, isn’t how to solve problems ourselves. It’s how to select and apply a mental framework to the problem; how to find and use the right resources to tackle the problem; and how to make sure you’re even working on the right problem.

What it really comes down to is, we’re learning how to help anyone solve any problem. We’re not saying we can solve any problem alone, rather the curriculum teaches you how to contribute to any team tackling any issue. These are the job skills that will keep you at the table when your industry changes or the market collapses. I’m also confident saying I’m a better interior designer after two semesters in MDes than I would have been after two semesters in a Master’s of Interior Architecture program. I’m also confident I’m no longer limited to the field of interiors. It is empowering.

Can you give an example of a class project, lesson, or lecture that was particularly meaningful to you?

No, not just one. There are far too many. I was hoping the MDes program would jumpstart my career. Instead, it has completely transformed my mental model of what design is—and probably the world as a whole. The program pushes you to improve and grasp a new understanding every single day. 

I could probably say the two most meaningful aspects so far are the readings and the people. Even though I’ve tried, I never enjoyed reading. It wasn’t until this program that I realized it wasn’t that I wasn’t a “reader,” but that I was reading the wrong books. Beginning with our summer reading assignments, I was hooked. I started seeking out books on design, then psychology, personality, and science. … I didn’t realize learning different ways of thinking would have such an effect on how I see the world. It seems like a clichéd marketing phrase until you actually experience it. It has literally (but really figuratively) opened my eyes to the world. On top of that, to see how well-read the faculty is just blows my mind. They’re constantly recommending books and my list continues to grow.

Speaking of which, the second most meaningful aspect of the program is the people—honestly. I am continually amazed by how intelligent the faculty are. More than that, though, has been their willingness to help in whatever you need. They’ve been inspiring to work with. The students in our cohort have been just as kind and accepting, too. I’ve never worked with a group that had the same combination of talent and genuine drive to see each other succeed. It’s something that’s going to stay with me the rest of my career.