Overview on PhD in Design

Established in 1990, the current PhD programme in Design aims to develop competences and skills to carry out high quality research in design as a specific field of inquiry.

In this respect, candidates will be invited to reflect on:
  • the nature of design, with its aesthetic, performance and meaning values, as well as its capability of being an agent of social change;
  • to strengthen the disciplinary core of design;
  • to develop and share knowledge and tools able to distinguish the designer from other figures involved in design activity.
The PhD programme in Design is structured into various research fields, which correspond to specific research teams within the Design Department.
In order to coordinate research activity over a wide range of topics, teams cluster around three Sections, which are:
  • Design and Cultures
  • Products, Strategies and Services
  • Design for Environments, Landscape and Mobility
(PhD candidates are affiliated to the Section of their Supervisors).


The programme aims at educating researcher who will contribute original knowledge to the field of design by tackling the problems and identifying the potential of contemporary society.

Their contribution may be brought to bear in:
  • creating designs, visions, and proposals (research through design);
  • developing tools and methods for putting these into practice (research for design);
  • developing critical analysis of design and its application domain (research on design).
The Programme proposes different methodologies of research, promotes the attitude to collaborate, and offers opportunities in universities and research centres, design enterprises and public corporate bodies. The disciplinary field is Design. Other fields partially covered are Science and Philosophy, Language Theory, Sociology of Cultural Processes and Communication, History of Art, Science and Technology of Materials, Industrial Engineering, Operations Research, Computer Science.


The programme offers doctoral candidates the following opportunities:
  • to develop an original theme of research, becoming an effective member of a research team;
  • to attend courses and seminars on design, on design research and on research in general, developing skills concerning the discipline of the design, and the profession of the researcher; to attend courses referred to research metodology (both in general and in relation to design), acquiring knowledge and tools for carrying out their research;
  • to attend courses and seminars referred to a specific field of research, developing specialist skills and acquiring specific knowledge for the development of their own research theme;
  • to develop expertise in an international research centre to verify the hypotheses, the methodologies and the results of their own work and to consolidate the network of international relationships within which it is situated.

Course plan and credits

During the first semester of enrolment, the candidate has to submit a study plan, accumulating the academic credits required for the Design PhD curriculum.

These credits must be acquired via the courses offered by the PhD in Design programme, the courses offered by the PhD School and the activities provided by the educational programme. The number of the credits and the typology of courses vary according to the PhD Cycle, and they are therefore outlined in the specific Kit of the cycle of reference.

For the admission to the final exam, acquisition of the expected credits is mandatory. The third year should be entirely devoted to the development of the thesis.

Candidates are required to take PhD courses that can be provided by:

  • the PhD programme in Design;
  • the Polimi Phd School, that organizes general and Interdoctoral courses every year that can be freely selected here.

Other credits also can be obtained by choosing among courses provided by PhD programmes of other universities or by the attendance of workshops, summer schools or seminars cycles.

Furthermore, it is fundamental for the external activity selected to:

  • be addressed also to PhD candidates or researchers as well;
  • be relevant to the candidate’s research topic;
  • not exceed the maximum of hours allowed (25 hours).

Specific information can be found inside the PhD welcome kit.

Participating in teaching activities as a teaching assistant or research fellow is part of the ongoing synergy between teaching and research. Therefore, PhD candidates may participate in courses or design studios as tutors during the 3 years upon supervisor approval.

Please remember that each PhD candidate can do a maximum of 40 teaching assistant hours per year.

Specific information can be found inside the PhD welcome kit.

The scientific university production is a fundamental element to spread the scientific knowledge and research topics developed in each department and to be part of an international exchange of ideas.

PhD candidates are required to obtain a certain amount of credits within their Educational Framework; such an amount depends of the cycle they belong to.
Scientific publication(s) must be in English, addressed to an international academic audience.

Two types of publications will be considered:

  • Publications in conference proceedings / non-indexed journals
  • Publications in indexed journals (Wos and/or Scopus)

The publication of papers/journal articles has to be validated within the “Scientific production” course.

Specific information can be found inside the specific welcome kit.

The PhD programme favours the candidates’ research interactions with other groups (universities, research centers, companies) in their research field to develop their research work and thesis.

  • PhD candidates with scholarship granted by Politecnico di Milano: internship abroad is compulsory
  • PhD candidates without scholarship: internship is recommended but not compulsory; it can be replaced by other activities
  • PhD candidates admitted through international agreement: internship is not compulsory; if done, the internship can take place in the country of origin or within the Italian/Milanese context.
Fundamental information
  • complete period abroad: 6 months (10 ects)
  • minimum period abroad: 3 months (5 ects)
  • it is allowed to stay abroad more than 6 months (up to 18 months); the number of ects will not increase
  • to activate the exchange, there has to be a signed invitation letter from the university/research centre specifying the period dates and a short description of the activity that will be accomplished by the PhD candidate. An invitation letter is necessary for each period abroad
  • the internship can be done in more than 1 institution

For PhD candidates with scholarship granted by the Politecnico di Milano,
the periods spent abroad (lasting a minimum of ten days and a maximum of 6 months) entails the scholarship is increased by 50% for a maximum of 6 months.

Further information can be found inside the specific welcome kit.

PhD Graduation

The PhD degree is granted upon successful completion of the final exam, which may be attempted only twice. The degree is awarded by the rector of the Politecnico di Milano.
To be admitted to the final exam, the candidate must first have acquired at least 45 credits in the various academic activities that are part of the PhD programme curriculum. Exact dissertation deadlines will be given to the candidate by the PhD program secretary.

NB: European Doctorate
Candidates who would like to ask for a “European Doctorate” must read the Regolamento del Dottorato di Ricerca del Politecnico di Milano (art.11(10)) and inform the PhD Secretary Office prior to the 3rd year assessment.

Further information on all the steps of 3rd year path are given in the Final year kit.