Professional doctorates emerged in the 1990s in the United Kingdom and Australia as a response to a range of institutional pressures in mass higher education at the postgraduate level. Globally alternative doctoral programmes including (creative) project work have developed which purport to address professional and practice values in creative arts and industries, including design, more adequately than the traditional PhD. However, given the questionable ‘professional’ status of design as such, should institutions encourage such courses? In the absence of a real ‘professional’ context such as that of management, nursing and teaching, for example, the degrees proposed have attempted to combine the studio logic of project work and the practice-based discourse of the creative visual arts with dubious professionalism. Taking examples from three countries —Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States— this paper identifies and then questions the discourse of professionalism employed to describe alternative doctorates of design and the visual arts, suggesting that the PhD contains sufficient ‘space’ to accommodate current design research needs.