Schooled: Art Center Media Design MFA

art center college of design media design mfa program

Art Center's south campus is a former supersonic jet testing facility renovated by Daly/Genik. (Photo provided by the Art Center)

With an innovative curriculum that marries creativity and social change, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, has prepared artists and designers to make a positive impact in their fields for more than 80 years. In summer 2012, the Art Center will launch a revamped media design master’s program

The Details 

Art Center College of Design‘s Media Design MFA

  • Program type: graduate
  • Duration: 2 years including summer term, or an optional 3-year path
  • Location: Pasadena, CA
  • Program cost: $17,724 per term for full-time students. 
  • AdmissionsProspective students must submit an application, essay question responses, transcripts, TOEFL scores, a portfolio and graduate proposal. There’s a $50 application fee.
  • Online learning options: none

“We approach the idea of interaction design broadly. By using the words ‘media design,’ we are really focused on vehicles for communication,” says Anne Burdick, chair of the program, who has been selected for the Leipzig Award and I.D. Magazine’s Annual Design Review.

The new program features two education tracks: media design projects and media design matters. While both tracks emphasize core interaction design concepts, the curriculum and experiences differ vastly. 

Students in the projects track work in a studio context, experimenting with emerging communication technologies and cultural practices. “We are explicitly preparing students to go into research labs for high technology,” Burdick says. “We’ve got someone in every major research lab: Intel, Nokia, Google, Samsung, Yahoo!, Sony, Microsoft, you name it. And students tend to get senior researcher positions after graduating.”

Students in the matters track work in a real-world context on the intersections of social issues, media infrastructure and communication technology. DesignMatters, the social change counterpart of the Art Center, has non-governmental organization status with the United Nations, allowing the program to function on an international level. The first cohort will spend 10 weeks in Uganda working with UNICEF Innovations Lab. “It was really great to partner with DesignMatters because that meant we could have these really powerful partnerships, for instance, with UNICEF. So, for us, it’s a powerhouse combination,” Burdick says.

Program highlights

Media design projects students start in the fall with a concept year, exploring core media design tenets, with an internship or collaborative research project in the summer. During the second year, students work on thesis projects.

Media design matters students begin in summer term with critical methods in design, technology and social justice. In the fall and spring terms, students partner with institutions to co-create communication solutions and field test designs, and complete a thesis project during summer term.

Art Center offers an additional development year of graduate media design courses that can be completed before either track. Read more on the curriculum and view a suggested course map here.

Noteworthy faculty

Kevin Wingate, director of the program, is an artist and educator who exhibited nationally as part of Pillow Lavås, a collaborative group that intersects lifestyle, culture and social interaction. Phil van Allen founded interactive production company Commotion and has worked with a wide range of clients, including Philips, Nestle, U2, Yoko Ono, Infiniti and Acura. Chris Csikszentmihályi directed the MIT Center for Future Civic Media and the Computing Culture Group.

Noteworthy alumni

Notable alumni of the Art Center College of Design include interactive designer Nikolai Cornell; graphic designers Dustin Edward Arnold, Tyrone Drake and William Ismael; photographer and director Melodie McDaniel; copywriter and designer Wendy MacNaughton and production designer Sandeep Menon.

Schooled is a series of profiles of accredited higher-education programs for interactive design. See our full list of interaction design programs here. 

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