Schooled: California College of the Arts Interaction Design BFA

california college of the arts interaction design bfa

Never enough Post-Its: Students share their experiences during the first couple weeks of class during the weekly Pizza Check-In. (Photo provided by CCA)

California College of the Arts has been training students in fine arts, architecture, design and writing for more than 100 years, and the school is translating that experience to a cutting-edge interaction design program, which launched in fall 2011.

The Details 

California College of the Arts‘ Interaction Design BFA

  • Program type: undergraduate
  • Duration: 4 years
  • Program cost: $1,540 per unit; $18,480 per term for full-time students. 
  • AdmissionsProspective students must submit an essay, transcripts, letters of recommendation, SAT/ACT scores and a portfolio. CCA strongly encourages applicants to participate in interviews or national portfolio days. Nonrefundable application fee is $60.
  • Online learning options: none

Kristian Simsarian—CCA’s undergraduate interaction design program chair, who has worked with Microsoft, Nokia, Yahoo! and the US government—was charged with creating the curriculum for the new program. 

“I looked at other programs and saw elements of really good things, but I thought they were missing something,” Simsarian says. So, he gathered input on interaction design from over 200 people working in the field, including Google, YouTube, Apple, Intel, Nokia and Facebook. Through these interviews, Simsarian recognized that the most successful interaction designers studied both engineering and art.

“These people are an amazing polymath ambassador between people and technology,” Simsarian says. When he revealed he was building the program around their expertise, peers reacted, “If you can produce that kind of person, you’ll produce unicorns. They’re gold in the industry. You don’t get them, you only hear about them.”

CCA plans to keep its newest program fresh by consistently recruiting new faculty and staying ahead of the curve on innovation and technology. “Design to where the field is going, not where it is today,” Simsarian says.

With campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, CCA is nestled in the hub of the digital world. And the interaction design program boasts small class sizes, hands-on studio time and experienced faculty. Not bad for a startup.

Program highlights

CCA touts the interaction design program as one of the most well-rounded of its kind. Students must take basic courses like science and math, but they may take classes related to the interaction design major, like design physics or computer programming. Major curriculum is a good mix of art, design and engineering, with an emphasis on studio time. An internship and senior thesis are required. View a suggested course map here.

Noteworthy faculty

Ben Fullerton currently works at Method, but has worked with IDEO, Twitter and Samsung’s European design studio. Jennifer Bove started her career at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, and moved on to design for a variety of clients, including Panasonic, Nokia, Gucci and American Express. Barry Katz has authored several books on cultural theory and history of design and contributes to magazines such as Metropolis and Dwell. David Sherwin has written two books on design for HOW and was an advisory board member of the inaugural HOW Interactive Design Conference.

Noteworthy alumni

Because the program is so new, alumni of the interaction design program do not yet exist. But CCA at large counts among its alumni painters Nathan Oliveira and Raymond Saunders; ceramicists Robert Arneson, Viola Frey and Peter Voulkos; filmmaker Wayne Wang; conceptual artists David Ireland and Dennis Oppenheim; and designers Lucille Tenazas and Michael Vanderbyl.

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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