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In the MFA Interaction Design program, students work both individually and collaboratively on the practical application of the concepts and methods that the program advances. Over the course of study, students will produce a wide range of conceptsfrom low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity prototypes and applicationswith the same degree of rigor.

The diversity of the curriculum is complemented by individual and collaborative spaces that are intended to simulate a working design studio. In addition, our faculty comprises top practitioners in the field, bringing rich and varied backgrounds and real-world experience.


  • Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file in the MFA Interaction Design Department to be eligible for degree conferral.
  • A matriculation of two academic years. Students must complete their degree within four years, unless given an official extension by the provost.
  • Interaction Design grades on a pass/fail system. Students are required to remain in good academic standing.  

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.

First Year Requirements
IXG-5030 A History of Design

IXG-5080 Research Methods
IXG-5190 Service Design and Transformation
IXG-5280 Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design
IXG-5380 Fundamentals of Physical Computing
IXG-5470 Code Literacy
IXG-5480 Crafting User Experiences
IXG-5510 Smart Objects
PDG-5520 Framing User Experiences
IXG-5610 Design in Public Spaces
IXG-5630 Intro to Cybernetics & Foundations of Systems Design
IXG-5650 Entrepreneurial Design
IXG-5800 Thesis I: Thinking

Second Year Requirements

IXG-6030 Thesis II: Making
IXG-6120 Public Interfaces
IXG-6160 Design Management
IXG-6180 Future Wearables
IXG-6185  Urban Fictions
IXG-6210 Leadership, Ethics & Professional Practices
IXG-6390 Narrative and Interactivity
IXG-6410 Content Strategies
IXG-6430 Selling Design
IXG-6900 Thesis III: Doing


General Course Listing - MFA Interaction Design

A History of Design
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
A review of critical movements in design from the second half of the 20th century to the present is the focus of this course. We will consider how much of the craft that designers have valued historically is important for what we do today. Using insights grounded in history, students will evaluate what separates good design from “other” design in digital media, and review case studies of why certain products and companies have risen triumphant over others. Students will visit centers of design in the City and learn to use them as resources for research, exploration and experimentation.

Research Methods 
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
User-centered design begins, by definition, with an understanding of users. In this course, students will learn how to model interaction by conducting qualitative and quantitative research into users’ behaviors, attitudes and expectations. By exploring ethnographic techniques, usability testing, log analysis, surveying, and other research methods, students will learn how to engage user feedback effectively at every stage of the design process. We will also address how to conduct secondary research into published literature and other sources that can inform thesis projects and beyond.

Service Design and Transformation
Fall semester: 3 credits
With the rise of the service economy, our opportunities as designers are shifting: more is being asked of us, and the nature of the challenges we want to help solve is changing. Our work may target individuals in the experiences that they encounter, or businesses in the structures they build to support service delivery, or may have a larger impact beyond the confines of one organization. To succeed as designers today, we need to be equipped with tools and approaches that work best in this service-oriented world. In this course, students will acquire a rich understanding of service design—what it is, when and where it is applicable, how to practice it, and why it is a valuable approach—and will gain experience using service design tools to identify opportunities, define and frame problem spaces, develop innovative directions, and execute and communicate solutions. Students will also become familiar with the roles that they may be asked to take on in various situations or service-related projects beyond the program. 

Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design
Fall semester: 3 credits
The design of interactive products and services differs from other forms of design in important ways. Developing the context for successful user experiences requires designers to think more holistically about the business models for the products they create: how the value proposition to customers and users unfolds over time; what’s being “sold” and where the costs of production and management occur; how to engage, complement, and benefit from other services that intersect with what is being offered. This course will help students in becoming more effective at understanding and describing the strategic decisions involved in the creation of interactive products and services, and to equip them with tools and methods for generating innovative options and making smart strategic choices. 

Fundamentals of Physical Computing
Fall semester: 3 credits
This course is a practical, hands-on exploration of physically interactive technology for the designer. Students will examine how to interface objects and installations with the viewer’s body and ambient stimuli, such as motion, light, sound and intangible data. Starting with the basics using the open-source Arduino platform, the class will move through electrical theory, circuit design, microcontroller programming and sensors, as well as complex output, including motors, video and intercommunication between objects. Note: No previous programming or electronics experience is required.

Code Literacy
Fall semester: 3 credits
In this course students explore the growing landscape of computational media. As our ability to interact with one another has expanded through the proliferation of computing technology, code literacy has become vital toward understanding our digital surroundings. Students are introduced to principles and processes that outline how code is used to connect human beings together, tell stories, facilitate exploration and guide experiences. They are challenged to engage in a new language—native to computers—and given guidance toward understanding how the nanosecond precision of a microprocessor can extend their abilities and toolsets as designers and storytellers. Students are presented the core concepts and structures to computation and further challenged in crafting these skills into mechanisms for creating engaging and dynamic experiences.

Crafting User Experiences
Spring semester: 3 credits
Interaction design concepts can be hard to describe. And the best way to both communicate and improve your design is to prototype it quickly and often. This course examines how to integrate lightweight prototyping activities, as well as some basic research and testing techniques, into every stage of the interaction design process. A range of methods will be covered, from paper prototyping to participatory design to bodystorming. Students will learn how to choose the appropriate method to suit different dimensions of a design problem at different stages in the process and the pitfalls of each approach. The course is highly collaborative with hands–on prototyping and testing. Working individually and in teams, students will create rapid exercises, with one prototype developed or iterated each week, with the goal of evolving toward more robust ways of expressing ideas in rich interactive forms. 

Smart Objects
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
The ubiquity of embedded computing has redefined the role of form in material culture, leading to the creation of artifacts that communicate well beyond their static physical presence to create ongoing dialogues with both people and each other. This course will explore the rich relationship among people, objects and information through a combination of physical and digital design methods. Beginning with an examination of case studies, students will gain a sense of the breadth of product design practice as it applies to smart objects. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on studio exercises, students will investigate all aspects of smart object design, including expressive behaviors (light, sound and movement), interaction systems, ergonomics, data networks and contexts of use. The course will culminate in a final project that considers all aspects of smart object design within the context of a larger theme. 

Framing User Experiences
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Products are no longer simply products; they live within complex business and technological ecosystems. To fully understand the user experience, designers must be highly flexible communicators, facilitators, mediators and thinkers. Whether designing a dialysis machine, a mobile phone app, or a water filtration system for the developing world, design is as much about framing user experiences as it is about the creation of new artifacts. This course focuses on the relationships between objects and their contexts, how to identify human behaviors and needs, and how those behaviors and needs converge to create user experiences. 

Design in Public Spaces
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Interfaces are embedded in nearly every aspect of our daily lives—from grocery shopping to banking to reading books. How can we integrate technology with the physical world to create better interfaces and more useful, playful and meaningful experiences? This course explores how interaction design fundamentals apply to physical spaces by surveying branded environments, retail stores, museums, urban settings and corporate venues with specific user goals and design considerations in mind.

Introduction to Cybernetics and the Foundations of Systems Design 
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
This course presents frameworks for modeling interaction in terms of structure and context, augmenting traditional discussions of form and syntax. We will collaboratively address questions that are fundamental to design practice: What is a system, and what are the different types? How do we interact with systems, and what are the different types of interaction? Systems may act independently, interact with other systems, learn, and even converse. What do such systems have in common, and how can we describe them? How can we measure their limitations? The course explores the integral structures and coherent processes for the design of effective artifacts, communications, collaborations, and services. Students will apply frameworks for steering design processes and/or design outcomes based on their own interests, encompassing domains as broad as education, health and wellness, and sustainability.

Entrepreneurial Design
Spring semester: 3 credits
Building on concepts of methods of interaction design, this studio course focuses on needs analysis, framing, prototyping, iteration and collaboration in an applied context. Each student engages in semester-long projects that bring together business goals, user needs and technology. 

Thesis I: Thinking
Spring semester: 3 credits
Through a series of readings, discussions and probes, students will develop a course of action for their thesis area of investigation. What comprises an appropriate thesis topic and its requisite components will be evaluated. This course is taught in three parts: UX, design and writing.

Thesis II: Making
Fall semester: 6 credits
Design problems invariably grow out of real human needs—the needs of a community. Thesis consultation focuses on advising and shaping the thesis project with critiques from the student peers, advisors, and where needed, the community. The students will work directly with a mentor to develop their project into one that is equally rigorous in concept and execution. With the support and guidance of a faculty advisor, and evaluations from a panel of industry experts, students will come away with a market-ready product or service. 

Public Interfaces
Fall semester: 3 credits
Public spaces have traditionally been designed to support the social: places for culture, education, work and leisure. More and more we turn to our digital devices to fill these same roles. This course will explore the multimodal physical world and the role that interaction design and the digital design process have in reactivating and finding new opportunities in the spaces that we inhabit. We will investigate new possibilities available to us through leveraging technology, and working closely with architects, lighting designers and acoustic designers, to create a fully integrated experience that engages people through all of their senses. This studio course will be heavily focused on prototyping and charrettes, and on developing skills in rapidly iterating design concepts. Students will use their thesis projects as a starting point and develop ideas as adjuncts to the projects, or as the main project itself.

Design Management
Fall semester: 3 credits
Once a product or service is designed, it needs to be managed. Whether as an entrepreneur, a design consultant, or an in–house designer, integrating the creative and business sides is rarely easy. This course will illustrate how to mediate between the two, empowering students to merge the design and business aspects effectively. We will examine design in its real–world, contemporary contexts (rather than silos such as product design, web design, or mobile design) to realize its broad potential and reach.

Future Wearables
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Current handsets are immersive, and perhaps too much so. There’s an additive, enhanced product that may suggest a better experience—wearables. Students in this course will develop lifestyle products that are an enhanced edition of a core device or a stand-alone device. They will be encouraged to emphasize displays in new places, new inputs, haptics and staying local. The challenge is to deliver appropriate data in an unobtrusive way. 

Urban Fictions
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Current technologies that digitize our cities such as the omnipresence of mobile phones, their “data trails” and the accessibility of generally available data will influence the urban environment in ways that are unprecedented and unforeseen. The promise of the “smart city” has yet to materialize; we are left instead with technology that increasingly commercializes space with a top-down approach and lacks a human-centered perspective that showcases the real ramifications of this digitization on our personal routine and daily interactions with the city. This course aims to explore potential benefits and opportunities and the impending issues that raise questions around the digitization and “scientification” of our public space by telling urban future “interaction stories.”

Leadership, Ethics and Professional Practices
Spring semester: 3 credits
Creative business practices, ethical standards and effective networking are the cornerstones of this course. Through studio tours, guest lectures, case studies and small group activities, students will observe and critique examples of successful, flawed and failed practices. Upon completion of this course, students will be equipped to describe and cite examples of creative business practices, ethical standards and effective networking in the business of design management.

Narrative and Interactivity 
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
While many of us rely on new tools, methods and processes to design interactive products, we often overlook one of the oldest, most effective tools out there—a structurally sound story. Borrowing from the narrative arts such as stage drama, fiction writing and filmmaking, this course will explore how to transform 2D and 3D designs to the fourth dimension by incorporating elements of time perception, human psychology and neuroscience toward increasing impact and engagement. More specifically, students will examine how to use story to craft, troubleshoot, test, demo and present time-based concepts, prototypes and finished products so that they are easier to use, more engaging and, ultimately, more successful.

Content Strategies
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
The web has made everyone a publisher–and content is a critical component of user experience. This course will explore content development as an aspect of creating user experiences, and will pay particular attention to its relationship to information architecture. Students will examine different approaches to audio, video, and especially text, exploring ways that content can improve user experience (while looking out for legal and copyright pitfalls). We will also address the basics of content management and examine how to develop a large-scale editorial strategy that can be used to guide the creation of websites with millions of pages. 

Selling Design 
Spring semester: 3 credits
All the talent, experience and expertise in the world can’t advance your career if your client buys the wrong design or waters down the right one. Creative gifts, hard work and luck are part of any career, but even more important is the ability to coax others to accept and help you produce your best ideas. Persuading decision makers to buy good design is essential whether you’re running a startup, building a product, or improving an organization’s in-house website and publications. What skills will help you make a genuine difference in the world by recognizing and promoting your own and your colleagues’ best ideas? “Selling Design” will help you begin to become not just the talented creative person you already are, but also an accomplished design professional who can collaborate and work persuasively with colleagues at all levels, from creative directors to budget directors, and from clients to investors to C-level executives. Through interviews with and presentations by successful designers and entrepreneurs from many walks and phases of the creative life, we will learn what it takes to pitch, recognize, combine, push and build on good ideas—and avoid bad ones.

Thesis III: Doing
Spring semester: 6 credits
Selecting the appropriate format for a fully functional thesis project is critical to the project’s success. It must include proof of concept that demonstrates the depth of research and application, and also demonstrate the research, strategy and artifacts that have been gained through second-year course work. Each student must present a thesis project to be approved by the thesis committee and the department chair. 

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