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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  Hello World: The Logic of Interaction                    
IXG-5480  Crafting Interactions                         
IXG-5510  Smart Objects                                      
IXG-5520  Framing User Experiences                
IXG-5610  Design in Public Spaces                    
IXG-5630  Conversation Design              
IXG-5650  Entrepreneurial Design                      
IXG-5811  Advanced Fundamentals of Graphic Design
IXG-5812  Advanced Fundamentals of UX        
IXG-5813  Writing Basics

Second Year Requirements

IXG-6030  Thesis Development             
IXG-6120  Public Interfaces                     
IXG-6160  Design Management              
IXG-6180  Future Wearables                    
IXG-6185  Future (Im)perfect                   
IXG-6210  Leadership, Ethics and Professional Practices                              
IXG-6390  Narrative and Interactivity     
IXG-6410  Content Strategies                  
IXG-6430  Selling Design                                      
IXG-6900  Thesis Presentation


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. 

Hello World: The Logic of Interaction
Fall semester: 3 credits
Hello World is traditionally the very first program people write when they are new to a programming language. It’s used to test programming syntax, implementation and sanity. The goal of this course is to provide students with a primer into understanding the world of computer hardware, software and designing with code. Students grow the tools they need to read and understand source code, critically think about software applications and write their very own programs. They start with a foundation in programming and build applications of increasing complexity as the course progresses. By the end of the semester, students will have the skills to speak the language of (almost) any machine using fundamentals from Python, JavaScript, and C.

Crafting Interactions
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.

Conversation Design
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Voice technology is no longer “the next big thing.” It’s here. As platforms increasingly allow humans to speak to their devices, not just tap or click on them, interaction designers should be prepared to expand their toolbox. This course introduces students to conversation design. Inherently multimodal, this growing field is a synthesis of several disciplines, including voice user interface design, interaction design, audio design and UX writing. We will examine its unique patterns, methods and challenges, and its relationship to machine learning and AI technologies. Practice will be emphasized. Students come away with the tools to apply for an internship or introductory position on a conversation design team.

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.

Advanced Fundamentals of Graphic Design
Spring semester: 1 credit
The principles of graphic design are critical, no matter how advanced or technical a product or service is. In this course students develop a broad understanding of graphic design principles. We evaluate existing design systems and their intended impact on the world. Through hands-on studio exercises, critiques and lectures, students learn to articulate qualities of a visual design system and the strategies behind them.

Advanced Fundamentals of UX
In this course students explore concepts fundamental to the user experience (UX) practice; how to frame design problems through synthesis of research and various project inputs, problem solving through mapping, sketching, and wireframing, and problem sharing through constructing narratives of our work. Students work to become better practitioners and strategists through seeking to understand and respond to influences, both inside the project and outside of it, that might impact its outcome. Students work to think both broadly and deeply about a problem and communicate its solution via mixed-fidelity artifacts that they evolve through multiple iterations. Finally, students learn to shape artifacts as well as conversations to appeal to varied audiences, including clients, project stakeholders, designers and developers, in order to influence how a project takes shape over time.

Writing Basics
Spring semester: 1 credit
Writing is part of every design project—from jotting down notes and questions to summarizing research, instructing users, and presenting work in proposals and marketing pages. In this course students examine the writing process, collaborate on long and short-form pieces, practice editing and use language as a strategic tool in the design process.

Thesis Development
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.

Future (Im)perfect
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
The ubiquity of our personal data, facial recognition and AI are impacting our everyday lives in unprecedented ways. Recent national and international situations have highlighted the need for more ethically minded thinking about future implications of the technologies we help to deploy. This course investigates designers’ responsibility not only to think about the potentials of these technologies, but also explore their potential social consequences. How might designers create new methods that accelerate our learning of the ethical implications of the technologies we work with? Throughout this course students are introduced to a variety of tools to explore some of these unintended consequences and social frictions of today’s emerging technologies to develop a clear point of view about the potentials—and potential downsides—of specific technologies. Students will use their design skills to devise new visual and experiential methods that foster critical thinking about emerging technologies.

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 interactions, we often overlook one of the oldest, most effective tools out there—a compelling story. Whether it’s for presenting a thesis concept or pitching a new product idea, students need the capacity for telling great stories. In this course students examine the use storytelling to craft and share stories in written, verbal and visual context so that their ideas resonate with audiences.

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 Presentation
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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