Cross-Departmental Programs

MA in Media Design

Cross-Departmental Programs

The Media Design program is an applied research MA program housed in Emerson’s Engagement Lab. In contrast to traditional coursework, you’ll connect with community organizations  from the outset and work with those organizations as you formulate your thesis project.

At the Engagement Lab, media design takes on a distinctly civic nature. We are interested in the technologies, designs, and practices that support positive civic impact in the world. The design focus is oriented toward building stronger approaches to participation in the world: from supporting stronger community infrastructure, to using media to solve some of the largest social and civic programs of technology. In this regard, we understand media and design as:

Media are about the texts, narratives, technologies, and representations that guide our engagement in the world. Whether films, apps, games, art, pedagogy, or rhetoric, media as we understand it in this program are the ways in which we connect to civic life.

Design is understood as the process by which we engage in the world through media. We focus on participatory and human-centered design methodologies, where we explore ways that we can engage with communities. This incorporates how to build trust and reciprocity with communities, how to design interventions that include communities, and how to design facilitations and technologies that focus on social justice and meaningful engagement in the world.

A Civic Orientation

The Media Design MA is taught through the lens of civic media, which are the technologies, designs, and practices that produce and reproduce the process of being in the world with others toward a common good. Civic media, then, entails the ways in which we design media interventions to support positive civic and social impact in the world. These approaches prioritize social justice, equity, inclusion, and giving voice to those communities that are underserved.



The MA in Media Design requires 32 credit hours. The course requirements are as follows:

Fall Semester (12 Credits)

Number Course Credits
CM 600 Foundations in Civic Media 4
CM 620 Civic Media Design Studio I
CM 610 Civic Media Methods 4

Spring Semester (12 Credits)

Number Course Credits
CM 610 Civic Media Projects Workshop 4
CM 621 Civic Media Design Studio II 4
  One elective available in the Spring 4

Summer Semester (8 Credits)

Number Course Credits
CM 699 Master's Thesis 4

CM 640 
CM 625 

Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change 

Civic Media Design Studio III 

Elective from list of available courses 





Students are required to complete 8–12 credits of electives chosen from Journalism, Public Relations, Strategic Marketing Communication, Theatre Education, or Film and Media Art. Offerings alternate between fall and spring and are approved by the Media Design faculty. Note: Prerequisite courses may apply. See program sections for possible courses and descriptions. Sample electives include:

  • CM 640: Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change
  • CM 625: Civic Media Design Studio III
  • CC 643: Global Communication
  • JR 632: Long-Form Multimedia Storytelling
  • JR 623: Data Visualization
  • MK 617: Consumer Behavior
  • MK 627: Integrated Communication Strategy in Digital Culture
  • VM 606: Writing for Interactive Media
  • VM 621: Graduate Documentary Production


The Media Design master’s thesis includes both written and production components. Successful theses include a literature review and theoretical justification, creative portfolio, the design of a creative work or program scaled for implementation, and evaluation of initial sketch or intervention, as well as a plan to continue work with the partner. By the end of the program, each student thesis is in the form of a creative work or program situated within a theoretical context and an executable research and evaluation plan. Final theses are in the form of design books to be reviewed by a faculty chair and small review committee, which is intended to be part of the responsibility of the Engagement Lab Fellows. An external reviewer for the final thesis may also be included, which would bring in practitioners or scholars from the Boston community, incentivized by small honoraria.

Previous Media Design alumni thesis projects have ranged from topics and mediums including a creative data literacy curriculum and toolkit that was co-designed with public librarians and youth to an on-demand trash pick-up app aimed at helping neighborhoods in Cairo, Egypt. Some thesis projects have gone on to receive funding for further implementation. Learn more about last year’s thesis projects from Media Design students.