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.

Apply for the Program 


The MA in Media Design requires 32 credit hours. Students can complete the program in one year with full-time study, or 1.5 to 2 years with part-time study. The course requirements are as follows (sample curriculum for full-time study):

Fall Semester (12 Credits)

Number Course Credits
MD 600 Foundations in Civic Media Seminar 4
MD 620 Media Design Studio I
MD 622 Participatory Design Methods 4

Spring Semester (12 Credits)

Number Course Credits
MD 610 Media Design Colloquium 4
MD 621 Media Design Studio II 4
  One elective available in the Spring 4

Summer Semester (8 Credits)

Number Course Credits
MD 699 Master's Thesis 4

MD 640 
MD 625 

Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change 

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:

  • MD 640: Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change

  • MD 625: 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.

Sample Course Descriptions

MD 600: Foundations in Civic Media Seminar 

The core seminar course is required in the fall semester and introduces students to such core theoretical principles of civic media as critical media studies, public and political art, theories of democracy, social movements, and governance. In addition to understanding the primary theoretical debates, students learn methodological approaches such as participatory action research, grounded theory, design research, ethnography, content analysis, and social network analysis. 

MD 620 and MD 621: Media Design Studios I & II

This two-class sequence introduces concepts, methods, and practices of media design. The studio provides opportunity for students to make media in expressive or design modalities and to develop skills in working with partners. The studio provides a guided space in which to critically evaluate case studies in media design and develop production, project management, and evaluation skills. Students hone collaborative development and production skills that correspond with their project.

MD 622: Participatory Design Methods

This core course is required in the fall semester and explores the methods that inform media design and participatory research and practice. The course uses action research as our frame of inquiry and specifically looks at participatory research methodologies and qualitative methods, including focus groups, ethnography, observation, narrative inquiry, systems analysis, cultural artifacts, in-depth interviews, and more. Students learn how to design a qualitative research study (including process and outcomes evaluations), how to write funding proposals, and how to build participatory research processes into an intervention. Students investigate participatory media research case studies and examine how to best understand their value and impact. Students complete a series of assignments and write a final paper on qualitative research, including understanding how to pick the appropriate methods for the thesis evaluation. 

MD 610: Media Design Colloquium 

This class is based on the premise that Media Design students are designers and artists, and working to develop portfolios to position their work as such. This colloquium facilitates individual Media Design projects, offering a means for students to present and receive feedback on their work and critique the work of their peers. Work may be related or unrelated to thesis work. The course requires a project to be developed with tangible outcomes. Students develop work plans with research/production goals for their projects and detailed reading lists to support their work. At three points during the semester, students present work in various formats and engage in critique with peers. Students focus on critique as an emphasis for the workshop. To complement the presentations and student projects, the course invites guest speakers engaged in this work and covers seminars on topics related to media design and student projects (i.e., critique, funding, project development and management, business creation). Students keep directed study journal entries to document their inquiries and research/production processes.