Graduate Programs

Media Design (MA)

We are driven to make an impact.

Emerson’s Media Design (MA) program prepares you for a life and career of improving the world through media, technology, and civic engagement.

Are you driven to make an impact on the world around you? Interested in designing media to support positive change and tackle real-world problems? Do you want to learn the process of designing media prototypes and technologies? If so, Emerson’s Media Design MA program prepares you for a life and career of improving the world through media, technology, and civic engagement.

Housed in Emerson’s renowned Engagement Lab, Emerson’s Media Design MA is available as a One Year Immersive Program Sequence and a Two Year Program Sequence. Each track offers a hybrid learning experience, with classes available at night, online, and in-person.

Program highlights:

  • Employment opportunities in varying industries such as nonprofit, corporate, government, news & media organizations, and more
  • 1 or 2-year program options available  
  • Hybrid learning with classes offered online and in-person
  • Night and evening classes available to fit your schedule
  • No GRE requirements

No matter where you want to be, your degree will position you as an innovative leader in the emerging field of media design.

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Program Summary

Program Details

The Media Design program responds to the burgeoning landscape of media and technology with a program that is applied, embedded in communities, and represents a deviation from the traditional way a graduate higher education program works. The program is design-oriented and requires the building of processes, prototypes, and platforms.

Learning Outcomes

Students will articulate a sophisticated understanding of contemporary issues in media, communication and technology that impact civic life.

  • Students will use a variety of participatory design and research approaches and methodologies, including human-centered design and participatory action research.
  • Students will employ the appropriate strategies to effectively communicate and work with communities.
  • Students address, in classes and projects, the major scholarly debates regarding the interplay of new technologies, art and civic and political life.
  • Students will discuss, write about, and design projects around the global scope of civic media and be able to situate local problems within a global context.

The Engagement Lab

The Engagement Lab at Emerson College is an applied research and design lab that investigates and creates media and technology to reduce disparities in civic participation. We work with partners to co-design solutions to the most pressing problems in democracy and governance, including participation gaps, gender or racial discrimination, lack of basic media literacies, youth exclusion and gaps in public health practices. From playing games, to making media, to running campaigns, we create opportunities for people to creatively participate in civic life. Whether they are used in classrooms or town squares, the tools and processes we develop make civic engagement meaningful for citizens and communities.

Learn more about the Engagement Lab

Thesis Project

The Media Design thesis is a design-research project completed in small groups, wherein students are asked to address a real-world problem with design-oriented solutions.  Students will work collaboratively to provide innovative responses to the problem, that includes in-depth research on the problem, participatory design with defined communities, prototyping, implementation, and planning for scale. Projects will include a literature review and theoretical justification, creative portfolio, the design of an actual project scaled for implementation, and a proposed evaluation of initial sketch or intervention, as well as a sustainability plan for the work moving forward.

The thesis will be in the form of a prototype (and its documentation), and all the written components described below. All thesis projects will be supervised by a committee of two Emerson faculty (a chair and a reader). Thesis chair responsibilities will be divided among the Media Design faculty.

Careers & Connections

There is an increasing number of jobs in media design within the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Students in the program gain experience working with a variety of community-based organizations and will be prepared for jobs such as:

  • Digital Strategist
  • Innovation Director
  • User Experience Designer
  • Civic Designer
  • New Media Catalyst
  • Applied Research
  • Communications Director
  • Community Relations Specialist
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Manager
  • Community Manager
  • Director of Civic Engagement
  • Civic Technologist
  • Civic Artist

Past graduates of the Media Design currently work in various industries and organizations where they apply the skills and knowledge gained from the program, including the Obama Foundation, Global Family Research Project, Harvard Kennedy School, National Organization on Disability, city governments, universities, local media outlets and more.


Meet Your Program Director

Paul Mihailidis is an associate professor of civic media and journalism in the school of communication at Emerson College in Boston, MA, where he teaches media literacy, civic media, and community activism. He is founding program director of the MA in Media Design program, Principle Investigator of the Emerson Engagement Lab, and faculty chair and director of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. His research focuses on the nexus of media, education, and civic voices. His newest books, Civic Media Literacies (Routledge 2018), Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice (2016, MIT Press, with Eric Gordon), outline effective practices for engagement and action taking in daily civic life. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate Magazine, the Nieman Foundation, USA Today, CNN, and others. Mihailidis holds a visiting professorship at Bournemouth University in England. He co-edits the Journal of Media Literacy Education, and sits on the advisory board for iCivics. He earned his PhD from the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Global Opportunities

Media Design offers spaces for students to participate in a signature global civic media program called the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change.

The Salzburg Media Academy annually gathers over 75 students, 15 faculty, and 15 visiting scholars and practitioners from over 30 countries around the world for one month in Salzburg, Austria, to explore how media can respond to the most pressing problems of our time, and to rapidly prototype and create civic media responses to such problems.

For 11 years, the Salzburg Academy has been working with organizations and communities around the world. It has launched successful interventions on five continents with an active alumni base of over 700 media makers around the world.

Media Design students interested in gaining teaching experience, and interested in global experiences are strongly encouraged to apply to the Salzburg Academy. Media Design students work as teachers and graduate assistants in Salzburg, an intense and experimental setting for pedagogy practice.