Media Design Practices

Media Design Practices (MDP) is an interdisciplinary design MFA grounded in media and technology. MDP graduates are poised to lead design in new directions in a world of cultural and technological change. 

Graduates receive a MFA in Media Design and engage an award-winning curriculum that features two distinct curricular tracks: Lab and Field. 

Each track prepares students to work in emerging roles and contexts for design:

Lab track students use design to impact new ideas from science, technology, and culture.

Field track students use design and technology to tackle social issues in a global context.

The MDP program offers 2- and 3-year options for incoming students based on review of design experience and portfolio. We welcome applicants from a variety of backgrounds.

Students in the Lab track use critical making in a studio context to explore the impact of new ideas from science, technology, and culture. By transforming their interests and skills into a unique design practice, they graduate ready to define their own role in the world to come.

(Follow the Lab Blog to get the latest.)  

Through intensive studio investigations balanced with interdisciplinary conversations and site visits, students engage with issues at the cusp of cultural, technological, and environmental change. They experiment with materials and processes. They code and sketch and conjure and build. They design experiential prototypes, speculative provocations, future fictions, and interactions of all kinds and at all scales.

In a typical week, a Lab student may go on a road trip, meet a team of research scientists, hang out with DIY makers, visit a tech industry R&D lab, or engage in a discussion with a philosopher or futurist. Coursework is designed to expose students to a wide range of creative and technological practices and might include collaborative and day-long studio charrettes, experimental writing assignments, guest lectures, and critiques.

Out of this rich and varied mix, each student discovers not only who they want to be as a designer but how they want to work, what they want to make, and with whom. Slowly a new path emerges and upon graduation, each new alum joins an extended network of industry contacts, potential collaborators, and fellow travellers.

Led by core faculty Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, and Phil van Allen, the Lab Track faculty are shared across the MDP. They harken from the fields of media design, art, film, architecture, cultural theory, computer science, interaction design, product design, anthropology, robotics, experimental music, and more. Students also benefit from research-based industry partnerships and relationships with scientific and cultural institutions.

Field track students tackle social issues in a networked global context. Students learn firsthand through fieldwork at local and international sites how to put people at the center of technological change.

By the time they graduate, each student will have channeled their conviction, energy, and skills into a design practice uniquely suited to the challenges that lie ahead.

(Visit the Field Blog to get the latest.)

The curricular experience combines the intimate, textured engagement of anthropology with the speculative provocations of design. Students learn to work within a complex web of relationships and cultural factors—political, economic, social, and technological.

Using one of UNICEF’s Innovation Labs as a home base, students learn firsthand how to design with technology in a way that is responsive to the specifics of a moment, situation, people, or culture. (Since 2012 we have been working in Kampala, Uganda.) The track collaborates with Designmatters, ArtCenter’s social innovation initiative, which links students to Designmatters resources and community around the world and across the College.

Whether at home or abroad, a typical week finds students shifting modes quickly: from prototyping in the studio — to meeting with a government official — to testing in a participant's home — to leading a community workshop — to salvaging electronics — to editing a short video.

Through this fast-paced active engagement, each student develops their own approach to social innovation that challenges assumptions, orthodoxies, and generalities. By the time they graduate, they will have formed partnerships and contacts in local communities and international organizations. The MDP, ArtCenter, and Designmatters networks add to those connections.

Led by core faculty Sean Donahue and Dr. Elizabeth Chin, the Field track faculty bring a diversity of perspectives that guide student work in this new terrain. Adjunct faculty are shared across the MDP and come from: design research, international development, social innovation, open source hacktivism, tech industry R&D, interaction design, urban planning, information architecture, activist art, data analytics, spatial analytics, architecture, media design, film, and more.

The MDP is home to an interdisciplinary community of faculty dedicated to redefining design practice for a world in flux.

Our core faculty are accomplished practitioners and innovative educators. With their depth of experience, they know how to concoct the perfect mix of structure and open-endedness that challenges students to push themselves in new directions.

Drawn from Southern California’s exciting cultural and scientific communities, our adjunct faculty bring a range of perspectives to classroom critiques. Increasingly, we are bringing in faculty from around the world who teach remotely or during intensive visits. We are always on the lookout for the most interesting voices to bring into our Wind Tunnel studio mix, from corporate trendsetters to art world outliers.

– Anne Burdick, Chair

Anne Burdick is a regular participant in the international dialogue regarding the future of graduate education and research in design. She designs experimental text projects in diverse media and participates in the nascent field of the Digital Humanities. BFA, MFA, graphic design, California Institute of the Arts.


Core Faculty

Dr. Elizabeth Chin is an anthropologist whose research interests include children and childhood; consumption; dance; race; urban geography; Haiti. She approaches these from an ecumenical theoretical perspective, grounded in political economy, critical theory and a good dose of literary, artistic and post modern influences. PhD, Anthropology, City University of New York; BFA, Drama and Anthropology, NYU.

Sean Donahue is principal of Research-Centered Design, a Los Angeles-based design practice that explores how design can be utilized to make significant contributions to society. MFA, Media Design, Art Center College of Design; BA, Graphic Design, Indiana University of

Tim Durfee's interdisciplinary architecture studio is based in Los Angeles. He has won awards for architecture, exhibitions, media design, installation, furniture, and poetry. Current projects include a large suspended artwork for the Los Angeles Police Department, the forthcoming book Made Up: Design's Fictions, and a computer game / urban simulation with Ben Hooker examining a world with drones, self-driving cars, and moving houses. MArch, Yale University; BA, Literature, History, University of Rochester

Ben Hooker collaborates with architects, industrial designers and computer scientists working in the field of human-computer interaction and has a background in screen-based multimedia design. Hooker was formerly visiting faculty at Intel Research in Berkeley and taught at Central Saint Martins College and the Royal College of Art, London. MA, computer-related design, Royal College of Art; BS, electronic imaging and media communications, University of Bradford.

Phil van Allen is an interaction designer whose work ranges from the practical to the speculative. In his research, he is exploring animistic design as a new approach for interaction in the ecosystems created by the Internet of Things. He also is the creator of NTK (, an open source toolkit that makes designing and building working IoT projects simpler and faster. In addition to teaching, van Allen writes about interaction design and is a consultant for industry. In the past, he's been a recording engineer, software developer, entrepreneur, and researcher. BA, Experimental Psychology/Cognitive Science, University of California, Santa Cruz,


Advisors and Adjuncts

Elise Co is a media artist and founding partner of Aeolab, a design and technology consulting firm in Los Angeles. Co holds an M.S. in media arts and sciences and a B.S. in architecture from MIT. Previously, she taught courses in interaction design and physical computing at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel, Switzerland. Her work has been shown internationally, including at MoMA, SIGGRAPH and IMRF Tokyo.

Norman Klein is a cultural critic, media historian and novelist. He is the author of The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects; The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory; and The Imaginary Twentieth Century, a science-fiction database novel and exhibition which ran at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. Klein is a professor at CalArts, has taught as adjunct faculty at Art Center since 1982 and is now also a thesis advisor for the Media Design

Alan Koch

Mike Milley is remorseless in his affinity for high-profile corporate design groups, having worked on advanced design teams at Nike and Philips. He's currently Global Lead of Socio-Cultural Research at Samsung Design, where he manages the Design Research and Strategy team. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Parsons School of

Tim Schwartz grew up in St. Louis, MO. He received a BA in Physics from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego. In January 2010, he developed technology to help reunited missing people affected by the earthquake in Haiti and now organizes a group dealing with family reunification. In 2010, Schwartz spent four months traveling the country in a mobile research laboratory investigating what is lost as archives become digital.

Mimi Zeiger is editor and publisher of loud paper, a zine and blog dedicated to increasing the volume of architectural discourse. She is a founding member of #lgnlgn, a think tank on architecture and publishing. The group's work has been shown at Urban Design Week, the New Museum, Storefront for Art and Architecture, pinkcomma gallery, and the AA School. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from SCI-Arc and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University.

Rosten Woo is a designer, writer, and educator living in Los Angeles. He is co-founder and former executive director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), a New York Based non-profit organization dedicated to using art and design to foster civic participation. His work has been exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, the Venice Architecture Biennale, Netherlands Architectural Institute, Storefront for Art and Architecture, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and various piers, public housing developments, tugboats, shopping malls, and parks in New York  City. He has written on design, politics, and music for such publications as the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, City Limits, and Metropolis Magazine. His first book, "Street Value," was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2010. He has served on the boards of NYC non-profits Place in History and the Groundswell Community Mural Project. He received his BA in Government from Cornell University.

Shannon Herbert recently completed her Ph.D. in English Literature at The University of Chicago. Her dissertation describes a new genre of contemporary fiction, which she calls curatorial novels, which resemble detective fiction but abandon the detective, staging a drama where information never attains the status of knowledge. The genre thus registers the tensions of a broader epistemological landscape: an excess of data but no stable ground of objectivity, a longing for certainty without the means of attaining it. She also teaches literature and writing courses at Santa Monica College.

Sarah Rich

Benjamin Bratton

David Leonard is a media artist who shares a love of technology, science, cinema and journalism through an artistic lens. Leonard combines all aspects of media to present content that challenges audiences to engage in participatory relationships to social issues. Leonard began his career following his father’s, Gary Leonard, footsteps into photojournalism. Throughout his youth in Los Angeles he documented and wrote about the Los Angeles Riots, OJ Simpson trial and other stories for local papers. Eventually Leonard would find himself on the other side of the camera as a local television reporter. His stories have appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN and the Colbert Report.


Jennifer Rider focuses on the design of print and screen-based media for the arts and cultural sector. Her recent collaborations include exhibition catalogues and web sites for several Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, The Edible Schoolyard Project, LACMA and MoCA. Jennifer holds an MFA in Graphic Design from California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor’s in Art from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her work has received multiple awards and has been recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).

Richard Wheeler is an artist, designer, and technologist. He has written on technology, security, and privacy for "The Daily Beast" and "Wired." And as a consultant he is a product adviser for early-stage investment technology companies, work ranges in scope from strategic guidance to founders and C-level management, to operational guidance on specific product development efforts, to hands-on development. He previously worked as a consultant to the Department of Defense and as an analyst with the United States Army. Prior to his work in defense Wheeler worked for over a decade in design, working in museums, publishing, and finally as a fashion designer for companies such as Ann Taylor and Calvin Klein. Wheeler holds an M.F.A. in Design Media Arts from UCLA, an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and a B.A. in Fine Art and History from Hunter College, CUNY. Surprisingly, he is not 80 years

Our graduates have the agility and skills to bring design to diverse situations, from scientific research labs to futurist think tanks, from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits to leading corporations and design studios. Here are a few of the titles that our alumni currently hold:

  • Associate Professor, Interaction Design
  • Blogger and Author
  • Community Design Liaison
  • Creative Director
  • Creative Technologist
  • Design Analyst
  • Design Director
  • Digital Creative Director
  • Entrepreneur and Inventor
  • Founder and Creative Director
  • Human-centered Design Researcher
  • Interaction and Visual Designer
  • Interaction Designer/Magician
  • Interactive Environments Lead
  • Media Artist
  • Non-traditional Creative
  • PhD Candidate
  • Professor, Multimedia Design
  • Senior Manager Brand Identity Strategy
  • Senior Researcher, User Experience
  • Senior UX Designer
  • UX Designer

Placement trends we have seen in recent years:

Communication technology research or innovation units: Samsung Research, Microsoft Research, HTC Magic Lab, Google Creative Lab, T-Mobile Innovation Lab, Yahoo! Research, Intel Research, IBM

Non-conventional contexts: Jet Propulsion Lab/NASA, United Nations, UNICEF's Tech4Dev, Inkling, Synn Labs, Kaiser Innovation Center, Bloomberg, Dahlberg, City of Los Angeles, ESRI

Independent practices and start-ups: design studios, entrepreneurial ventures, app development, residencies, film festivals, conferences, media art exhibitions, galleries and performances

Academia: full-time and part-time teaching, second masters or PhDs.

Innovation groups within advertising and media companies: Chiat/Day, Wieden+Kennedy, Crispin Porter Bogusky, Yu+Co, Artefact, Troika Design Group, McCann

Design research, interaction, and UX design in major design firms: IDEO, Frog Design, Smart Design, Continuum, 8 Inc., 5D Worldbuilding

Are you ready to ask “What if?”

If so, here's how to apply:

  1. Choose either the Lab track or the Field track.
  2. Choose a duration—2- or 3-year—based on your background. (more info below)
  3. Visit Art Center's website for complete application instructions, forms and tools, including the Media Design Practices Supplemental Application Form.

2 Years or 3 Years?

We seek students from diverse backgrounds and training. Therefore we offer a 2-year or 3-year course of study. 

The 2-year option is for experienced designers who enroll directly into their chosen track. We look for applicants with exceptional training and experience in the visual, spatial, interaction and graphic design fields who can skillfully realize high-level concepts.

The 3-year option is for burgeoning designers who have limited experience working with diverse communication media. 3-year students complete a "Development Year" prior to beginning in either track. We look for applicants from all domains and from a broad range of backgrounds, including fields such as philosophy, computer science, or biology.

Apply Now.

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