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 


Students interested in pursuing Emerson’s MA in Media Design can choose from two program paths; A One Year Immersive Program or a Two Year Program Sequence.

32 Credits Required for Graduation

  • 24 Credits of Core Requirements
  • 8 Credits Credit Electives
  • (Non-credit) Civic Design Colloquium offered each semester

Core Requirements (24 Credits)

Number Course Course Modality Credits
CM 600 Foundations in Civic Media* Online 4
CM 610 Participatory Design Methods Hybrid 4
CM 620 Design Studio 1 In-person 4
CM 631 Mapping Community Engagement Online 4
CM 621 Design Studio 2 In-person 4
MD 690 Master’s Thesis In-person 4

Sample Elective Course Offerings (*Choose 8 Credits)

Electives can be 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:

Number Course Course Modality Credits
CM 630 Experience Design Hybrid 4
MK 664 Design in Communication In-Person 4
CC 640 UX Design  Online 4
CM 640 Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change (global opportunity) In-Person 4

One Year Immersive Program - Sample Curriculum Map

The One Year Immersive Program is a three-semester program, running from Fall-Summer. The program offers students a hybrid class schedule with online and in-person options available, and with most classes taking place in the evening. Elective schedules are flexible and are offered during the summer semester.

Program Start - September

Fall Semester 1  (12 credits)

  • 1 in-person course
  • 1 online course
  • 1 hybrid course
  • Civic Design Colloquium (no credit) hybrid course

Spring Semester 2  (12 credits)

  • 1 in-person course
  • 1 online course
  • 1 hybrid course
  • Civic Design Colloquium (no credit) hybrid course

Summer/May Semester (8 credits)

  • Thesis in-person
  • Elective online or in-person

Program Completion - August

Two Year Program Sequence - Sample Curriculum Map

The Two Year Program Sequence is a four-semester program with an optional summer semester available. The program offers students a hybrid class schedule with online and in-person options available, with most classes taking place in the evening. Elective schedules are flexible and are offered during the summer semester.

Fall Semester 1 (8 credits)

  • 1 online
  • 1 in-person
  • Civic Design Colloquium (no credit) hybrid course

Spring Semester 2 (8 credits)

  • 1 online
  • 1 in-person
  • Civic Design Colloquium (no credit) hybrid course

Summer (optional) (4 Credits)

  • 1 class online or in-person

Fall Semester 3 (8 credits)

  • 1 online
  • 1 in-person
  • Civic Design Colloquium (no credit) hybrid course

Spring Semester 4 (4 to 8 Credits)

  • Thesis 
  • 1 class online or in-person


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.


  • Paul Mihailidis
    Pronouns: (He/Him/His)
    Professor, Assistant Dean and Graduate 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 Ph.D. from the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

  • Eric Gordon
    Professor, Assistant Dean and Director of the Engagement Lab
  • Lina Giraldo
    Pronouns: (She/Her/Hers)
    Assistant Professor