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MA in Interaction Design

Shape new technologies and design for problems that matter.

Accepting applications for Fall 2018. Apply here by April 1st to be considered for the first class of graduate students in this exciting new program!

Learn More at an Information Session

Join Kevin Patton, Assistant Professor of Interaction Design, on Thursday, February 8 from noon-1pm for an online information session and Q&A about our new Master of Arts in Interaction Design. To register, visit our event page.

The Program

Interaction designers make the products, services, and interfaces that shape our world to be more useful, more delightful, more accessible and more equitable.

Are you a designer who wants to:

  • Build new mobile experiences that reimagine the way people connect with services that they need
  • Make the things we use and the ways we get around more sustainable
  • Creatively rethink technology to better connect people and ideas

Interaction design (IxD) seeks solutions to complex human and environmental challenges—from designing smart devices to reimagining educational environments. A unique and growing field, it explores the ways people engage with technology and their environments in their daily lives.

IxD at the Corcoran educates emerging designers to shape and design new technologies for problems that matter in a public service-oriented framework. Emerging from new design initiatives across the school, the program is for students who are inspired by complexity and interested in exploring new interdisciplinary approaches to design solutions.

The MA in Interaction Design explores the connections between design innovation and community engagement. The program focuses the ways that interaction designers shape digital and physical environments, services, products and systems with a particular focus on the delivery of services and the role of interaction design in public policy, a crucial and under-recognized site of interaction.

Human-Centered Design at Our Core

The Corcoran’s Engagement Lab is an incubator for problem-solving with a focus on design for multi-layered social, cultural and environmental contexts. During each semester in the program, students have the opportunity to collaboratively develop their design practice in a real-world context by working with community-based and nonprofit organizations. Designing with and for people in the Engagement Lab involves rigorous self-evaluation of the ethics and the social and environmental impacts of design processes and solutions. By developing a human-centered collaborative process, graduate students are able to create meaningful design solutions that will impact everything from smart devices to healthcare services.

Why Interaction Design (IxD) at the Corcoran?

Our cutting-edge IxD program is specifically designed and tailored by faculty to educate students in up-to-the-minute industry practices in the expanded field of interaction design. Why does that matter? Interaction designers always have to think about context and impact, so educational context matters.

Interaction Design may have grown up mostly in relation to technology, but social and environmental impact are critical to the future of the field. That’s a shift in practice that we’ve built in at the ground level. In order for students to have the opportunity to develop their design practice in a real-world context, they will work with community organizations through the program's innovative Engagement Lab. This curricular component enables students to embrace a human-centered collaborative approach to design.

At the Corcoran, you’ll find yourself in embedded in a creative community of practice where designers, artists, photojournalists, musicians, and performers connect in the classroom and beyond. You’ll study in newly renovated classrooms and studios. At the George Washington University, you can take advantage of a world-class research university with the opportunity to connect to classes, peers and faculty that can expand your imagination of what design can do and build your capacity to make it happen.


The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design is located in the heart of Washington, D.C., a global hub for policy makers, tech leaders, NGOs and cultural institutions. Demand for skilled interaction designers is strong across a range of industries and fields. Graduates will be well positioned to pursue careers with the many companies looking for artists and designers with Interaction Design backgrounds, including Apple, Google, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, NBC, 3M, Disney and financial institutions. Consultancies and nonprofit organizations also seek designers with Interaction Design experience to innovate around civic and equitable design.

The Degree: MA in Interaction Design (IxD)

Over two years and 42 credits, the curriculum educates emerging designers to research, analyze, prototype and design concepts that influence people’s interactions and behaviors. The degree culminates with a thesis project and research in the second year.

Core Courses
27 Credits of studio and academic coursework

With the rise of the service economy across all sectors, developing successful user experiences requires designers to think comprehensively about the business and organizational models surrounding the products they create. Value propositions for users unfold over time and are situated in experiential contexts. The objective of this class is to develop your understanding of service design by hypothesizing, experimenting, building, and regularly testing your assumptions. The first portion of the class consists of a series of discussions focusing on tools and practices of service design. Then, in the second half of the class, you’ll put them to use in a team-based project, in which you establish a design proposal, then research, design and prototype a service. Services are most effective when they work for everyone involved. The goal of the semester is to help you become effective at undertaking strategic decisions connected to the design of interactive services and to equip you with tools and methods for generating innovative options.

This course explores narrative as a way to conceptualize, communicate and evaluate interactions across design contexts and media. Narrative is a critical tool for conducting and communicating user research, making analytic data accessible, encouraging collaboration, and establishing common goals within design teams. Stories can be persuasive. A well-told story can spread ideas beyond a specific situation and across media. They can bring to life imagined or desired situations that do not yet exist. Stories can ground design ideas in shared experiences as well as help users and designers communicate experiences they do not share. This course explores key aspects of narrative such as point-of-view, scenario, setting, plot, and event structure and looks at their application in framing and analyzing interaction.

Prototyping is one of the best ways to communicate and improve design ideas. Representing complex relationships, new behaviors and attitudes is an integral part of interaction design. Prototyping plays a critical role in moving design ideas from speculative to real. As such, the process of prototyping is as much a methodology as it is a set of fabrication skills. This course will investigate the use of prototyping processes to test initial assumptions, establish feedback processes as ideas and designs develop, create platforms for constructive discussion or participatory response, and for assessing the life-cycle implications of the proposed design solution.  A variety of prototyping tools and strategies will be explored from low fidelity to high, from illustrative to physical and from static to interactive. Additionally, students will develop techniques to evaluate design effectiveness through user response research and to evolve their designs through iteration.

Critical analysis of human-centered design methods in public policy and civic contexts using a case study approach. Topics vary by semester.

Each semester, the core of the IxD MA program takes place in the Engagement Lab.  Over four semesters, students have opportunities to take their design skills into the world to practice design with a focus on social, environmental, and community impact. Project teams collaborate with a community organization or local partner to identify and respond to local challenges that might be addressed through interaction design processes and skills. Students and faculty work to gain a systemic understanding of those challenges and investigate the histories that have led to the current moment. The teams then engage community members as partners in the process of designing tools and systems that can address those challenges. Students will focus on prototyping responses while evaluating from an at-scale perspective (keeping in mind goals and metrics identified in conversation with the community partners).

A practice‐based investigation of leadership skills that promote innovative, equitable, and sustainable design solutions. Development of organizational understanding, strategies of leading others through complex challenges, and the capacity to communicate the strategic potential of design processes within organizations. Topics vary by semester.

This course focuses on connecting two important parts of leading by design – developing personal leadership skills that foster the successful work of other people and building the capacity to communicate the strategic potential of design processes within organizations. Working with others is best accomplished through clarity of communication, articulation of shared vision and goals, a capacity to navigate conflict, and the ability to help others constructively address disagreements. We will practice developing the skills to refine your own style of leadership – whether in the context of a small collaborative design team or in a formal leadership or managerial role. We will particularly focus on idea-­‐ and mission-­‐driven contexts where assumptions of shared values and goals sometimes obscure the necessary work of building trust and connection to an overarching purpose.

Design Thesis I and II support the development of a thesis project and accompanying research. Student work evolves in a studio and seminar atmosphere that stresses user-oriented research, analysis, and prototyping of digital and physical interactive experiences, services, products and other tools that people use with a focus on their social and environmental impacts.

Design problems grow out of real needs – the needs of individuals, the needs of an organization, or the needs of a community. Thesis consultation focuses on advising and shaping the thesis project with critiques from the student peers, advisors, and members of communities outside of the academic context. Students will work directly with faculty and mentors to develop their project into one that is equally rigorous in concept and execution. Interaction Design Thesis I and II emphasize the development of a thesis project and accompanying research. Student work evolves in a studio and seminar atmosphere that stresses user-oriented research, analysis, and prototyping of digital and physical interactive experiences, services, products and other tools that people use with a focus on their social and environmental impacts. With the support and guidance of a faculty advisor, and evaluations from a community or industry experts, students will come away with a launch-ready product or service.

Elective Studies

Three courses (12 credit hours) in supportive academic or studio coursework in any academic or studio program at a level appropriate to graduate study.

Program Learning Outcomes

  • Design Process: Students will be able to independently and collaboratively brainstorm and design interactive systems, objects, interfaces, services, user flows and multi-modal experiences. They will be able to develop their work through iterative prototyping.
  • Innovation: Students will be able to synthesize skills in research, process, user responsiveness, systems analysis, and entrepreneurial energy to create innovative and effective user experiences when working alone, with collaborators, or contributing to the larger group effort.
  • Design Research: Students will be able to independently and collaboratively undertake quantitative and qualitative user research as well as research into historical, theoretical, and policy-based questions as a basis for design work. Additionally, they will be able to analyze designed systems and user flows in a variety of contexts.
  • Designing for complex systemic challenges: Students will develop process techniques and skills to responsibly and respectfully engage communities and their histories in the process of developing design-based responses.
  • Address the needs of client, audience, and users: Students will understand and practice design as an active process of problem finding and problem-solving that relies upon generating, developing, and communicating ideas informed by and responsive to their context. Students will demonstrate an understanding of their responsibility to their clients, audiences, and users — be able to articulate and clarify needs, structure design challenges, solve problems creatively, and address conflict through the design process.
  • Evaluate the impact of design solutions: Students will be able to approach design solutions with a focus on potential environmental and social impacts over their lifecycle as well as their capacity to contribute to equitable outcomes.
  • Professionalism: Students will create persuasive presentation of their work. They will be able to evaluate and defend design decisions and support their arguments with research and case studies.
  • Leadership: Students will practice leadership for complex design challenges and times of change through effective communication, organizational understanding, design strategy, and self-reflective approaches to working with and guiding the work others.

Design Projects

photo from walking wounded

Walking Wounded, 2017

This movement project is a collaboration between assistant professor Kevin Patton and artists Heidi Boisvert and Pauline Jennings. This piece derives its choreography from a series of workshops with survivors of trauma. Walking Wounded asks the question: how is trauma hidden in the body and how do our movement reflect that?

Using a custom body sensor that generates position and motion data in three dimensions, the sensor also reads muscle tension. Patton worked to sonify this data in real-time to reflect the traces that trauma has left. 

photo from i sky you

I Sky You, 2010

This recipient of a prestigious Rhizome Commission is an installation that sonifies the radiance of chemically synthesized light, completed by assistant professor Kevin Patton in collaboration with fellow assistant professor Maria del Carmen Montoya.

Clear glass forms containing a solution of luminol & a chemical reagent hang overhead. Drop by drop, the luminol is released into the reagent chamber creating bursts of brilliant blue light that fill the otherwise dark room. Small video cameras detect the light and activate a computer program that in turn produces unique resonant tones based on each flare of light and tuned to the acoustic character of each vessel. Visitors experience an imaginary sky blooming with color.

Main Faculty

Kevin Patton

Kevin Patton

Assistant Professor of Interaction Design
Undergraduate & Graduate Advisor, Interaction Design

View All Corcoran Faculty 


Admissions Requirements

Admissions deadlines: April 1.

In addition to the standard application for graduate programs at GW, applicants to the MA in Interaction Design program must submit the following:

  • GRE is not required.
  • The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the academic International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the PTE Academic is required of all applicants except those who hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a college or university in the United States or from an institution located in a country in which English is the official language, provided English was the language of instruction. 

Standardized Test Scores: 

Minimum scores for the M.A. program in IxD are:

  • Academic IELTS: an overall band score of 6.0 with no individual score below 5.0; or
  • TOEFL: 550 on paper-based or 80 on Internet-based;  or
  • PTE Academic: 53

Please note that students admitted to this program who are required to take an English for Academic Purposes course (EAP) must be available to complete the course in the summer prior to enrollment. 

Recommendations Required:  

  • Two (2) letters of recommendation

Prerequisites Required:

Applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution prior to matriculation.  

Prior Academic Records:

Transcripts are required from all colleges and universities attended, whether or not credit was earned, the program was completed, or the credit appears as transfer credit on another transcript. Unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities attended must be uploaded to your online application. Official transcripts are required only of applicants who are offered admission. If transcripts are in a language other than English, English language translations must be provided. The English translation alone should be uploaded into your application.

Statement of Purpose: 

In an essay of no more than 750 words, state your purpose in undertaking graduate study in your chosen field at GW Corcoran in particular, including your academic objectives and career plans.

Additional Requirements:

  • A portfolio of design work, consisting of a maximum of 20 images or 10 minutes of time-based work.
  • A 2-3 page writing sample.
  • Interview with program faculty

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