For answers to outstanding questions or to sign up for the Master of Interaction Design (MDes) email list, or both, email us.

When did CCA’s Master of Interaction Design (MDes) program begin?

The program began in fall of 2016 and is fully accredited by NASAD.

What is the application deadline for fall 2018?

Our priority application deadline is January 10, 2018.

We welcome applications after the priority deadline; however, late applications are ineligible for merit or diversity scholarship consideration. Need-based scholarships will remain available after January 10.

For additional information, see Apply.

Is the application procedure the same for international students?

The admissions procedure for international applicants differs slightly from those who have US citizenship or who are permanent US residents. We require an English language exam or a TOEFL score of above 100.

Will I be interviewed?

We interview only a sample of applicants based on the overall applicant pool. We will contact qualified candidates on an individual basis to schedule phone interviews. These are usually done in the last week of February.

When will I learn about my potential acceptance?

Generally, mid-March. See Admissions Timeline for all important admission dates.

What is the duration of the program?

One academic calendar year — September to August — with three semesters: fall, spring, and summer.

What is the official language of instruction?

The official language of the college is English. Students are required to be fluent in English.

What are the curriculum details, including the faculty?

The program is composed of three areas:

  • Seven Interaction Design craft courses (IxD 1-7 that include the topics foundations, visual, systems, experience, story, design research, and prototyping)
  • Leadership courses (Communications by Design and Strategy by Design)
  • Social innovation lab to learn process skills and apply craft skills on real-world projects

We seek faculty members who possess excellent craftsmanship, diverse practice experience (client, founder, corporate), workshop facilitator experience, and a passion for sharing their skills.

Fortunately, many prospective faculty members live here in the Bay Area. Yet we also seek to attract international experts to complement our regional faculty.

How many courses and credits does the program require?

The Master of Interaction Design (MDes) program requires 36 units to graduate. This translates to 12 courses averaging four courses per semester.

How long are the semesters?

Some courses will run a traditional 15-week length, others run as an intensive course (Story course) and summer courses are 8-10 weeks.

Please visit (in late May) for more detailed information regarding class times, durations and dates. Updates for fall courses are usually uploaded by mid-May.

Where does the program take place?

The Master of Interaction Design (MDes) program takes place in a dedicated studio on the San Francisco campus of California College of the Arts.

Take a virtual tour »

Students have access to this space as well as all making spaces at CCA, including shops and the remarkable Hybrid Lab.

What degree does the program offer?

Students earn a NASAD-accredited master of design (MDes) degree.

How does CCA’s Master of Interaction Design (MDes) differ from similar programs?

While a handful of excellent IxD/UX programs exist, we expect to be excellent in training IxD — where graduates have many job opportunities — as well as focus ourselves on helping define this fast-growing discipline.

Doing so ensures we create leaders who will be better equipped to address important issues that are emerging around technology and society.

Increasingly amazing technologies are emerging, and while many seem to be creating business success, we see an opportunity to go beyond that to create true progress, however you measure it.

We see a new way of working emerging in the tech world.

However, it is also emerging in the social-mission for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Our goal is to establish leaders in interaction design who can also humanize and shape where the industry is headed.

You can be a part of the problem, a part of the distraction, or a part of the solution. Join us and help figure out what the solution looks like.

Is your program an IxD, UX, or HCI program?

Our discipline is interaction design (IxD). We believe user experience (UX) design is an inherently multidisciplinary practice — not a discipline — and that interaction designers are one of the main disciplines involved.

In other words, if you study and excel in IxD, you might take a job title with UX in the name. The skills required to perform excellent UX are a core part of learning to become a great interaction designer.

You may notice many jobs in the market are labeled “UX.” most employers at the technology forefront (Google, Apple, Facebook, and design-savvy startups) look for interaction designers to fill those UX jobs.

HCI is a related, but different practice. Most often it is based within a computer science or engineering program that is included with technical course requirements (programming, calculus, physics, etc.) and is not inherently a studio-based practice.

Interaction design at CCA is a studio-, people-, technical-, and visual-based practice. Our courses are conducted in studios and are all project-based where success is measured within a critique-based culture — no tests are issued.

What is the Social Lab?

This is the applied, community-engaged part of the program beyond projects. Real-life launch and development skills are crucial for today’s designers. Over the year, the student cohort works in the field to identify a need, create possibilities, implement solutions, and repeat.

The Social lab was formed because of the inherent limits of project-based solutions. The Social lab is experimental, social, and systemic.

In short, we are about prototyping in the real world, much like a startup, but focus on complex social problems, and realizing the job is never actually done.

Do I need (or does it help) to have a specific project in mind?

Not necessarily. We are going to define the lab this year through conversations with design leaders, community partners, and potential sponsors.

The topic will likely be similar to: “How might we together help strengthen everyday community resilience in San Francisco?”

This topic is increasingly important in San Francisco and globally. Locally, there is a widening divide of resources (information, monetary, and physical) exists encouraged by the current tech boom.

The question of everyday resilience raises topics such as digital divide, distribution of tools, information, equipment, practices, memes, social capital, etc. — all of which feel like a good place for interaction designers to begin to provide solutions

What kind of issues will the Social Lab address?

For the last few years, we have focused on working with our community partner around issues of the African American community in the Western Addition district of San Francisco. We expect that in the coming year we will expand our focus while still serving the main objective of “increasing community resilience.”

Where can I learn more about Social Labs?

Social innovation laboratories are springing up around the world, sometimes called change labs, innovation labs, ilabs, social labs, etc.

They are a new way of taking and experimenting with action on complex social challenges.

We believe interaction design and technologies have a key role to play. We are inspired by program advisor Zaid Hassan’s The Social Lab Revolution and other efforts depicted on this list of other Social Labs.

See also Labcraft to better understand the philosophy. Also, check out the many efforts to work on these challenges like’s new OneCity effort.

What this becomes in the future will depend on us working together learning new skills and applying them to co-create Social Labs that are meaningful and impactful.

What is a typical class size?

CCA class sizes typically reach a maximum of 18 students. On average, class size is 12-16 learners.

Are projects largely individual or group-based?

We certainly have a mix. It is important that craft-skills are taught with small group and individual feedback in a studio setting. Projects are often turned in individually in order to give students a chance to learn and demonstrate their new skills.

However, larger projects, brainstorming, research, conceptualization, and leadership practice will often be collaborative, because that is how great work often happens in the real world.

As a student, will I also have time to freelance or work?

This is a full-time program that is intense and involves late nights and some weekends. Therefore, we strongly recommend you do not undertake outside work during the year. We have found that students who take on more than 6-10 hours of work outside the program suffer and do not reach their academic potential. Therefore it is critical that you find a way to limit your need to work.

How much does the program cost?

For CCA’s cost-of-attendance information, see Tuition & Fees.

Can I participate remotely or on a part-time basis?

Unfortunately, no. The Master of Interaction Design (MDes) program is based on a studio culture, so students must be enrolled full-time for the complete duration of the program.

Is it possible to attend for a single semester?

We have high demand for this program, so we ask all applicants to commit to a complete year.

For whom is the program designed? Who is the target audience?

No one type of person. We expect a few “craft shifters,” designers, or artists with a background in one discipline who wish to switch to interaction design or UX. (UX experience is welcome, but not required.)

Other applicants might include engineers who have discovered design as their true passion as well as a number of interaction designers who feel a skills refresher and leadership course is right for them.

We encourage persons from all walks of life to apply and hope for an intensely engaging year of learning. We will certainly also learn from each other.

Do you seek a specific student profile or background?

In short, no. We look for highly talented individuals to form a multidisciplinary group of students.

Applicants should be prepared to work in a team, to share their knowledge, and to have a positive attitude toward learning in a studio-based environment.

Our diverse students come from all around the world, represent many ages, and are at various stages of their career.

Does the MDes in Interaction Design program qualify for the OPT STEM extension?

Yes. See OPT STEM extension.

Where do alumni work?

CCA’s Master of Interaction Design (MDes) program network is growing fast and consists of faculty, students, and alumni (from the undergraduate Interaction Design Program and other MFA programs).

Some graduates work in agencies such as IDEO, frog design, Method, Fjord, fuseproject, Daylight, and Adaptive Path. Others work in larger companies and organizations like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Jawbone, as well as a host of startups such as Intuitive Surgical, Nio and Carrot Sense.

And others choose to found their own ventures.

Will I have a job after I graduate?

CCA has an incredible network -- academic and professional, local, and international.

The job market for interaction designers is currently booming, and most alumni find a job related to interaction design within a few months of graduation.

Some even secure a job before graduating — but this depends on the individual.

We cannot guarantee you’ll find a job by the end of the program, but the employment record for CCA graduates is high.

What should a non-designer without a portfolio submit?

Ideally, students should have a studio-based undergraduate degree or equivalent professional experience.

If you don’t have a visual portfolio or website, or both, we strongly encourage you to first gain some studio experience to ensure your success in the program, including whether this is the right career path for you.

Do you offer pre-application reviews?

Due to the high volume of applications we receive, we may not have time to give individual feedback on portfolios or other documentation.

We recommend you attend one of the graduate portfolio days where you can receive portfolio feedback.

Do I need my own laptop?

Absolutely. Students need to have their own Apple Laptop. Learn more about the requirements here (same as Grad Design) and learn more about CCA’s negotiated educational laptop plans.

Do I need my own camera?

Yes, ideally. Documentation and video prototyping play a critical role in the program. We recommend you invest in a good digital camera with high-definition (HD) video capability.

Today almost all basic DSLR cameras have video capability, and prices have become more reasonable.

Also, secure a lens with wide aperture (<2.0) to accomplish that shallow depth-of-field/rack-focus look.

Alternatively, students may reserve a professional camera, lenses, tripods, and other accessories from our Media Center to check out for up to two days at a time. This often is less convenient than using your own camera, but for larger projects, like finals, it’s an invaluable resource.

What software is required?

Basically, students need to have access to the Adobe Creative Suite and general presentation tools like Apple Keynote.

Much of the additional software we teach (Arduino, Processing, etc.) is open-source (free).

Sketch and Framer are becoming the main tool for interaction designers, yet tools change as the industry requires. Becoming fluent in how tools work will be one of your most consistently valuable skills.

See Laptops & Software.

What materials are required to purchase?

Projects will often require you to purchase physical materials. Occasionally, some materials will be provided, but most will depend on the projects you undertake.

For some projects, sponsorship will be assigned and student project teams will be given money and a budget for materials.

Are there required books?

Reading lists will be provided. The essential books will be available in a studio library, so you do not need to purchase any specific books.

We may provide recommended reading lists, but it is not compulsory to buy the books. In particular, get a copy of Dan Safer’s Designing for Interaction — it is still one of the better books out there.

Is prior knowledge of specific software/hardware/electronics required?

Some students will already be experts in particular software; others will have no programming experience at all.

We seek to ensure a balanced team of knowledgeable students and expert faculty to support everyone in learning how to make their prototypes work.

Does CCA offer on-campus housing?

CCA offers many options for housing. Our Office of Residential Life is a great resource, including the Off-Campus Housing section.

While most of the college’s on-campus housing options are based on the Oakland campus, we do have existing and upcoming residence halls in San Francisco.

Most of our graduate students choose to live off-campus to provide maximum flexibility.

How can I meet other students?

You can schedule an on-campus visit to meet other students. After deposit, the admissions office creates a social media group for all incoming students to swap information.

The MDes in Interaction Design program will also create a social media group for incoming MDES students.

Is there a minimum or maximum age for applicants?