MFA in Design for Responsible Innovation

MFA in Design for Responsible Innovation

If you are ready to take your design experience and training to the next level, or if you are interested in bringing skills from other disciplines into conversation with design research, then the MFA program in Design for Responsible Innovation (DRI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the place for you.

The University of Illinois offers an MFA in Design for Responsible Innovation that focuses on interdisciplinary making for research and practice. This program prepares students to contribute to the field of design by entering into practice, academia, or both. Students can explore responsible futures through research in traditional print media and emergent technologies including, but not limited to, data visualization, digital interaction, information design, systems thinking, and visual narrative.

The degree offers these specialized tracks of study:

  • Sustainable and regenerative design
  • Urban sociology and critical race design
  • Visual and cultural studies
  • Student-proposed applied research in responsible innovation, social impact, and engagement

We Are Interdisciplinary

We provide unique opportunities to work with University of Illinois's world-class researchers in multiple areas including Afro-futurism, equity-centered design, sustainability, and the fight against human trafficking. Students in the program participate in ongoing projects in Urbana-Champaign and around the world. Current faculty projects include the design of virtual reality narratives, multimodal interfaces for social computing, sustainable materials, and social innovation.

In addition, MFA students in Design for Responsible Innovation can:

  • Take courses at the new Siebel Center for Design, a multidisciplinary institute that harnesses the power of design thinking and design learning in teaching, research, and engagement across the university
  • Collaborate with PhD students in Informatics who specialize in design
  • Make connections with world-class programs throughout campus
  • Develop partnerships at the Research Park, a nationally recognized technology hub that cultivates start-ups and accelerates corporate innovation at companies such as Abbott Laboratories, ADM, Ameren, Capital One, and State Farm

The program consists of three years of coursework totaling 64 credit hours, culminating in a written thesis and a museum exhibition. Because the MFA is currently recognized as the terminal degree in design throughout much of the United States, our expectations for quality of research are generally higher than for other master's degree programs, where a PhD might be expected to follow. We prepare our graduates to make significant contributions and a real-world impact through design research.

Recommended Courses

  • The MFA Graphic Design Studio provides students with tools to further define and develop a body of work within the DRI program's mission through an individual or collaborative path. The course will enhance students' ability to situate their research within a rigorous theoretical framework that informs both viable research and pedagogical methods and processes.
  • The Design Research Methodology Seminar coordinates readings in design theory and the processes and principles of human-centered design with graduate students' emerging thesis research interests. Students will address the role of design research methodology in establishing design practice and design pedagogy.
  • The Ethics of a Designer in a Global Economy (EDGE) Studio presents complex problems of ethics within design practice. Individual sections address social and environmental issues.
  • The Design Research Impact Seminar helps MFA students connect their research with pedagogy and professional development strategies to disseminate their research through publishing, conferences, communities, and other relevant venues.

Explore Possible Responsible Innovation Research Paths

The conceptual model of responsible innovation below is organized around clusters of issues, stakes, research methodologies, and design modes and methods. The model offers designers a systemic perspective on the often-overlooked implications of innovative offerings.

It acts as a scaffold for students to construct research paths across topics and methods, thereby empowering them to outline their learning experiences and develop sustainable solutions. Our holistic model also serves as a pedagogical tool to help faculty engage the opportunities and challenges of responsible innovation.

Read more about the development and research behind these paths.

(This model is based on research conducted by DRI faculty members Juan Salamanca, Molly Briggs, and Lisa Mercer.)

Advice for Applicants

The application process includes a request for a personal statement. We suggest but do not require that you write instead a research proposal of preferably 3-5 pages that addresses the following criteria:

  • Propose a research topic that connects with our faculty's research interests
  • Refer to specific theorists and comment on how the proposed project might build on their work
  • Demonstrate some familiarity with relevant research literature
  • Describe 2 or 3 research goals
  • Propose 3 or 4 research questions related to those goals
  • Mention 2 or 3 possible use cases and/or data-collection methods that could be used to provide evidence related to those questions
  • Comment on how the University of Illinois in particular might be a good location for this work

Not every statement can be this complete, but this is the general direction. It is normal for plans to change as the student goes through the program. The purpose of the research statement is to demonstrate your capacity for pursuing design research, not to declare a final plan.


About Us

Eric Benson | Biological Systems Thinking, Sustainable Materials, Dystopian and Utopian Futures
Molly Catherine Briggs | The Built Environment, Immersive Media, Visual Culture, Design History and Theory
Deana McDonagh | Empathic Design Research, Disability, Aging, User-Centered Design, Invention to Innovation, Gender
Lisa E. Mercer | Social Innovation, Social Impact, Responsible Design, Interaction Design
Stacey Robinson | Afro-Futurism, Black and Brown Utopias, Race, Graphic Novels, African Diasporas and Wakanda
Stan Ruecker | Academic Prototyping, Digital Humanities, Design Theory, Experience Design
Juan Salamanca | Social Computing, Interaction Design, Mediating Artifacts, Visual Analytics
Angelica Sibrian | People and Community-Centered Design, Social Impact
Nekita Thomas | Co-Design, Race, Urban, Social Justice

Current Project Highlights

Recent Books by Faculty

Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice
Eric Benson and Yvette Perullo, 2017

I Am Alfonso Jones
Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings, 2017

Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage: A Guide to Rich-Prospect Browsing
Stan Ruecker, Milena Radzikowska, and Stéfan Sinclair (eds.), 2011

Current MFA Students

  • Keenan Dailey | Simulation Design, Afro-Futurism, Lore-Based Design, Tonal Exploration, Sensorial Design
  • Rachael Dietkus | Social Work, Design Thinking, Human-Centered Design
  • Carolina Gonzalez | Digital Storytelling, Brand Development, Start-up Brands
  • Rachel Melton | Rural Communities, Creative Economies, Asset-Based Development, Public Murals, Public Space
  • Faithful Oladeji | The Built Environment, User-Experience Design
  • Ana Rodas | Design Activism, Empathy, Faith-Based Activism, Ethics, Design Practices
  • Miriam Salah | Design Research, Food Development, Food Experiences, Creative Processes
  • Natalie Smith | Pedagogy, Invisible Structures, Typographic Systems, Book Design

Meet Current Design for Responsible Innovation Students

Meet Current Informatics Students

Past Visiting Design Researchers

  • Andrew Shea (2019-20)
  • Ricardo Triska (2018-19)
  • Jiameng Wang (2018-19)
  • Gerry Derksen (2017-18)
  • Zhabiz Shafeiyoun (2017-18)
  • Piotr Michura (Spring 2017)

Past MFA Students

  • Alex Dye, "Rethinking the Electronic Medical Record"
  • Qing He, "Mobile Gaming Application: Promoting Positive Attitude towards Body Image for Girls Age Five to Eight"
  • John Jennings, "Utilizing Graphic Design Theory to Enhance Graphic Storytelling in Sequential Art"
  • Taekyeom Lee, "Re-materialization of Type"
  • Huang Li, "Hybrid Sense: The Immense Possibilities of Interaction of Digital Information with Physical Environments"
  • Ruchita Mandhre, "Experiential Design as an Emerging Context for Graphic Design Pedagogy and a Method to Create Valuable Emotional Experiences"
  • Maurice Meilleur, "Five Theses on the Future of Type"
  • Wenjun Wu, "Everyday Walking as Aesthetic Practice"