MFA in Design for Responsible Innovation (DRI)

Take your design experience and training to the next level and bring interdisciplinary skills into conversation with design research


DRI at Illinois

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 Design for Responsible Innovation degree can explore but is not limited to these areas of interest.

  • 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


The MFA DRI consists of three years of coursework totaling 64 credit hours and a thesis project which can be delivered in either of these ways:

  • Option 1: A written thesis document + exhibition in the Krannert Art Museum
  • Option 2: A written thesis document + two national peer-reviewed conference presentations + public on-campus lecture here at Illinois

DRI is Interdisciplinary

We provide unique opportunities to make a real-world difference by working with world-class University of Illinois design faculty whose research addresses Afro-futurism, equity-centered design, sustainability and sustainable materials, social innovation, multimodal interfaces for social computing, the fight against human trafficking, the design of virtual reality narratives, and the history and theory of immersive media. MFA DRI students participate in ongoing projects in Urbana-Champaign and around the world, and in addition they can:

  • Engage all the resources and opportunities of studying in a world-class Tier 1 Research University
  • Collaborate with PhD students in Informatics who specialize in design
  • Develop partnerships at the Research Park, a nationally recognized technology hub that cultivates start-ups and accelerates corporate innovation at companies such as Abbott LaboratoriesADMAmerenCapital One, and State Farm

Selected MFA DRI Theses

  • Joshua Pridemore, “(Hu)man enough: Design interventions for facilitating familial conversations about masculine gender expression” IDEALS
  • Zhi Luo, “The Public in Print: Revisiting Historical US Political Visuals in a Digital Age” Alumni profile
  • Faithful Oladeji, “Presence in the UnBuilt Environment: Designing the User Experience of Architecture With Virtual Reality” Issuu, IDEALS, Alumni profile

Recent Visiting Design Critics

  • John Jennings (AY 2023)
  • Brianna Wiens (AY 2023)
  • Antionette Carrol (AY 2022)
  • George Aye (AY 2022)
  • Sadie Red Wing (AY 2021)
  • Elizabeth Resnick (AY 2021)

Core Courses

The MFA Design for Responsible Innovation studio provides tools for working individually or collaboratively to establish a design research agenda informed by the DRI program’s mission. This course equips the student to situate their research in a rigorous theoretical framework and select viable methods for research and pedagogy.

The Design for Responsible Innovation Research Methodology seminar coordinates readings in design theory and the processes and principles of human-centered design with graduate students’ emerging thesis research interests. It addresses 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 ethical problems in design practice. Individual sections address either social or environmental issues.

The Design for Responsible Innovation Research Impact seminar helps MFA students connect their research with pedagogy and professional development strategies to disseminate their research via publishing, conferences, community outreach, and other relevant venues.

In the final two semesters, the Thesis course allows the student work concertedly on the written thesis document in close consultation with their Thesis Committee Chair. This course serves as the gateway for deposit with the Thesis Office at the Graduate College in the final semester.

You’ll also choose Studio Electives and Electives from the School of Art & Design, the College of Fine & Applied Arts, and diverse programs throughout the campus.

View Course Descriptions and Class Schedule on the Course Explorer.

Faculty Research Interests

Catalina Alzate
Participatory Design, Community Healthcare, Digital Rights, Critical Theory in Design, Design and Policing

Eric Benson
Life-Centered Systems Thinking, Sustainable Materials, Speculative Futures

Molly Catherine Briggs
Immersive Rhetorics in Print Media, Nineteenth-Century Popular Media, Landscape Representation, Spatial Epistemologies, Visual Culture

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

Sharath Chandra Ramakrishnan
Human-machine Interaction Design, Cognitive Psychology, Auditory Cognition, Sound Studies, Media Arts

Stacey Robinson
Afro-Futurism, Black and Brown Utopias, Race, Graphic Novels, African Diasporas and Wakanda

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

Marco Trevisani Montresor
Graphic and User-interface Design, Traditional and Electronic Music Composition and Performance, Creative Coding, Creative Consulting

Recent Faculty Books

A list of DRI faculty recent book publications

Advice for Applicants

Learn all about applying to A&D graduate programs and review the required application materials carefully. Please note that while the application requests a personal statement, we strongly recommend that instead you write a research proposal of preferably 3-5 pages that addresses the following points:

  • Propose a research topic that connects with one or more of 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. The purpose of the research statement is to demonstrate your capacity for pursuing design research, not to declare a final plan. It is normal for plans to change as the student goes through the program.

Apply to DRI

Recent MFA Exhibitions

These MFA micro-sites offer you a glimpse into the kind of research our MFA DRI students have done over the past few years.

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