Interaction Design / About MDes IxD

Interaction Designers define the structure and behavior of interactive products and services. Interaction Designers create compelling relationships between people and the interactive systems they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances; Interaction Designers lay the groundwork for intangible experiences.

Visit the Interaction Design Blog for news about the program, additional resources, and most recent interaction design work.

The need for interaction designers for the development of new interactive products, systems and services has increased exponentially in recent years in virtually all industries – this includes research on human-computer interaction to identify new concepts and study the relationship between people and technology. Interactive systems are present in many areas in everyday life where people coordinate tasks and engage in activities in collaboration with others, facilitated through technology. Examples range from mobile phones to computer software, from GPS systems for cars or navigation in the open ocean, and information systems that support the work of expert practitioners in technology-driven domains such as aviation, medicine, and process control. Interactive products provide interfaces for the interaction between people and machines and computerized systems. Interfaces need to be usable, interactive services need to be useful, and users and practitioners who work with the new interactive products and systems need to be able to understand them. Successful interaction design provide positive experiences of use. Poor interaction design causes frustration and confusion. Interaction designers turn existing interactive solutions into ones that are useful, understandable, and usable.

Central themes in the Interaction Design graduate concentration are the study of interaction in context; the design, mock-up and prototyping of dynamic interactions; core concepts of human-computer interaction and cognitive science such as representations, affordances, activities, processes, and systems, and how these pertain to design; models for understanding and mediating between the various perspectives by prospective users, clients, and designers; and the presentation, simulation, and evaluation of interaction design concepts at various stages of detail. The concentration seeks to develop interaction designers who will become the leaders and innovators in interdisciplinary and multi-faceted design teams.

Graduate students who pursue the concentration in Interaction Design have opportunities to build expertise during research and teaching. They have access to the resources of UW’s strong HCI community — the DUB group is a coalition of HCI/design faculty and researchers from partnering departments — amongst them the Departments of Human Centered Design and Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, the Information School, and the Division of Design. The University of Washington’s HCI/design coalition is considered one of the Nation’s top programs. Among the Nation’s leading public research universities, the University of Washington offers a complete spectrum of majors on a thriving campus of 38,000 students. Located in Seattle, a Pacific Northwest center for high-tech development in medicine, aviation, and computer science, the University of Washington has strong ties with leading research centers and industries such as Microsoft, Intel, Google, Adobe, Boeing.

Program Goals and Objectives

The University of Washington graduate concentration in Interaction Design is a two-year course of study that leads to an MDes degree. The concentration encourages personal investigation at an advanced level, with coursework in both theory and practice of design as it pertains to interaction and user experience. Seminars, studios and independent studies focus on problem identification, observation in field settings, experimentation with media, and the acquisition of technical skills, especially facility with the tools of contextual research, design ideation, and prototyping. Students may choose to work across several design areas (including classes in Human-Computer Interaction, Industral Design, and Visual Communication Design, as well as class electives in affiliated Departments within the larger University of Washington Campus) to create an interdisciplinary focus.

Graduate Student Profile

The ideal candidate for graduate study in Interaction Design is an individual with: 1) an undergraduate BA or BFA degree in Interaction Design, Industrial Design or Visual Communication Design, and 2) several years of experience in professional practice. We believe that graduate study is most beneficial for those who have had an opportunity to broadly experience both theory and practice in the field. Generally speaking, these are the candidates best prepared to identify specific areas of interest/focus during the short duration of a master’s program.

However, in certain instances the program will consider students directly from an undergraduate design program. These students must demonstrate substantial intellectual and form-giving capacity, as well as the ability to work and think beyond the basic tenets of an undergraduate/bachelor’s degree program. The Interaction Design faculty is also willing to consider candidates who have an undergraduate degree in a field allied with or related to Interaction Design — for example, Computer Science, Usability Engineering, Human Factors, among others. These candidates have typically experienced specific aspects of design in a professional setting, and wish to expand their knowledge of design while still leveraging a previous academic background. Such students are considered for a three-year program where they must complete a year of preliminary undergraduate studios (and pass a faculty review) before continuing to graduate-level coursework.

Prospective students interested in the MDes in Interaction Design need to apply for the MDes program and indicate their interest in the Interaction Design concentration. For questions about the application process, please contact the School of Art Graduate Advisor, Ann Langford-Fuchs, at



The Division of Design provides dedicated studios with individual desks for all design graduate students. The School of Art Computing Center has extensive resources for scanning, printing, video and audio editing, authoring, and 3-D modeling and animation. The Division of Design also provides model shop and rapid prototyping facilities. Extensive video and sound production facilities as well as photo, video and audio equipment is available through the School of Art Computing Center and several other media centers across campus.

The IxD Lab is a work space dedicated to Interaction Design projects, equipped with computer work stations and meeting space to facilitate prototyping and research team work sessions.

Teaching Assistantships / Scholarships

The Division of Design offers several teaching assistantships for qualified graduate students. In this capacity, graduate students are awarded a tuition waiver and stipend for assisting a faculty member in large (60–150 seat) introductory (100 and 200 level) undergraduate courses. Graduate students often find teaching assistantships to be a valuable experience during their course of study. Teaching Assistantships are competitive and will be distributed among the best qualified graduate students across the three MDes concentrations, Interaction Design, Industrial Design, and Visual Communication Design.

The Interaction Design MDes program offers scholarships and teaching assistantship to qualified applicants. The program also provides support for travel to conferences and specific study abroad opportunities, such as the UW Rome program in Design. Additionally, when available, thesis projects may receive partial financial support from the program.

“The UW School of Art Division of Design is different from any graduate design program I've ever experienced. Many universities offer design courses with structured projects and requirements, but not many actually create an environment that is truly centered around the power of design. The faculty's high level of commitment to a student's education is unsurpassed.”

Tom, 2008