Major in Media Arts and Design

In the early twenty-first century, “media” and “design” have become central terms. Media often refers to a wide range of storage and communication technologies, as well as the cultures and systems they connect. Design is no longer a term used simply to describe surface aesthetics or ornamentation, but now encompasses a wide range of human interactions with technical devices, environments, and communities that shape daily life. Overall, designed digital and networked media inspire feelings of attachment as well as frustration with few rivals in any contemporary cultural sphere. If you consider the number of screens in your immediate vicinity, it becomes evident how substantial an impact media arts and design have on the ways we learn, work, play, think, act, and communicate.

The Media Arts and Design major focuses on these rapid developments in media and design that have changed the character of contemporary life, opening these phenomena up to historical study, theoretical critique, and hands-on experimentation. The major offers possible pathways through video game design, transmedia puzzle development, digital filmmaking, electronic sound design, digital storytelling, algorithmic theater, podcast development, data visualization, computational imaging, speculative design, and media history and theory.

Students focusing in the Media Arts and Design major will be trained in critical, formal, theoretical, and historical thinking and analysis. The curriculum fosters discussion and writing skills as well as creativity and experimentation. Students will gain the tools to approach today’s media environment and industries with critical, historical, and cultural perspectives.

 

A person's hands working on a switch board.

Major Requirements

Students wishing to major in Media Arts and Design should meet with the MAAD Program Director early in their second year to help construct their course plan going forward. By Spring Quarter of their third year, all students will be required to file a major course agreement form with the department. Participation in the major must be declared to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and the subsequent approved paperwork will be sent to the student's College adviser for official registration.

The major in Media Arts and Design requires a total of twelve courses with the following distribution: 2 Media Theory courses; 2 Media History courses; 2 Media Practice and Design courses; 5 electives, and 1 Capstone course, taken during the student’s final year.  These requirements aim to give students a well-rounded foundation in theoretical and historical aspects of media and design while also affording them opportunities for creativity. These courses will also prepare them for a multitude of media professions and fields, whether they aim to study media further in graduate school or become practitioners and artists.

Courses that qualify for each distribution requirement are listed below. 

Media Arts and Design Electives

Students will select elective courses from offerings in areas such as video game design, transmedia puzzle development, electronic sound design, electronics prototyping and wearables, digital storytelling, algorithmic theater, data visualization, machine learning in the arts, computational imaging, speculative design, and media history and theory. There will be an expectation that students distribute their elective courses across areas of media theory, history, and practice. The electives should also serve the student’s selected “Clusters” (for more, see below).

 

Clusters

Instead of detailed distribution requirements or strict tracks, students have the ability to specialize in a specific area while still exploring the broader field. Students will join “clusters'' that reflect their main interest, and these clusters will help students achieve depth in a specific area. The major offers the following clusters: 

  1. Games
  2. Creative Computing
  3. Network Art
  4. Electronic Music
  5. Digital Moving Image

In their second year, students will meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for advising and preparation for cluster selection. No later than the spring of the third year, each student will officially declare a cluster. In order to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to a cluster, three of the student’s required courses should be related to their cluster. Specifically, three of their Media Theory, Media History, Media Practice and Design Courses or elective courses should be relevant to their cluster. The Capstone Colloquium will not count for one of these three courses, though a component of their Colloquium portfolio project should also be related to their designated cluster. For example, a student with a Games cluster will plan to include a digital game as part of their final portfolio.

Each cluster will include a balance of coursework in theoretical, historical, and practice-based areas. The eligibility of a given course to count toward a given cluster is not pre-defined, but will instead be determined after an individualized consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. 

For a Sample Plan of Study with a designated cluster, see here

 

Major Capstone Colloquium

As part of the Capstone Colloquium, students will be required to prepare a culminating capstone project and a portfolio. Students will take “MAAD 29400: Media Arts and Design Capstone Colloquium” in either the Fall or Winter quarter of their fourth year. 

The capstone project will include one substantive work or a constellation of smaller related pieces. The capstone project can also be a revision of a project initiated in a previous Media Arts and Design course. The portfolio can include digital media artworks and/or theoretical writing compiled from across courses taken for the major. Students will submit these materials by the end of Winter quarter of their final year. Given the collaborative nature of Media Arts and Design, students will have the option to work on collaborative projects with another Capstone Colloquium participant, if this enhances their work.

The major capstone project can be focused on practice or on theory, but it must include a smaller supplementary piece that addresses the other domain. Thus, each capstone project will have a primary and secondary component. A practice-based project might take the form of a developed video game, but will also include a supplementary theoretical artist statement that explains the historical and theoretical motivations for the digital artwork. A theory-based project might be an extended research paper about the history of Twitch and rise of social media or a queer theoretical analysis of independent video games in the 2000s, but will include a supplementary practice-based component (such as a curated Twitch stream, a podcast, or a website). The pedagogical purpose of requiring both a primary and secondary component is to emphasize the integration of practice and theory across the major. This project will give students an opportunity to demonstrate that they have mastered all aspects of the major.

Capstone projects will be shared at an exhibition that takes place at the Media Arts, Data, and Design Center. This event will happen in the spring quarter of students’ final year and will include both a showcase (for media art projects) and presentations (for media theory and history projects).

 

Double Majors in Cinema and Media Studies and Media Arts and Design

Students double majoring in Media Arts and Design and another major (including Cinema and Media Studies) can count a maximum of four courses towards both majors, pending approval from both departments. However, the Capstone Colloquium cannot be replaced by the analogous course in the other major, given the uniqueness of the MAAD Colloquium and its importance to community building. Thus, double majors may have to take two capstones to fulfill both program requirements.

 

Courses and Distributions

The majority of MAAD courses are cross-listed with other departments, often in Cinema and Media Studies, Visual Arts, Art History, Computer Science, Literature, Music, and Theater and Performance Studies. 

MAAD courses and cross-lists are distributed across Media Theory, Media History, Media Practice and Design, and Electives according to their course number. 

Media Theory (10000-14999)
Media History (15000-19999)

Media Practice & Design (20000- 24999)
Electives (25000 - 28999)

Course descriptions also include a note on which distribution the class fulfills. To view the most updated list of courses being offered, please see this Course page and add the appropriate filters for the year and quarter you're searching for. 

A person bending while playing a Virtual Reality game.

Declaring a Major

Prospective majors should meet with the MAAD Program Director as soon as possible to discuss their interests and course plans and to obtain advice and approval. In order to declare the major, students must complete a worksheet. This form must then be returned to the student's College adviser by the end of Spring Quarter of the student's third year.

Contacts

Sam Pluta
Interim Program Director
spluta@uchicago.edu

Jon Satrom
Program Advisor
satrom@uchicago.edu 

Riss Ballard
Student Affairs Administrator
ballardm@uchicago.edu