"Nine Art Center students, three faculty and I sat on a veranda in Kampala and connected, through Skype, to New York. The students shared experiences and thoughts with each other – and, never having met before, seemed to fuse into one team with a common focus on looking at how technology and communications advances are creating new opportunities for young people – both in Uganda, but also in other contexts."

-Chris Fabian, co-lead and co-founder, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NY



The MDP/Field track, in collaboration with Designmatters, is one of two tracks within Media Design Practices (MDP) at Art Center focused on designing media systems to facilitate the agency of citizens, forwarding social justice, and generating new knowledge in the process. Students work in a real-world context where social issues, media infrastructure, and communication technology intersect.

During the academic years of 2012-14, our faculty and graduate students will be conducting in-depth, longitudinal fieldwork in Uganda. In addition to scholarly texts and research presentations across multiple media, the MDP/Field team will also deploy and evaluate (with partners) the impact of newly designed interventions for and with Ugandan youth. Students experience firsthand the power dynamics of high-, low-, and no-tech communications in a social context. The program prepares designers to take an active role in the creation of new models for international development and civic engagement through work in communities, institutions, governments, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Graduates of the program build viable lifelong design practices that engage directly with the human condition.


MDP/Field students will work in close collaboration with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and UNICEF Innovation Unit’s Tech4Dev team. The UNICEF Innovation Lab in Kampala, Uganda was chosen to be the first partner for MDP/Field because of its potential for direct involvement with a community, its focus on innovation, and its support from a progressive and forward-looking country office. Together, issues surrounding the needs of children are investigated and addressed through design collaborations with local communities.

Engagement with UNICEF’s Innovation Lab in Kampala allows the cohort to immerse itself in a broad range of issues challenging the youth of Uganda. Shining a spotlight on design for development, the cohort is:


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF (USF) supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF’s Innovation Unit oversees their satellite Innovation Labs, currently located in Kampala, Copenhagen, Pristina, and Harare. The labs combine the dynamism of a startup incubator with the experience, expertise, and relentless focus on child welfare of the world’s leading children’s organization. Through partnerships with the private sector, academia, and local stakeholders, UNICEF Innovation Labs unite global ICT expertise and resources with homegrown know-how to co-create solutions to needs identified by ministries and local communities.

Innovation Labs occupy the intersection of ideas, experience, expertise, and resources. At the heart of each Lab is its team: designers, engineers, programmers, technologists, development specialists, technical experts and, youth, educators, and community leaders, representing the private sector, academia, civil society, and government, and all brought together by UNICEF’s singular reach.


Through their exploration in emerging research, their innovation opportunities, and their participation in social enterprises, students in MDP: Field work independently and in teams to develop enterprise models that will extend far past their course work and their time in Uganda.

Ultimately, projects that are developed with participants are those that will also be sustained by the participants, and the platforms they co-produce will be maintained, owned and sustained by Ugandan youth and their supporters.

Designmatters + Media Design Practices/Field: DESIGNING IN CONTEXT

A close collaboration between Designmatters and Media Design Practices gives graduate students the chance to design for social impact around communication, technology and public policy. Students share a desire to innovate and bring design into new areas such as: International Development, Social Activism, Community Practice, Public Policy, Business and Economic innovation, Sociology, and Anthropology.

MDP/Field takes students from field trips to field work. It’s a program where designers from a variety of backgrounds develop into the design leaders and researchers in emerging fields.

Students in the MDP/Field track are offered two options: the first is a two-year program for students with backgrounds in design; the second is a three-year program for non-design students. Both pathways lead to the same result: a Master of Fine Arts from Art Center College of Design.

Designmatters at Art Center College of Design. By generating multiple perspectives to understanding people, communities and societies, and blending strategic intent with quality execution, the Designmatters department challenges students to constantly reframe and redefine the problem-space. Designmatters is where art and design meets social change, and where students become designers uniquely suited to contribute to the social sector.


The Media Design Practices/Field track at Art Center College of Design is co-led by Anne Burdick, Chair of Media Design Practices, and Mariana Amatullo Co-Founder and Vice President of the Designmatters Department.

Elizabeth Chin, PhD, is an anthropologist specializing in participatory work with children, as well as a leading scholar in the emergent field of childhood studies. She has conducted research in the U.S. and Haiti on issues of race, social inequality, consumption and expressive culture. Her book, Purchasing Power (Minnesota 2001), was a finalist for the C Wright Mills award. Elizabeth is widely recognized for her outstanding work as an educator, winning a Graves award for excellence in teaching (2004), and the American Anthropology Association award for excellence in undergraduate teaching (2007).

Sean Donahue, is principal of Research, a Los Angeles-based design practice. Sean’s research ranges from media impact studies for city development, to hybrid languages for low and no-vision communities. He has published internationally on the practice of media design, design research and social practice, and has lectured and held workshops at Harvard, Cal Arts, IDEO, The Royal College of Art and North Carolina State University, where he was also the 2004 Designer-in-Residence. Additionally, Sean also holds the distinction of being the 2012-13 Visiting Scholar at the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art London, England.

STUDENTS: 2013-2014 Cohort

STUDENTS: 2012-2013 Cohort



Working within the landscape of design for social impact, the Designmatters Department at Art Center College of Design seeks to unite educational objectives with highly effective advocacy and action-oriented projects that are implemented through cross-sector alliances. For over the past decade, Designmatters has been an active partner with the United Nations family of agencies and funds in addressing key critical issues through the lens of design innovation.

Media Design Practices: Field

Offering students the chance to specialize in communications at the intersection of new technology, and develop it for social impact, this MFA track program at Art Center College of Design is an immersive course of study. MDP: Field is defined by extended periods of field research and design development with diverse stakeholders and communities.

The US Fund for UNICEF

Through initiatives and activities that engage experts from academia and the private sector, the USF (The US Fund) works with U.S. partners and constituencies to support UNICEF’s work worldwide. Engagement and collaboration with relevant partners provides opportunities to utilize expertise in developing solutions for children, their families and communities.


Combining low-tech hardware with sophisticated open source software, the UNICEF Innovation Team explores novel ways to both empower young people and improve UNICEF’s operations. The Innovation Unit strives to solve pressing problems by focusing on the use of technology for development (tech for dev).