California College of Arts

Interaction Design Program (BFA)

What can other educators and institutions learn from the successes and failures of your experience-oriented academic program?: 

We used our own design methodology on ourselves. Instead of adapting an existing program, we invited thought leaders from the field (corporate, academic and non-profit) to become our partners in strategically mapping out a program in which related (but often siloed) disciplines could converge and find balance in a new way. The result is one of the first undergraduate IxD programs in the world and the only one in the Bay Area.  We continue to use this methodology to evolve the program.

Another result is a new cross-disciplinary Hybrid Lab that engages and benefits all divisions (architecture, arts, design and humanities and science) at CCA. Although founded by Interaction Design, this is a place where all majors can work with emerging technologies. 

We’re committed to the idea that IxD/UX should not only benefit commerce but should also have a positive impact on society. We’re working to make CCA a non-profit hub within the creative capital of the Silicon Valley for designers from all organizations, and a neutral ground of mutual interest for those who may be competitors in the commercial arena.

What is the structure and content of your program?: 

Our courses and philosophy are described in detail in our Program Guide; see it here.

We offer a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a three-year major. Sophomores focus on foundational skills; juniors focus on exploration, such as imagining the future of interaction design beyond flat screens into the “network of things”; and seniors focus on their passions and on breaking new ground. In many ways, while sophomore year is about what Interaction Design is today, the following years are about what it is becoming.

Our objective is to humanize technology by building a curriculum that teaches the new human-centered design discipline of interaction design. We see the interaction designer as a key partner in the UX professional ecosystem. To that end, our curriculum emphasizes systemic and behavioral design skills complemented by visual skills with which to communicate effectively and technical design skills with which to demonstrate effectively.

When students complete your program, what credentials, experience, and portfolio materials have they accumulated, and how do they support their career success?: 

Our program is so new that our first class has not yet graduated; they're currently in their final semester. They'll graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from a studio-based (as opposed to lecture-based) program at a reputable, century-old, non-profit art and design school.  Our location in the global capital of interactive technologies is a great advantage in terms of their opportunities. Our students have all found top-tier internships; many of them beat out graduate students from other schools for sought-after placements.  Some have even been hired into permanent jobs at places like Facebook, IDEO, and Snibbe Interactive.  They’re encouraged to start building their portfolios during their sophomore years. See student portfolios here. See student portfolios here.

Who are your program’s key instructors and what qualifications and experience do they bring?: 

What we look for in our teachers includes excellent craftsmanship, diverse practice experience (client, founder, corporate), workshop facilitator experience, excellent collaboration and passion. Several of our faculty, including the chair, have experience running organizations. We hire independent thinkers who are excited about creating something new. In some respects we are inspired by the Bauhaus school as a model for our efforts, insofar as its founders sought to create something new by integrating disparate arts, crafts and technologies. We're inspired to create the emerging design future in a similar way.

For the full list of faculty, see the list here.

How do you ensure your program’s content is and remains in synch with modern practices and the needs of employers?: 

Our faculty is mainly composed of adjunct professors who are working professionals first; they bring modern practices to bear on their interactions with everyone in our department. Our Board of Advisors includes prominent design leaders from large companies. Our Bay Area location is a tremendous benefit, as we’re surrounded by companies that are global leaders in the development of interactive technologies.

We routinely expose our students to working professionals and external organizations.  We bring in specialist reviewers for projects that have specific domain needs; we host a lecture series that brings local and international interaction designers to campus; we have an internship requirement; and our students attend fairs, hackathons and mixers around the Bay Area.

We also require students to master new tools; we test members of the Freshman class in their proficiency with Adobe Creative Suite and are prepared to change this toolset as needed.

Please share any objective and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the your program’s ability to equip students for “real-world” value and successfulness.: 

The strength of our internship program is a powerful sign that we're on the right track. Our students are in demand; representatives of prominent companies frequently ask us for opportunities to teach, review and otherwise get exposure to our students as intern and career prospects. Businessweek’s 2014 Design Issue says our “lucky students” are being fought over by leading companies.

Our students are already having a market impact. At least two products have been launched commercially that were designed by CCA IxD undergraduate students as lead designers during their internships. See: and:

We have also run several sponsored partnerships with companies such as Audi, Intel, Adobe and Bosch, which give us real-world strategic challenges, alliances with large organizations, and additional resources to support student learning and making.

We're especially pleased that our students also have opportunities to make a positive social impact, and to achieve social and cultural success.  We are excited by the rise of the Benefit Corporation, which is a corporate structure that requires for-profit firms to create positive social and environmental impacts. San Francisco is home to the most certified B Corps of any city.  We are using this notion, as well as traditional funding and incorporation, in our new senior Spring course: Designer as Founder.  As we explore this new type of socially driven venture, we hope to be paving the way for other artists, architects and designers at CCA and beyond.