Program Description

This unique, studio-centric MFA in Experience Design (XD) admits a cohort of eight to twelve talented students from varied backgrounds, including all areas of design, art, architecture,and engineering every other year. Students in the XD program form a studio collective to complete an array of XD projects under the direct guidance of CU faculty and professionals in the field, many who provide project content. As a result of this industry involvement, XD graduates are prepared to enter the field of experiential design.

In addition to preparing students for employment, the MFA in XD exposes students to new ways of seeing the reality around them, new ways of creating, resolving problems, expressing ideas and telling stories. Essentially, the MFA in XD is a course of study in using a new language. 

The program also features a "design center" where students and faculty accept real-time XD problems posed by outside entities (including contracted projects with commercial firms) and solve them via a collaborative, studio approach. The work of this center provides a service to various communities and is a practical extension of learning for students. 

While the MFA in XD advances a collaborative studio environment where teamwork is held in high regard, we consider it a mission of the program to foster the individual talents, visions, and interests of each student in the program. The program will make every effort to provide a vessel where individual students may gestate their own concepts, allowing them room to explore, test, and innovate with the support of studio spaces, technology, cohort students, faculty, and industry professionals.

Connections to Industry

Some of the program’s professional advisors, endorsers and participants include: Jim Doyle of WET Design, makers of the famed Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas; Dave Cooperstein and Al Cross of PGAV Destinations, designers of Sea World and the NASA Space Museum, Electrosonic; makers of the live video projection technology for Disney’s Magic Kingdom Castle; Adam BezarkPhil Hettema, and Steve Ryan, commercial producers of live experiences with credits at Disney, Universal and Landmark Entertainment; Drew Campbell, Creative Director at International Resorts in Singapore; Baam ProductionsNassalSuper 78; Peter Exline, Architect and Themed Attraction Designer; and many others.

A girl walks across the Norlin Quad with the Theatre and Dance Building in the background.Why is a program in XD part of a Theatre & Dance Department?

The reason for this is its natural affinity and fit. Selected Experience Design professionals were asked about such a relationship and they found it logical. Some noted that Experience Design is essentially a form of theatre: It constructs a live/living event based on a story for a group of attendees via a collaborative and creative process. Those of us who work in the theatre know that theatre is, in itself, experience design.

Many of the creative and managerial employees at professional firms were trained in the theatre. Their designs carry the same, imaginative, transformative and magical qualities seen in the theatre. Industry professionals acknowledge that many of their tricks, illusions, crafts - and more importantly - their generative creative process, evolved out of inventions of the theatre.

Theatre and dance are among a few art forms that rely on a collaborative process of making. There are no solitary artists. A group of individuals with distinct talents merge toward a common goal: the show. It is within their process of making that a form of “magic” ensues. There is a matrix of interpersonal give-and-take, a suspension of the self, artistic negotiation and ultimately a shared satisfaction with the final culmination. When successful, the show conveys its message or stirs its audience, a testament to good collaborative work. Our XD program, inspired by theatre and dance, follows suit.