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Information Design and Data Visualization, MFA

The Information Design and Data Visualization program uniquely combines analytical methods with distinctive training in visual communication. Successful graduates gain expertise in the visual and technological languages of data, applying modes of visual cognition and using analytics tools to create interactive, data-driven communication and installations. This design-centric program prepares graduates to collaborate across a variety of fields and settings, crossing the bridge between technology, public communication and systems design.

Image Credit: Arushi Singh

The College of Arts, Media and Design offers three Information Design and Data Visualization graduate degree options to meet the unique goals and aspirations of individual learners: a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), a Master of Science (MS), and a Graduate Certificate. Students in the Information Design and Data Visualization program gain an understanding of translating data and information into visual languages and learn to integrate theoretical, visual, and technical aspects of visualizations that engage a broad range of audiences. Our students have the unique advantage of studying at a major research university known for interdisciplinary collaboration located in Boston, a global center for technology, science, and education and a hotspot for information design and data visualization. We seek applicants from diverse backgrounds who are interested in exploring data, visual and auditory design, perception and creative inquiry. Practicing professionals and recent undergraduates in a variety of fields (architecture, graphic design, journalism, communications, business, the humanities, and sciences) who desire a fluency in information design should apply.

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The MFA program trains students in harnessing visual languages to support discovery and communicate information across a range of disciplines. Graduates will be professional information designers and data visualization experts able to collaborate effectively in this dynamic and burgeoning field of practice and research. They will be prepared to work in design agencies, research institutions, companies, and public institutions. The program intends to produce professionals skilled in design principles and practices needed to assume leadership roles in an evolving interdisciplinary field. Students will also be well positioned to pursue PhDs and academic careers.

The degree requires 60 credit hours over two academic years, with an option to engage in Northeastern’s renowned cooperative education (co-op) program. A thesis project, a written thesis, and an accompanying work exhibition in our thesis show are required. The program offers studio courses and seminars in design, data analysis, programming, research methodologies and historical and cultural literacy plus lectures from visiting artists and researchers.

Fall semester 1 is dedicated to foundations, including an introductory course in information visualization and visual communication, a seminar on the history of visualization, a studio course, and an introduction to programming in visualization technologies. Students with strong prior experience in programming can replace the latter course with an elective.

Spring semester 2 is dedicated to the exploration of diverse research topics. In Studio 2 you will create an interactive visualization project; in information design theory, you will obtain theoretical background in design theory and concept mapping; the research methods class will prepare you for the thesis process by introducing you to different research methods; and an open elective will allow you to pick a research theme you are interested in.

Fall semester 3 is dedicated to developing your thesis in theory and practice. All courses in this semester are dedicated to this goal, including the research seminar and the Studio 3 course. Two electives allow you to add competencies related to your thesis topic.

During spring semester 4, you will finalize your thesis and work on the thesis exhibition.

The MFA in Information Design and Data Visualization is a STEM-designated degree as of the Fall 2020 start term.

Learning Outcomes

Students will gain the skills to design and implement visual and interactive information displays that clarify complex matters, explain processes, reveal insights, elucidate concepts and relate stories. The program will guide them how to:

  • Articulate knowledge of the design principles, theories, and technologies of information design and data visualization.
  • Represent information in visual languages that take advantage of the properties of human perception and cognitive capabilities, accurately represent the underlying data structures, and support the desired tasks to be accomplished by the user.
  • Demonstrate facility with developing and investigating research questions through qualitative and quantitative methods in all stages of data collection, transformation, and analysis that accompany the production and evaluation of data visualizations.
  • Use emerging technologies and visualization techniques to explore and reveal meaningful patterns in large data sources.
  • Compare, evaluate, and critique information design artifacts based on the ethics, history, and cultures of visual communication.
  • Critically reflect on the role of data and abstract information in practices of knowledge production and society, and articulate arguments informed by the contemporary scholarly discourse and its relevant theoretical and critical positions.

Career Opportunities

  • Design researcher
  • Data Visualization Expert
  • Information Designer
  • Interaction Designer
  • User Experience Designer
  • Visual Communication Expert
  • Visualization Researcher
  • Visual Strategist

Multidisciplinary Skills

  • Data analysis
  • Human factors
  • Design critique
  • Design process
  • Data physicalization
  • Programming
  • User-scenario mapping and observation
  • User testing

Co-op Opportunities

  • The Broad Institute
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Philips Research (HealthTech and Lighting)
  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority


Additional resources

Program Coordinator

Admissions Contact