Design Informatics Postgraduate Overview
The Design Informatics course combines the craft of designers with the cutting edge technologies of Informatics.
Our Design Informatics programmes are advanced, full-time courses for professionals and recent graduates. They are extremely hands-on, progressive and designed with industry at their heart. As a student, you’ll combine cutting-edge design with information hacking to develop products and services that will transform lives.
The central premise is that data is a medium for design: by shaping data, we shape the world around us. Data Science provides the groundwork for this, with Design Thinking underpinning reflective research through design. You will use this in working with the internet of things and physical computing, machine learning, speech and language technology, usable privacy and security, data ethics, blockchain technologies. You will connect technology with society, health, architecture, fashion, bio-design, craft, finance, tourism, and a host of other real world contexts, through case studies, individual, and collaborative projects. You will understand user experience in the wider socio-cultural context, through an agile programme of hacking, making and materialising new products and services.
As a designer… you will develop your ability to work with digital systems and computer scientists as well as taking your design practice in a new direction.
As a computer scientist… you will learn design methods, working alongside designers, and apply your computational skills to cutting edge creative projects.
The DI Masters can be taken either as a 1 year programme (MA or MSc, 180 credits) or 21 months (MFA or Advanced MSc, 240 credits). In-depth information about the course can be found in our course handbook: Download Course Handbook
During the first semester (September to December) students attend lectures, tutorials and group practicals and acquire the creative practices and theoretical foundation to enable them to engage in independent research. Int the second semester (December to March) the emphasis shifts to application of skills – individual and group projects on student-led themes. In the summer, 1 year students complete a dissertation, while those on a 2 year programme carry out an internship in a leading creative or digital organisation.
- Histories and Futures of Technology: Cultural and technical context for Design Informatics. Covers Digital Media, Critical Perspectives, Introduction to Arduino
- Case Studies in Design Informatics 1: Analysing Design Informatics case studies and learning research methodology
- Data Science for Design: Introduction to data wrangling, data visualisation and Python programming with a design perspective
- Design Informatics Project: Self proposed personal project, exploring themes from Semester 1
- Design with Data: Creating interactive pieces in small groups, working with an external organisation’s data.
- Elective: one or two courses of your choice (see below)
In second year, the first semester focuses on project leadership: students develop a research proposal, lead a team of first year students to revise and extend a project, and explore the wider curriculum. In the second semester, students carry out a dissertation.
- Case Studies in Design Informatics 2: Responding to the internships, developing mentoring skills, and creating a dissertation proposal
- Electives: two courses of your choice (see below)
One year or two?
The one year MA and MSc are standard UK masters programmes. They are ideal for those who wish to take a year out to develop the skills necessary to work with data as a designer or UX specialist and to build or enhance their portfolio of project work, and for students who are preparing to do a UK PhD.
The two year MFA / Advanced MSC option is taught over 21 months. It gives students the following advantages:
- A three month internship with one of our industry partners
- Theoretical and practical training in mentorship and leadership as you support Year 1 students in their group projects
- Opportunity to deepen your portfolio of skills with an additional two electives
- For European students, a UK Masters programme that fully conforms to the Bologna standard of 120 ECTS in only 21 months.
MA or MSc?
The curriculum of the MA and MSc is largely identical – as is the MFA and AMSc. This reflects our emphasis on group work, and on learning skills from each other, which prepares you for the reality of Design and User Experience practice in mixed teams. The key differences between the two programmes are:
- MSc students can ‘test out’ of the Year 1 course of Data Science for Design, if they can prove a high level of relevant programming and data science skills.
- Dissertations are judged on different scales – the MA and MFA dissertations have more scope for creative practice.
Electives can be chosen from across the University, but typical choices include: Internet, Society and Economy, Researching Digital Life, Digital Media Studio Project, Dynamic Web Design, Digital Crafting in Glass, Disseminating Design Practices, Economic Sociology: Theories and Enquiries, Online Language Learning, Adaptive Learning Environments, The Human Factor: Working with Users, and Biodesign.
Students about studying the course
Fabian, MA Student 2013/14:
“As an Interior Designer, this MA course offers me how to creatively expand the dialogue between body and place with current technologies and how to design theories about life for the future.”
Alumnus Fionn Tynan-O’Mahony, Creative Lead, RBS on studying Design Informatics:
- Why did you decide to apply to study Design Informatics at Edinburgh College of Art?
I was studying at ECA during the merger with the University of Edinburgh and had heard about a potential joint venture between the School of Informatics and the School of Design. At the time, I was really intrigued because it blended a lot of the concepts I was interested in while studying product design – the evolving use of technology, the social implications of technology, experimenting with new ideas and use cases in both technology and design methods – but nothing seem to come of the rumours.
A couple of years later, while doing a residency at the art college and thinking about further study, I heard about the masters course and it felt like a perfect blend of the ideas I had previously been excited about. It also felt very timely. A lot of product design was moving digital, and I felt it was important to build my skillset and understanding in that area.
- What are the most valuable things you learned during the course?
I think the most valuable thing I developed during my time at Design Informatics was a deepened, foundational understanding of the emerging tech and ideas at the centre of the tech industry (AI, IoT, Data, Blockchain, Crypto). Having the time and opportunity to explore both the technologies and the social conditions they create has allowed (and continues to allow) me to quickly navigate the current innovation landscape and identify new opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to do previously.
- Design Informatics is a truly interdisciplinary subject. Has this been beneficial in your working life? How?
Yes, definitely. During my Masters at Design Informatics, we had the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines on group projects, learn basic programming and had access to a broader range of modules from the university. Of course, the studio environment was also great for natural relationships and collaborations to emerge and a lot of the ideas and knowledge I gained were through those relationships with my peers. All of this brought a holistic perspective to what I was learning.
I currently work in an environment where I communicate and collaborate with a range of stakeholders and disciplines everyday. From strategists to developers to business people. Without this experience, I would be much less effective at communicating and building relationships across these disciplines.
- How did studying Design Informatics influence your current job?
Hugely. I’m a designer that works in financial services. If I hadn’t studied the MA Design informatics, I don’t believe I would have made that move or connection. My relationship with my current employer also came about because of a direct relationship between Design Informatics where I had the opportunity to meet new people and discuss new opportunities.
While I still use a lot of straight-forward design tools and methods in my role, these are enhanced and made applicable to new areas and disciplines through the understanding I built during my time at Design Informatics.
Design Informatics Studio Space
Students and their projects
Our current students work on a variety of different projects and also have the opportunity to connect to the Centre’s research projects which include events which have been part of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Facilities & studios
The course is based around the Design Informatics studio, situated in the Bayes Centre. The studio itself features a 3D printer, hacklab, soldering points and is equipped with a variety of technologies such as Arduinos, LEAP motion and 3D projectors. Students also have access to workshops in the Art College such as metal-work and woodwork. Students are also able to access equipment in the Informatics department, which includes a robotics lab. For working in a non-Design Informatics lab or workshop, you will typically require an induction and/or supervision by somebody who regularly works in that space.
Do I need to have coding skills as an entry requirement?
If you come through the MSc route, you should be able to demonstrate solid programming skills. For the MA route, previous coding experience is not necessary. However, in both cases, you should be prepared to write your own code and create your own artefacts. If you have no experience, then working through an introductory Python tutorial before arriving is a good idea.
How to Apply
If you are interested in applying for one of our programmes, you can find information about entry requirements, tuition fees, funding, scholarships and the application procedure here:
If you have any further questions about the programmes, please contact the Programme Directors:
MA/MFA: Prof. Chris Speed
MSc/Advanced MSc: Dr. Maria Wolters
Postraguduate PhD overview
The Institute for Design Informatics is home to a community of PhD students who are researching subjects that are associated with our core specialisms and use a variety of methods that combine theory and practice.
The Institute spans the School of Design (Edinburgh College of Art) and the School of Informatics, and supervision is supported by academic staff who are leaders in their fields from:
- Interaction Design
- Research through Design
- Data Visualisation
- Data Physicalisation
- Data Ethics
- Health and Care
- Data-Driven Creative Industries
- Human Computer/Data Interaction
Students often work collaboratively with researchers in other departments and organisations beyond the Institute. Graduates pursue careers in leading universities and major technology industries worldwide.
Entry to PhD programmes is made directly through each School:
- School of Design: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/design-mphilphd
- School of Informatics: https://www.ed.ac.uk/informatics/postgraduate/research-degrees/phd
Please use these pages to identify themes and potential supervisors.
The Institute for Design Informatics is home to a series of sub-groups and Centres that have specific research interests. Whilst these are not prescriptive of all the research that takes place in the Institute, applicants are encouraged to consider how their project may fit within a group:
Design Informatics is always taking a practice-based design approach to research and academic colleagues are always interested in working with PhD students who are looking to creatively and critically explore new areas and design methods. Previous work and current research often links with existing design methods and aims to push the boundaries of new creative approaches and methodologies, some of which include Speculative Design, Critical Design, Design Fictions, Research through Design, Co-Design, Co-Creation, Participatory Design, Service Design, Socio-Economic Imaginaries, Unfinished Software, Tangible and Interaction Design methods.
Associated Academics and Researchers:
Creative Informatics is an ambitious research and development programme based in The Institute for Design Informatics and is a central part of the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Creative Informatics is a large R&D programme that provides funding and development opportunities that enable creative individuals and organisations to explore how data can be used to drive ground-breaking new products, businesses and experiences. With partners at Edinburgh Napier University, Creative Edinburgh and Codebase, the programme seeks to understand and support how data-driven technologies are disrupting the creative industries.
Associated Academics and Researchers:
- Prof. Chris Speed
- Prof. Melissa Terras
- Prof. Michael Rovatsos
- Prof. Burkhard Shafer
- Prof. Candace Jones
- Dr. Pip Thornton
- Dr. Chris Elsden
- Dr. Susan Lechelt
Visual+Interactive Data is a research group that investigates data visualisations and interactive means to make data more immediate, tangible, and understandable across a variety of media such as paper, screen, and immersive. Visual+Interactive Data is based at the Institute for Design Informatics and the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. Our research includes, but is not limited to areas in:
- Network and spatio-temporal visualisation
- Data-driven storytelling
- Visualisation in augmented and virtual reality (Immersive Analytics)
- Non-digital data physicalisation
- Teaching and learning visualisation
- Situated or embedded data experiences
Visual+Interactive Data is heavily involved in co-organising Edinburgh’s Data Vis Meetup.
Associated Academics and Researchers:
Health and Care
The Institute has an established track record in research across Health Informatics. We have worked closely with eHealth and telehealth practitioners to establish a vision for a new product or service, implement it, and evaluate for whom it works, and under what circumstances.
The Institute for Design Informatics is closely associated with the newly founded Advanced Centre for Care (ACRC). The ACRC will combine research across fields including medicine and other care professions, life sciences, engineering, informatics, data and social sciences. The Institute will enable data-driven, personalised and affordable care that delivers independence, dignity and a high quality of life for people living in their own homes or in supported care environments.
Associated Academics and Researchers:
All research degrees require students to work closely with a supervision team. Please browse staff profiles to learn about the research specialisms and outputs for each staff within the Institute for Design Informatics. If your research is interdisciplinary, look at staff profiles in other subject areas, too. We encourage you to approach staff directly to gauge their availability and suitability as a prospective supervisor.
When making first contact with a prospective supervisor, please introduce yourself and mention your research intentions. If you maintain a website or online identity with research interests, please include a link.
This helps potential supervisors to understand your vision of the scope of a PhD project, and your understanding of the type of practical – as well as intellectual – matters that postgraduate research entails. This early contact with staff should also be helpful to you, for decisions you will need to make about how to develop your proposal, and with whom you would like to work.
Dr. Benjamin Bach
Benjamin is Lecturer (Assistant Prof.) in Design Informatics and Visualisation. His research designs and investigates interactive information visualisation interfaces to help people explore, communicate, and understand data across media such as screens, mixed reality, paper, and physicalisations.
Dr. Ewa Luger
Ewa is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Digital Arts and Humanities, a fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, and a member of Edinburgh Futures Institute. She has a background in Politics/Ethics, Digital Inclusion and Human Computer Interaction. Ewa’s research sits at the intersection of policy and practice to explore how humans interact with intelligent data-driven systems, the moral and social implications of those systems, and how we design mechanisms to address the resulting issues.
Ewa previously worked at Microsoft Research and the University of Cambridge and currently works with a range of partners across a series of externally funded projects. Research interests include:
- The ethics of Data/AI
- System intelligibility
- Digital inclusion (access, literacies, form)
- The politics of socio-technical systems
- Human-Data Interaction
Dr. Bettina Nissen
Bettina is a Lecturer in Interaction Design and researcher in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. She has a background in product and interaction design and her practice-based research often focuses on engaging publics critically in understanding and thinking about technology, data and their impact through playful, provocative and tangible methods or makings. These research interests include: making, tangible human data interactions, data physicalisation, Research through Design, data ethics through design, data literacy and education.
Dr. Larissa Pschetz
Larissa is a researcher and lecturer in Design Informatics and Product Design at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on Interaction Design and related areas of Human-Computer Interaction, Social Sciences and Humanities. She completed a Microsoft-funded PhD in 2014, where she coined the term “Temporal Design” to describe a design approach that looks at time as emerging out of relations between cultural, social, economic and political forces. She has previously worked at research centres such as IBM Watson in Cambridge MA, Microsoft Research in Cambridge UK, Microsoft Research Asia, and at Interaction Design offices in Germany, such as IxDS in Berlin and HID in Hamburg. Larissa has published in high-impact conferences in HCI and Design related areas, including CHI, TEI, Interact, and DRS. Her research is currently focused on Inclusive IoT, Biodesign and Temporal Design.
Prof. Chris Speed
Chris is the Chair of Design Informatics and his research focuses upon the Network Society, Design for the Digital Economy, and The Internet of Things. Chris collaborates with a wide variety of partners to explore how design provides methods to adapt and create products and services within a networked society. He especially favours transgressive design interventions, to help identify and promote the values we care about most.
- Designing from / with and by data
- Use of creative technologies in the representation of social, economic and environmental systems
- Design after agential realism
- FinTech by and through design
- Research Through Design
- Design for Advanced Health & Care
- Interaction Design
- Creative Informatics
Dr. Kami Vaniea
Kami is a Lecturer in Cyber Security and Privacy and her research is on Human Factors of Cyber Security, Privacy, and Trust in the School of Informatics. Her work focuses on understanding how people interact with security and privacy technology and how to improve those interactions. Her work spans a wide range of users from the general public, to developers, to system administrators in order to get a full view of how security and privacy technology is not only used, but also how it is designed and maintained over time.
Taking new students from 2021/22 onward.
- Security, Privacy and Trust
- Technology Usability Lab in Privacy and Security (TULiPS)
Dr. Maria Wolters
Maria is a Reader in Design Informatics and her research goal is to help people with long-term conditions use technology, where appropriate, to live rich and full lives. She is interested in how people create, log, and interpret data about themselves, and she is passionate about closing the digital divide and reducing digital exclusion.
Taking new students from 2021/22 onwards.
Examples of PhD Projects
Zezhong Wang: Creating Data Comics for Data-Driven Storytelling
Supervised by: Benjamin Bach, Dave Murray-Rust
Data comics are inspired by the visual language and narrative of comics, aiming to communicate the insight from data and visualisations. Communicating with data has become common and popular in modern life and data is always communicated with context. Comics as an ancient art is familiar to many people, and its unique visual richness could leverage the power of storytelling and data visualisations. However, creating data comics requires multiple skills within a complex procedure. Some resources provide theoretical and methodological support for creating data stories, data visualisations and comics. However, the process requires a considerable learning cost on understanding data comics and how to deliver effective communication with this format. This Ph.D. research investigates ways to understand data comics and its features; practice to explore potential applications; conduct workshops to evaluate creation methods and guidance. This research presents a conceptual model to demonstrate a stepwise creation process for data comics. The model implies important components, materials for supporting creation and criteria of assessing data comics. This report will present (i) an overview of works we have done so far, (ii) a work in progress as well as (iii) two planned projects.
Sarah Bennett: Towards ethical design in symbiotic human-machine systems
Supervised by: Ewa Luger and Chris Speed
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being pervasively integrated into various domains, with serious social and ethical implications. Responding to this, in the last few years a huge number of ethical principles, frameworks and guidelines have been published, but it is difficult to assess how these translate into the context of real-world applications. Through interviews and ethnography, my research explores AI specialists’ values and their accounts of navigating the ethical and social impact of their work, seeking insight into which aspects impact ethical decision-making in AI system development. Having investigated behaviour of AI specialists as moral agents, my work going forward aims to explore how we can support meaningful applications of ethics in system design and development. More broadly, I am interested in the intersections between emerging technologies, moral psychology, intersectionality, moral philosophy and human-computer interaction.
Facilities / Culture
PhD students are provided desk space in the Design Informatics research studio which is in the Bayes Centre of the University of Edinburgh. The research studio is home to researchers, teachers and a delivery team who work together to meet the demands of running a masters and undergraduate courses, multiple funded research projects and public events. The Informatics Forum, which houses researchers, lecturers, and PhD students in the School of Informatics, is fully accessible to all Design Informatics staff.
The studio is located above the design studios for the Design Informatics Masters Programme which houses its own dedicated workshop featuring 3D printers, laser cutting, soldering points and tools for light assembly, and is equipped with a variety of technologies such as Arduinos, LEAP motion and 3D projectors. Students also have access to workshops in the Art College such as metalwork and woodwork. Students are also able to access equipment in the Informatics department, which includes a robotics lab. For working in a non-Design Informatics lab or workshop, you will typically require an induction and/or supervision by somebody who regularly works in that space.
Close to the design studios is Inspace, a bespoke gallery and public engagement space for fostering creativity and interdisciplinarity through data-driven innovation.
The Institute for Design Informatics hosts a series of research and public events on a regular basis:
Design Informatics Research Seminars
The Design Informatics Research Seminar series was established in 2012 and has featured a series of high-profile international speakers. The weekly talks programme is open to Staff (research, teaching and technical), Resident Entrepreneurs and Students, University of Edinburgh researchers and visitors. Talks are delivered by invited speakers from all around the world as well as University of Edinburgh staff who are involved with social, technical and environmental research that relates to Design Informatics in its broadest sense.
Creative Informatics Labs & Studios
CI Labs and Studios run throughout the year and are open to anyone working in Edinburgh’s creative and cultural community. Events are free to attend and offer an excellent introduction to the wider Creative Informatics programme. CI Labs feature live performances and talks from artists and academics who are working with data and data-driven technologies, as well as providing opportunities to network and hear about upcoming opportunities. CI Studios are regular, informal events, that give participants an opportunity to experiment with new technologies, share experiences and collaborate with other creatives to develop ideas for new products and services.
The Institute for Design Informatics has an established track record of running “Collider” events, in which people from various areas of expertise are brought together to ideate through social / environmental challenges to reveal unexpected outcomes. Colliders typically take place 6 times a year, over one afternoon and involve stakeholders from the challenge context. Following brief presentations about a specific technology and a problem space, an intensive ‘sandpit’ style workshop ensues that leads to a series of speculative outcomes idea. Students join staff and invited externals to make up teams.
How to Apply
If you are interested in pursuing a PhD within the Institute for Design Informatics you are welcome to contact staff within the Institute through the supervisors’ page.
The Institute spans the School of Design (Edinburgh College of Art) and the School of Informatics, and entry to the PhD programmes is made directly through each School and you will find information about entry requirements, tuition fees, funding, scholarships and the application procedure here:
School of Design: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/design-mphilphd
School of Informatics: https://www.ed.ac.uk/informatics/postgraduate/research-degrees/phd