The Master in Design for Emergent Futures (MDEF) is organised by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and ELISAVA Barcelona School of Design and Engineering, in collaboration with the Fab Academy.

The Master is a nine-month experience (currently, the second year is being developed) for students who want to expand their focus interests and acquire the skills to turn protests into prototypes, ideas into actions, and who are engaged in the mission of transforming the current status of affairs in society. The program is structured in four critical steps: Exploration, Instrumentation, Reflection and Application. Through these four steps, the master aims to provide strategic vision and tools for designers, sociologists, economists and computer scientists, to become agents of change in multiple professional environments. The program focus is in the design of interventions in the form of products, platforms and deployments that aim to produce new emergent futures, by previously analysing the current challenges in society and industry.

Students will be encouraged to work at multiple scales (from bits to geography) in order to design and test interventions in the real world. The theoretical and practical content in this program proposes an exploratory journey to comprehend and critique the role of disruptive technologies –digital fabrication, the blockchain, synthetic biology, Artificial Intelligence, among others– in the transformation of the established order. At the same time, during the MDEF students will develop a hybrid profile that mixes various sets of skills (technical and human) that will be applied in the implementation of projects.

Graduates of this masters will have a wide and informed vision of the impact of technology in businesses, education, society and culture, and will be prototyping and testing some of these technologies in the studios (research, design and development). During the master, a series of potential collaborations with industry, government and other professional sectors will be encouraged in order to develop more impactful projects. IAAC and Fab Lab Barcelona have collaborated with the following organisations: Nike, IKEA, Airbus, Festool, Ajuntament de Barcelona, UN-Habitat and others. ELISAVA has collaborated with companies like Agbar, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, DUPONT, SUEZ, SEAT, Yamaha, among others.

Edition 2nd edition
Degree Master in Design for Emergent Futures
Directors Tomás Díez, Oscar Tomico
Credits 75 ECTS
Duration 9 months from October 2019 to June 2020 – Full Time
Language English
Tuition Fees

Non-EU: 16.000 €

EU: 12.800 €

Admission Bachelor or higher degree in Industrial Design, Product Design, Urban Design, Graphic Design, Interaction Design, Computer Science, Engineering (Mechanical, Chemical, Product, Material), Sociology, Anthropology, Economy, and other related professions.

Why design emergent futures?

We live in a moment of rapid change where new economic, environmental and social paradigms are challenging the status quo of the 150 years old industrial society. The biosphere, financial markets, family structures, business models in product development, and society, in general, are being challenged in one of the most important transition periods of human history. While the industrial revolution produced innumerable benefits to society, we are now confronted with a plethora of complex and interconnected problems that challenge our productive model: climate change, social disenfranchisement, and the centralisation of wealth and power. Cedric Price once asked: Technology is the answer, but what was the question? This is the moment for us to formulate the new questions for technology to redefine its role in society, to create promising and viable emergent futures for humanity to thrive, and not just survive.

The ongoing transformations in the industry, under a new production paradigm supported by advanced manufacturing, new forms of synthetic intelligence, new material science or connected systems, are opening endless opportunities to re-calibrate the negative effects of the human centred activities on planet earth. Some of these emergent technologies (digital fabrication, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, blockchain, to name a few) are already disrupting the established mechanisms under which our productive model operates, and are producing massive cultural transformations in society. If the machine era aimed to shape the human habitat by creating interfaces with natural resources through science and technology, the ubiquitous nature of digital technologies will demand articulation and rapid synchronization of systems at different scales, both biological and synthetic. At the same time, the emergence of such new tools and technologies are demanding us to create different outputs from the ones we already know and to design possible futures for life (human and non-human) in this planet.

The complexity of the current transition period usually leads to the creation of wicked problems, or problems without solution, which need to be addressed from a multidisciplinary and collaborative perspective. Our approach is not to look for moon shots, instead, we are proposing small-scale interventions to approach large-scale challenges, in order to dissolve wicked problems instead to solve them with single solutions.

This is why we are establishing a strong collaboration between one of the world’s leading institutions in technology and experimentation like IAAC, with one of the best Design and Engineering schools in the world, together with the larger distributed educational program and one of the emergent disruptive companies of Barcelona and Europe.

The Master in Design for Emergent Futures embeds its philosophy and methodology in its own structure and mechanisms of function, by engaging students in a personal and collective journey towards the creation of emergent futures, the path to make them happen, and to acquire the skills to envision, understand and test them in the real world.

This is why we are establishing a unique collaboration between the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and ELISAVA School of Design and Engineering, in collaboration with the Fab Academy and the Academy of Almost Anything, as well as other partners such as Space10, Kickstarter, Seeed Studio, among others to be announced soon.

Academic structure

The Master in Design for Emergent Futures (MDEF) is organised in three terms (Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun), each including Design Studios, a Research Trip, complementary Seminars and related events.

The Design Studios are the main part of the program: they focus on real-world experimentation and socio-technical development. During the year, students will be developing technical, aesthetic and conceptual skills by working on real-life scenarios. Seminar sessions are designed to delve into specific domains of knowledge and are delivered by relevant experts, including both practitioners and scholars. Throughout the academic year, international experts in the field of design and emergent technologies will be contributing to the program as guest lecturers.

In this master, we will not teach students a methodology, neither a set of golden rules to be applied in given assignments. Instead, we introduce the MDEF as a journey and exploration on how projects can be manifestos to introduce new outputs.

We would like to support students in developing their identity and vision and encourage them to develop their unique set of skills, knowledge and attitude in order to navigate the uncertainty while designing possible futures. The Master in Design for Emergent Futures is a journey in time and multiple dimensions, which when intersected open a new point of view, understanding and translating ideas into projects. These dimensions are:

  • Exploration: We will expose the students to a set of technologies that have the capacity to disrupt our present understanding of society, industry and the economy.
  • Reflection: We will support the students in developing their identity and a set of skills, knowledge and attitude as designers of possible futures.
  • Instrumentation: We will provide a set of skills and tools that will help to translate ideas into prototypes, and prototypes into products, which can be tested and iterated throughout the design process.
  • Application: We will encourage students to create a culture of making, where prototyping acts as a generator of knowledge, and interventions become message carriers of a future that is about to arrive.

The Master in Design for Emergent Futures is connected with the Exploring Emergent Futures platform at the Royal College of Art, London, which has been developed by James Tooze and Tomas Diez from 2015. And is now led by James and Elizabeth Corbin.

MDEF – First Year

The program is structured as it follows:

  • Term 1 - Understand how to design for emergent futures
  • Term 2 - Envision emergent contexts
  • Term 3 - Intervene, create future speculations

MDEF – Second Year

The program is organized in four plus one (4+1) phases:

Project development and implementation (TBA)*

Student profile

The MDEF program is recommended for designers, sociologists, computer scientists, economists, anthropologists, technology entrepreneurs and changemakers who are looking for a hybrid career path to conceive and produce impactful ideas to transform the world. This Master has a high component of hands-on learning and project-based learning where students will be requested to transform big ideas into design strategies, prototypes and interventions to be tested in the real world, focused on Barcelona but connected globally with other cities.

Candidates for the Master in Design for Emergent Futures are professionals coming from Industrial Design, Product Design, Urban Design, Graphic Design, Interaction Design, Computer Science, Engineering (Mechanical, Chemical, Product, Material), Sociology, Anthropology, Economy, and other related professions.

Upon successful completion of the master, the students will join the IAAC and ELISAVA Alumni Communities. IAAC Alumni Community is an active and dynamic network of visionary professionals spread around the world, promoting principles and applications of digital fabrication, design and architecture, exploring new academic and research initiatives, leading award-winning practices or working for internationally acclaimed firms and institutions.

ELISAVA alumni have the mission of promoting the constant personal and professional development of ELISAVA former students. For this reason, it is built as a participative space open to diversity, and orientated to motivate leadership, cooperation, and entrepreneurship through strategic values such as design, technology, with the purpose of giving answers to the needs of nowadays society.

Program taught in:

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Last updated April 20, 2019
This course is Campus based
Start Date
Oct 2019
9 months
12,800 EUR
12.800€ (EU) - 16.000€ (non-EU)
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