Designated Emphasis Program

Designated Emphasis Program

Next deadline – 1 November, 2024

The Berkeley Center for New Media is a cross-disciplinary research and teaching program that offers its own graduate courses, recommends related courses, and encourages research collaborations to enhance the intellectual community of UC Berkeley scholars interested in new media.

BCNM’s Designated Emphasis (D.E.) program is for selected UC Berkeley Ph.D. students from any Berkeley home department with research interests in new media. It is supplemental to the Ph.D. program in the regular departments, and provides enhanced skills in analyzing and/or designing future media with an awareness of historical, social, cultural, and other perspectives that might not be visible from any single disciplinary point of view. Upon completion of all requirements and the dissertation, your transcript and diploma will read “Ph.D. in [Home Department] with Designated Emphasis in New Media.” Please note: Students must apply for the D.E. at least 3 months before their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam.


The course requirements are in addition to, but may overlap with, the Ph.D. course requirements of your home department. Courses for the Designated Emphasis in New Media must be taken for a Letter Grade (LG), not as Pass/No Pass (P/NP).

Core Course Requirements

The BCNM is cross-disciplinary and builds on three areas of inquiry: Humanities (H), Technology (T) and Art/Design (A). Some experience with all three is required. BCNM DE students must therefore complete the following three core courses:

  • NWMEDIA 200, History and Theory of New Media (4 units) Usually offered in Spring term. This lecture/seminar course provides a broad historical and theoretical background for new media production and practice. The class will map out theoretical approaches from different disciplines and allow graduate students to discuss and apply them to their own research projects.
  • NWMEDIA 201, Questioning New Media (3 units) Usually offered in Fall and Spring terms. NWMEDIA 201 meets weekly and is held in conjunction with the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloqium, a regular lecture series which brings internationally known speakers to campus to present their work on advanced topics in new media. Students will enhance skills in “questioning” new media: how to think critically about advanced topics in new media, how to use new media resources such as the internet to research pioneering work in new media, how to formulate incisive questions about new media, and how to evaluate and create effective presentations on topics in new media.

Either NWMEDIA 202, C203, 204, 205, C262, C263, or C265 may be taken to satisfy the third core course requirement:

  • NWMEDIA 202, New Media Methods (3 units) Usually offered in the Fall term. This course introduces students to the five basic computer programming languages to prototype new media tools, including mobile apps, web apps, and electronic sensor tools.
  • NWMEDIA C203, Critical Making (4 units) Usually offered in Fall and Spring terms. Critical Making will operationalize and critique the practice of “making” through both foundational literature and hands on studio culture. As hybrid practitioners, students will develop fluency in readily collaging and incorporating a variety of physical materials and protocols into their practice.
  • NWMEDIA 204, Critical Practices (4 units) Critical Practices is a hands-on studio design course where students work at the intersection of technological innovation and socially engaged art. Students will integrate a suite of digital fabrication tools with social design methods to create work that engages in cultural critique. Working with innovative technologies and radical, new art practices, this course will explore: hybrid art forms, critical design for community engagement, interventions in public spaces
  • NWMEDIA 205, Locative Media (4 units) From postcards and maps to mobile phones, this course considers the history and future of locative media, as technological, situated and navigational ways of expressing and understanding space, place and mobility. Combining theory and praxis, students partake in a series of of lectures and discussion-based seminars as well as research, design and production workshops where they will learn to make a critical locative media project of their own.
  • NWMEDIA C262, Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces (4 units) Usually offered in the Fall term. This course explores the theory and practice of Tangible User Interfaces, a new approach to Human Computer Interaction that focuses on the physical interaction with computational media. The topics covered in the course include theoretical framework, design examples, enabling technologies, and evaluation of Tangible User Interfaces.
  • NWMEDIA C263, Technologies for Creativity and Learning (3 units) Usually offered in the Spring term. This course explores issues on designing and evaluating technologies that support creativity and learning. The class will cover theories of creativity and learning, implications for design, as well as a survey of new educational technologies such as works in computer supported collaborative learning, digital manipulatives, and immersive learning environments.
  • NWMEDIA C265, Interface Aesthetics (2 units) Usually offered in the Spring term. This course will cover new interface metaphors beyond desktops (e.g., for mobile devices, computationally enhanced environments, tangible user interfaces) but will also cover visual design basics (e.g., color, layout, typography, iconography) so that we have systematic and critical understanding of aesthetically engaging interfaces.

It is possible to provide evidence of equivalent level of experience/skill in an area and request a waiver of a core course by writing a petition to the D.E. Academic Program Committee, endorsed by your program advisor, describing how the requirement has been met with a previous course (include a copy of your transcript to confirm completion) or provide evidence of equivalent experience. Questions about the core requirements may be addressed to the BCNM Graduate Advisor, Alex Saum-Pascual, saum-pascual [​at​]

Elective Requirements

D.E. students must enroll in an additional two classes that significantly deal with new media. Courses should be three or four credits, and must be approved by the BCNM Graduate Advisor. Use the DE Course Requirements Worksheet to file these courses with the program. To see what courses have been approved in the past, check out this list here.

Research and Committee Requirements

Your Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee must include at least one member of the BCNM Graduate Group / Affiliated Faculty who will evaluate your knowledge related to the Designated Emphasis. Your Ph.D. dissertation topic must be related to New Media and your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee must include at least one member of the BCNM Graduate Group / Affiliated Faculty who can evaluate it from that perspective.

Impact on normative time to completion

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of training and research in the BCNM Designated Emphasis, and depending on your background, completion of the BCNM D.E. could add one or possibly two additional semesters to your total program. Please note that no additional time can be added to your home department’s established normative “time to degree” to compensate for this.


Any UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in good standing may apply. Admission to the BCNM Designated Emphasis program is determined by the BCNM DE Academic Programs Committee. Applications are accepted twice a year, for Fall and Spring admittance to the program. Applications for Fall 2024 admission are now open. Fall 2024 applications are due November 1, 2024.

To apply, please fill in this form and upload the following documents in a single PDF file:

  • Letter of intent summarizing your research interests and background in new media
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Course transcript from Berkeley
  • Course Requirements worksheet Courses need not be completed at time of application, but you must indicate which classes you have taken or intend to take to fulfill DE requirements. This form does not need to be signed.

Additionally, please have your UC Berkeley faculty advisor email your Letter of recommendation to lara [​at​]