Design for Social Impact

Master of Arts in Design for Social Impact

Do you want to contribute to societal change? Do you see issues around you that you think could be improved or solved? Are you creative and entrepreneurial? Are you looking to work with likeminded people?

Paris College of Art joins forces with MakeSense in this one-year Master’s program (MA) in Design for Social Impact that equips citizen designers with the practical know-how (design thinking methods, leadership and entrepreneurial skills) to successfully lead design projects that will bring positive societal changes. The guiding question for this program is:

How can design change the world?

Each academic year students will work with faculty and partner organizations to research and design a solution to a societal problem. In academic year 2017-2018 students worked on issues as varied as refugee integration through sports, fashion consumption and our relationships to our garments, alternative monetary systems through Blockchain, edible and compostable food packaging solutions and Basic Universal Income.

Examples of student projects previously incubated at MakeSense include services to the homeless, products that protect from air pollution or programs that encourage physical activity in senior citizens to decrease the risk of injury and associated health costs. In the first semester students will work with a social entrepreneur in an on-going effort to apply the skills they learn, and in the second semester they will develop their own individual project that can be submitted for funding to different competitions and agencies.

The MA in Design for Social Impact draws from the expertise of international faculty members in the fields of design for social impact and development, and the network of the MakeSense community of social entrepreneurs.


About MakeSense

MakeSense is an international organization bringing together 2,000 social entrepreneurs with 30,000 volunteers from over 100 cities in 70 countries. By putting together volunteers’ skills and ideas, MakeSense’s aim is to help social entrepreneurs create and develop their businesses and solve the most pressing issues faced by society in such arenas as: education, health, environment, food, etc. SenseCampus is the educational arm of MakeSense, offering dedicated pedagogical programs to get students to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals defined by the UN. Founded in 2012, it counts over 4,000 alumni and 20 academic partners, including the highest ranked business schools in France.


MA Curriculum


MA One-Year Program


Design Studio I

MDES 0500

In the Design Studio, students will acquire the skills needed to develop, prototype and implement a social and urban intervention that seeds positive change in a community.  By using human-centered design research and design thinking methods, by adopting an iterative mindset and prototyping tools/techniques and by testing the prototype in-situ, students will explore what it means, the implication and effects of designing for the “real world”. Each semester is structured  around several projects to make sure that students circle through the three laboratory spaces available to them: a computer lab; a 3D lab for wood, metal and ceramics; and a “fab lab” with laser cutters and 3D printers, among other equipment. There is also time for students to receive individual tutorials and guidance on their project (social entrepreneurship project in the fall and final project in the spring).

Introduction to Research & Methodology

MDES 0501

Understanding users’ needs, desires and constraints is key to creating any successful system or artefact, such as art installations, games, apps, websites, products, services, etc. Design research methods can be used to understand stakeholder needs, create stakeholder empathy in the creative team, identify opportunities, move beyond obvious solutions, enhance concepts, test and evaluate ideas and guide an individual or a  team from the beginning through final concept evaluation using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Questionnaire design, participant observation, in-context interviews, self-documentation, participatory design, heuristic analysis, product ethnography and interactive testing using small number statistics are just some of the techniques used to improve concept development and objectively evaluate one concept or design idea over another. We’ll learn how to formulate research topics, use human factors data, gather ethical ethnographic data, use qualitative and quantitative research techniques, analyze the research results and present the information in ways that are appropriate to each stage of the creative process.

Social Entrepreneurship Project

MDES 0502

This course is supervised by PCA faculty in collaboration with MakeSense’s SenseAcademy. Students (alone or in small teams) are paired up with a social start-up in France – or remotely with a start-up in one of the SenseCampus incubators in Belgium, Mexico and Senegal. The course combines fieldwork with the start-up and guided instruction by SenseAcademy faculty. All the students in the course meet for half a day every two weeks and receive individual coaching and tutoring in-between as needed. The outcome is a written or filmed account of this semester-long service learning experience highlighting (1) the outcomes of the project, and (2) the skills and competencies gained by the student through this service learning project. One example of such a SenseAcademy project brought together 8 students to develop better suited exercise tools for senior citizens to help them maintain their mobility and physical well-being (SDG # 3) and can be watched here. Evaluation of students is done by PCA faculty.

Design Thinking

MDES 0505

This course will combine review and discussion of the principles of Design Thinking with practical hands-on applications. One of the applications will be a two-day challenge with SenseSchool and other academic partners for an Innovation Game. SenseSchool regularly organizes the Innovation Game to business schools as an inter-campus competition for sustainable innovation. Students are split into teams and tasked to design innovative and concrete solutions to 20 challenges faced by real social entrepreneurs. At the end solutions are pitched by the students to a panel and the best ideas are rewarded.

Personal Leadership Skills Development

MDES 0507

This course will be offered with faculty from SenseCampus and will be organized as a series of workshops on different topics. Typical MakeSense activities include Hold-Ups, MakeSense Rooms (MKS Rooms), and meet-ups. The leadership skills to be developed include communication skills (listening, clarity, persuasion), public speaking, team management, event organization, increased knowledge of legal matters, conflict resolution, and providing effective feedback. Hold-Ups are creativity sessions facilitated by a trained professional in which participants have to design a concrete solution to a social entrepreneur’s problem in a set amount of time. Students will develop communication skills. MKS Rooms are recorded events blending live performance and talks connecting art and social entrepreneurship. By using music and culture, the mission is to promote social business and make it accessible to everyone. Students will be involved in organizing MKS Rooms, learning team management, event organization, and public speaking. Meet-ups brings together people to focus on a topic, such as the different legal structures suited for social start-ups or constructive conflict resolution in small teams, or providing structured feedback to volunteers.

Masters Electives


You may select electives from the course offerings below.


Design Studio II

MDES 0503

Leading brands in the global market constantly innovate not only their products and services but also their communication and marketing strategies. To ensure their success, they anticipate the desire of consumers. This is known as cost-effective innovation. However, the analysis of changes in society and the increasingly complex logic of markets is currently one the biggest difficulties faced by companies. Having reliable information about future changes in consumer habits and anticipating to the evolution of cultural, social, technological and symbolic aspects is key to innovation. The challenge is to transform that valuable information into designed strategic actions for the market. At this stage, organizations need a 360-degree framework applied to products, services, environments, communication, distribution, and experiences, or what is also called the ‘product-service system’ (PSS). In this scenario, managers must be able to handle complexity by applying new visions and designing strategic applications. The SPROUT methodology, therefore, will help leaders and organizations to face future market challenges through a value-creating journey. The workshop approach combines theoretical and practical instructions to develop the team’s vision and ability to solve specific business problems through SPROUT – a design-driven innovation methodology.

Social and Urban Governance

MDES 0506

In a globalized world of information, goods and people, cities seek tools for governance in economies characterized both by deregulation and new rules. In this context, the consequences on social fragmentation, climate change, and economic uncertainties of our urbanized world create and renew governance through new behaviors: agility, responsiveness, resilience, collaboration, civic representation. Political mobilizations, collective interests, and social concerns question this need for a revisited way of deciding and choosing what needs to be done in cities. This course covers theories and practices both in emerging countries and post industrialized economies in this new urban context : E-governance, participatory and social innovations, mobilization in decision making, urban empowerment, city co-production, development or design.

Final Individual Project

MDES 0511

The final project can be either an individual project or a team project (with each team member receiving an individual grade), and it can be either a project that starts in the second semester or the continuation of the social entrepreneurship project started in the fall. It is our expectation, based on SenseSchool alumni, that about 1/4th of students will become social entrepreneurs, and that the final MA project will eventually lead to a social start-up. Students will meet as a group every two weeks to share ideas, submit challenges for peer review and feedback, and they will have access to PCA and SenseSchool faculty for individual tutoring and problem-solving every week throughout the semester. The project is evaluated by a jury composed of PCA faculty members.

Professional Practice Workshop Series


Professionals from the Parisian art and design world will come in to introduce students to their professional practice and engage them in practical exercises preparing them for the job market. Instructors will be drawn from a broad range of fields: photographers and videographers; designer and architects; galleries, museums, auction houses and private collections; art fairs and international exhibitions; art dealers; curators; historians; journalists and iconographers; artists; magazine editors; I.P. and licensing lawyers, etc.


Designer's Social and Ethical Responsibility

MDES 0508

In this course students are brought to think about the ethical implications of a designer’s choices on the life cycle of an object (materials, means and conditions of production, recycling, etc.). Each student will select a product or service and research its life cycle.

Master's Thesis

MDES 0510

Students will document the research they conduct on the theme of their final project, as well as the research they have done on the cost and means of production of their project. One of the criteria for evaluating the thesis is the extent to which the student’s work is situated in an art-historic and cultural context, requiring students to conduct research using written documentation, artefacts, and the learning resources available to them in Paris (see section devoted to libraries and other learning resources).

Masters Electives


You may select electives from the course offerings below.

Elective Offerings




Students take a placement test to be placed into one of three levels of French language: introductory, intermediate and advanced. Classes meet twice a week for written and oral exercises designed to strengthen vocabulary and grammar. These courses use dialogues, oral exercises, short compositions and literary texts to establish a firm foundation in the language. Students approach everyday life situations in French, while learning the fundamentals of grammar and the complexity of conversation. The intermediate and advanced courses serve as a more sophisticated introduction to French culture and lifestyle and as a means of consolidating grammar and vocabulary.

Still Life Photography

FHOT 0500

The main aim of this class is to provide students with the tools and techniques required to document their work in a professional manner in order to share it with prospective clients. Students in several graduate programs will need to be proficient in photographing objects and/or interiors. Photographing still life is different from portraiture or street photography, and requires mastery of lighting and mise en scène.

Concept Development: Storytelling

MFFP 0508

In this semester-long course students learn to quickly develop and research concepts to tell a story in images and words. The aim is to provide them with the tools, skills and processes that they will need to respond to a client’s brief in a professional and convincing manner. It is open as an elective to students from other departments, since the ability to come up with creative ideas, researching them and then “packaging” them in a compelling verbal and visual story is a key skill for any designer, whether it is to develop a story for a fashion editorial, an accessories line, or the concept for a new restaurant interior. The disciplinary mix of students also serves to prepare them to work within interdisciplinary teams, which is what they will be faced with in the professional world.




Students take a placement test to be placed into one of three levels of French language: introductory, intermediate and advanced. Classes meet twice a week for written and oral exercises designed to strengthen vocabulary and grammar. These courses use dialogues, oral exercises, short compositions and literary texts to establish a firm foundation in the language. Students approach everyday life situations in French, while learning the fundamentals of grammar and the complexity of conversation. The intermediate and advanced courses serve as a more sophisticated introduction to French culture and lifestyle and as a means of consolidating grammar and vocabulary.

Intellectual Property Rights

MDES 0512

The I.P. course covers issues related to copyright, patents, contracts and liabilities as they apply to art and design. Students will learn about international laws related to copyright and patents and understand how to protect their intellectual property and the best strategies to adopt in different circumstances.

Overall Credits Total

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know that this program is right for you?

  • You care for the well being of others and future generations and have an entrepreneurial spirit.
  • You want a career shift and to work on projects that make sense.
  • You have a passion for solving social and environmental challenges through design.
  • You wish to connect with like-minded people to accelerate or incubate a social design project.

How cutting edge is this program in comparison to similar programs?

  • The program is uniquely co-designed with make sense,a global community that connects engages citizens, passionate entrepreneurs and forward-looking organizations to solve social issues and create positive impact.
  • The program is NASAD accredited and you will receive the highest standard of art and design education.
  • The program is practice based: you will be working on real challenges.

What are concrete design problems or projects students can expect to complete?

  • Create edible take-out food packading.
  • Integrate refuges through space-based social business models.
  • Find sustainable solutions to fight digital exclusion.
  • Design connected objects for the elderly to exercise.
  • Empower informal communities to better recycle e-waste.
  • Devise solutions to improve the work situations of the disabled.
  • Design educational programs to optimize learning.
  • The topics are infinite: We welcome yours!

What are the prerequisites?

  • A Bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
  • Anyone with the drive to solve real social and environmental challenges is welcome to join the program.
  • Design, Design management and business / entrepreneurship backgrounds are always a plus.
  • An experience in social entrepreneurship, humanitarian relief and volunteering is greatly appreciated.

What can I do with a MA in Design for Social Impact?

  • Change the world! Make it a better place!
  • Get support to launch your own social enterprise.
  • Join a Corporate Social Responsibility team.
  • Prioritize working on projects that matters.

Are there other graduate students at PCA?

PCA offers several graduate programs and all graduate students share elective courses, so there is opportunity for interaction across disciplines both inside and outside the classroom.

Why are academic writing samples an essential element to join the program?

Writing is an essential academic skill across all our graduate programs; one of our requirements for graduation is to write a thesis that shows that students can work independently according to a scholarly method. Submission of writing samples as part of the application for admission allows us to evaluate the candidate’s research, writing, and analytical skills, as well as the capacity to undertake the development of the written thesis project.

What are some of the past thesis research topics students have chosen to explore?

A selection of past topics include:

  • Unplastic my food: takeaway, packaging, consumer behaviors and eco-possibilities.
  • A social ficha design project.
  • A space-based integration program for asylum seekers and refugees: Designing a Social Business model.
  • Blockchain technology for developpement.
  • Clothing ceremonies: The future of our wardrobes.

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