Master in Design for Emergent Futures

Challenge the Way Things Work Today, Design for Tomorrow

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

Course Length

October 2021 — June 2022
Full Time


Non-EU: 16.000 €
EU: 12.800 €


Fab Lab Barcelona – IAAC & Elisava, Barcelona School of Design and Engineering



Admission Requirements

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

The Master in Design for Emergent Futures (MDEF) is a multidisciplinary course which focuses on turning ideas into prototypes, platforms, actions and interventions to transform the current state of society. On analysis of the current global state of affairs and societal challenges, students are encouraged to produce platforms, products and deployments that aim to respond to emergent futures. Our method is to propose small-scale interventions to approach large-scale challenges, in order to dissolve wicked problems, instead of solving them with single moonshot solutions. 

The Master has four stages: Exploration, Instrumentation, Reflection and Application. These four steps provide designers with the strategic vision and tools to work at multiple scales in the real world. The theoretical and practical content in the program recognises and explores the possibilities of disruptive technologies: digital fabrication, blockchain, synthetic biology, Artificial Intelligence and others. 

Why design emergent futures?

We are living in a moment of rapid transition. From this moment on, we will need to design for a different world to what we have known. We need to incorporate new skills to work in a hyperlocal world that is hyper connected. The Master in Design for Emergent Futures is a journey into designing for complexity, uncertainty and possibility. The futures we want tomorrow are enabled by the actions we take today.

The Design for Emergent Futures approach

MDEF is both a theoretical and practical program, that engages the expertise of Fab Lab Barcelona, IAAC and Elisava, Barcelona School of Design and Engineering It evolves the practice of design beyond objects, aesthetics, form-finding and pure speculation through a unique hands-on learning approach. Our method uses design processes to investigate complex systemic problems and proposes city-scale interventions to approach large-scale challenges. The Master has four pillars: Exploration, Instrumentation, Reflection and Application. These provide a structure for personal and professional exploration and build the strategic vision and flexible skillset to design in uncertain times.

Students develop their technical capabilities through the global Fab Academy program. This program equips students with working knowledge across the multiple disciplines of a Fab Lab from coding to digital fabrication. By the end of the Master students will be competent in a range of technical skills which they can apply to their final projects. At the same time, MDEF asks students to critically engage with the fields of speculation and foresight studies; they assess the role of disruptive technologies such as digital fabrication, blockchain, synthetic biology, Artificial Intelligence in the current transformation of society. Critically analysing our today helps students design for the futures that are emerging.

The practical and theoretical aspects of the Master are combined to develop a portfolio of strategies, reflections and prototypes as well as a final project. Investigation is situated in the real world, often Barcelona city, where students can collaborate with local stakeholders to apply their knowledge to human centred needs. The final project is a ‘design intervention’, that is, a solution or response in the form of a product, platform or deployment. Working on hyperlocal interventions gives students a tangible design output that responds to a trend that is emerging at a global level and challenges the potential impact of technology in business, education, society and culture. Student interventions have ranged from urban environment health and wellness strategies to circular fashion systems.

Previous graduates of MDEF have proceeded to work in the subjects in which they specialised during the master. Specialist subjects ranged greatly – from understanding democratic governance and trust; questioning our food systems and how they will look in the future; new material development through synthetic biology; training fungi to consume chemical composites amongst many other varied topics facilitated by the unique environment created by the Master and Faculty.

The Master in Design for Emergent Futures approach has been developed out of the Exploring Emergent Futures platform at the Royal College of Art, London, a program developed by James Tooze and Tomas Diez since 2015. MDEF is dedicated to scaling up the impact of maker practices and reimaging how design can be central to enacting a paradigm shift towards preferred plural futures.

Why study the past, when you can learn future skills? Presenting MDEF

An innovative environment  

MDEF is physically located at IAAC in the heart of the innovative Poblenou neighbourhood. Fab Lab Barcelona provides the technical infrastructure which students are free to use under the guidance of in-house experts. This includes the Fab Lab, machine shop and spaces for bio and food exploration. Fab Lab Barcelona also generates professional connection with local craftspeople, innovators and designers who have previously enriched student projects through collaborations and internships including with LEKA Restaurant, Open Cultural Center and Nomad Coffee.

MDEF is co-delivered by ELISAVA Barcelona School of Design and Engineering, the pioneer academy in this field in Spain, with more than half a century of experience. Founded in 1961, it promotes education, knowledge, research, development and innovation on design. Through the relationship with businesses, institutions and society, Elisava, Barcelona School of Design and Engineering trains its students to encompass professional challenges in an international context and it also delves into practical work and stimulates critical reflection among them, so they finish their studies with the ability to answer the needs of an evolving society.

With a view to the future, MDEF has developed a multi-model program that incorporates digital and physical spaces; local and global infrastructures. From the hyper-domestic space of the home to students’ local streets to an emerging digital community platform community.emergentfutures.io, where students can immerse themselves in online content from the program and the growing Emergent Futures community.

International guests and faculty

The MDEF program is built by practitioners and thought-leaders from Fab Lab Barcelona, IAAC, Elisava, Barcelona School of Design and Engineering and curates a high-level program of guest faculty and speakers including:

Fab Lab Barcelona invites some MDEF guests to share their point of view in the Future Talks series.


Digital Fabrication
Hardware Design
Synthetic Biology
Computational Thinking


Disrupt the present
Create manifestos
through the uncertainty


Identity development
New narratives



Maker skills
Prototype ideas
Create interventions

Hybrid Profile

MDEF is built on an understanding of individual learning and personal development. It welcomes students from various professional backgrounds. Faculty aim to create a structured learning environment for students to apply their own interests and personalities to project-based learning. The Master favours collaboration and ‘human’ skills such as leadership, stakeholder management and teamwork. It is a safe space for students to explore their beliefs and craft their own ‘hybrid profile’ that mixes various sets of technical and human skills and prepares them to be resilient and agile designers to lead the new normal.

Students who wish to expand their perspective in the design field – taking theoretical arguments into the practical field, transforming ideas into interventions that challenge the current societal status quo.

Those interested in deeper comprehending and critiquing the potential possibilities of digital fabrication and practical making to become leaders in societal transformation.

Social Innovators
Designers, makers, entrepreneurs who wish to transform ideas around social innovation into practical, real-world solutions through expanding their technical skills and gaining connection to professional networks.

Hear from our alumni


The second academic year of the MDEF allows students to deepen their training and further develop the final Thesis Project presented at the end of the first academic year. It also allows students to continue their research and innovation agendas using a multiscalar, experimental and realistic approach, and turning the final projects developed in the first year of the program into living platforms for academic research, business development or direct impact on open source communities.

The Thesis Project design workshop is the backbone of the MDEF02 program. That is why we have three types of Thesis Project, related to each quarter of the program, and each with its specific objectives.


See details below for the full program including MDEF 01 + MDEF 02

Course Length

09 + 09 months (18 months)
From October 2022 to June 2024
Immersive and full time


Non-EU: 30.400€
EU: 24.350 €


120 ECTS



Admission Requirements

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

Residency Program

The program will offer four positions yearly with a duration of 9 months for participants to work on a top research project at Fab Lab Barcelona and Elisava.

Participants will become full junior researchers at the hosting institution, working hand in hand with project teams. Each participant will have a research mentor that will define the specific tasks and objectives and will guide them during the whole program.

SEP 2020 — JUN 2021

Want to know more about this program?

Chiara Dall’Olio

Program Coordinator
[email protected]