Curriculum‎ > ‎Thesis‎ > ‎

Thesis Guidelines



The goal of an ITP education is for you leave here with the tools to do whatever you want to do. Those tools include: knowing how to find out what you don’t know; to be ready for change, anticipate it; a willingness to experiment, fail, try again, etc; how to take an idea and make it real; to find your strengths and deepen them; to follow your passions and trust your gut.

The faculty needs to see evidence of mastery of these skills and evidence of what you’ve learned at ITP. Your thesis will be a manifestation of those qualities. For you, the thesis should be something you really want to explore, want to make, want to see in the world. You’re going to spend 14 weeks on this singular project, do something that challenges, fascinates, plagues or delights you. Take the time to enjoy this process.

An ITP thesis is a demonstration of mastery of a particular project or problem of your design. It can take different forms—a physical prototype, a research paper—but the key is that there is a central concept, with a clear statement of purpose: in other words: 1) what it is, and 2) so what?

Why are you interested in it? What need does it fulfill, what does it add to the world, a field, the literature? Your thesis does not have to be a finished product—that would be impossible in 14 weeks—but it should be a proof of concept. That is, you should show us how it could be achieved and we’d have confidence that you could do it. You will find a list of what is considered a proof-of-concept for different media on the blog, when it is up and running.

Unlike a dissertation at a more traditionally academic program, you do not have to defend your thesis to a committee. You do have to ‘defend’ it to your thesis class and teacher! They will help you hone your idea and get it in to shape. Many people think of their thesis as a platform—something from which you could write a grant, a business plan, a conference proposal or just show as part of your portfolio.

It is the one thing that you do here at ITP that’s all yours: you generate the idea, you create the path towards implementation.

The ITP thesis reflects our belief that you will leave here feeling comfortable as a creator, inventor, maker and thinker. And you will also be able to communicate your ideas to others in a variety of ways—in writing, in model, a prototype, in conversation, in a presentation.

How to pick a topic:

  1. Perhaps the best place to start (indeed, the best choice) is to take a project that you’ve worked on in the past year and a half…something that you were proud of, something that you’d like to explore further (e.g. to go from the demonstration prototype to a full rugged prototype or even an app). Or perhaps there’s an idea that threads through your work….

  2. Choose something interesting, possible, and hard. Why pick something you already know that answer to? Discovery is part of the task. The trick is finding the right-sized idea. Not too big for one person to do in 14 weeks; not too small to be worth it. Look for the Goldilocks spot: just right.

  3. Is it relevant to ITP? As an interdisciplinary program, ITP allows for and encourages exploration in a number of areas. Choose a topic that reflects what you’ve learned here and is something that the faculty and your cohort at ITP can help you explore. Subjects that are too far from the collective experience of the institution will prevent you from getting useful feedback. And not relate to your time here.

  4. The single best predictor of a successful thesis is your own interest and engagement  with the topic. Don’t do what you think you should. Go for something that intrigues you: make something you want to have, solve a problem that’s been gnawing at you. It’s your chance at a self-defined challenge. You don’t always get that at work or at school––seize the opportunity.


The work itself can be a written research paper, a design brief, a video or a prototype for a larger project. In all cases it is a proof-of-concept of your big idea.

  • A Production Thesis demonstrates creative strategies or purposeful innovations in digital media, along with the ability to document this work and its implications in written form.

  • A Written Thesis proposes and defends a position based either on a practical research project and its conclusions, or on scholarly research into the nature and impact of digital media or emerging technologies.

Thesis is also a class and there are fulfillment requirements: attending and contributing to your thesis seminar class, development and production of your thesis, a short paper (if it’s a production thesis) that documents your process, a final presentation to outside critics/reviewers, and, finally, a public presentation on Thesis Week to the entire faculty and student body. All of this is described in detail below.


The time reserved for all Thesis classes, workshops, consultants and activities is Tuesday from 3:30-8:00. Although First Years are not exactly banned from the floor, there’s very little room for them, and you get first priority. They can be in the PComp area.

You will not be in class that whole time (see below)—you work in groups with the Resident attached to your group. There will be a speakers and workshops.

Even if you don’t have class, though, the floor is dedicated to Thesis Students. If you take advantage of the time and space well, you might be able to do most of your Thesis work on Tuesdays. Remember, Thesis is just one class. It is not meant to take over and ruin every other aspect of your life.


As with all classes, you must have permission from your Thesis Advisor to miss any class. And missing more than 2 classes is a cause for failure. For most of the semester you meet in class every other week, so it’s not possible to make up. If your study group is meeting, then you must let them know that you won’t be there. They may be able to rearrange a meeting time to accommodate you, but then you should probably bring everyone a pizza or some coffee.


Part of the idea of thesis is to both give you a lot of support and a lot of independence. Therefore you will notice that the first few weeks are like any class, with specific assignments given by your Thesis Advisor. By week 4, you are the driver for your project. You will meet as a class every other week, but you will still have a study group and will meet with your Class Resident. And you can always contact your Thesis Advisor with any question or a meeting. These are flexible… each class is different. Towards the end of the semester, there will be times your Advisor will opt to not hold class so that you can spend the time working on our project.

·       You are in a class of 18 or 19, broken into two sections of 9 or 10. You will meet every week for the first 3 classes. That is, until your Thesis Proposal has been approved by the faculty.

·       The Thesis Proposal is due after the 3rd class by 6 p.m.

    ·       Starting with the 4th week, you will meet every other week with your Thesis Advisor. Sometimes in class, sometimes 1:1, at the advisor’s                 discretion. Each class may do this differently. The Advisor will respond to whatever serves the class best. Each section is then divided into 2             study groups organized by your Thesis Advisor and Resident.

·       On the week you meet with your Thesis Advisor, one group will meet for the first hour; the other for the second hour. This will ensure that you      get plenty of time to get feedback, provide updates, call out problems, etc.

·       On the week that you do not have class time, the group will meet with the Resident. You also have time to meet with your study group for             additional support as peer critical friends—sharing resources, updating each other on schedules, updating progress.

·       You are expected to read and comment on the work of those in your study group on the blog.

·       Meet with your Class Resident on the week you are NOT in class with your Thesis Advisor. These times change depending on the week.             These meetings will evolve to meet your needs.


Each class has a Resident attached to it, as described above. This means there’s one more person to support you and give feedback if you want it. The Residents have also offered to run workshops (e.g. web apps, developing for iPad, mobile app). We will welcome your suggestions about topics you’d like, and try to accommodate you.


Although the Thesis is mostly self-directed, there will be assignments and milestones to be met from the Thesis Advisors. Assignments are listed below. Here are the major milestones you all have at the same time:

·       Thesis Saturday, Dec 2

·       First Class Jan. 23. (Prepare a 5-minute Portfolio Review Presentation)

·       Thesis Proposal due 3rd week  (Feb.9)

·          Mid-term Review Classes 6 & 7, (Feb 27, Mar 6)

·              Quick & Dirty Thesis Show  (Mar. 20)

·          Thesis Written & Visual  Material, Summary Documentation, Class 11 (April 10)

·          Final Review with Outside Critics Classes 14 (May 1)

·          Thesis Week: Ta-da! (Week of May 8)

Because each of you has a different project, with different internal timelines and needs, after your proposal is accepted, you will make up your own production schedule and assignments. Your Thesis Advisor may make additional assignments as well. But basically, the basic assignment is Advance Your Project (AYP). That is, an assignment may say ‘prepare a presentation’, and you must do that, but don’t stop working on your thesis: AYP!


·       Documentation of your research, your design and production process and methodology is a major part of your final thesis. It is in lieu of a book-length Thesis Paper.

·       Post all your documentation on the Thesis Blog. Your Thesis Blog will be approved by Thesis Week by your Thesis Advisor, and signed by Thesis Area Head.

·       You will be able to print out your thesis blog if you want to keep it as a permanent record of your work.

·       Week 11, you will deliver the Thesis Written and Visual Material (more info to come later in the semester), as well as your Thesis Summary Documentation, a personal statement, summary abstracts (i.e a paragraph) of your research, design and production, user testing, critical feedback, and conclusion.


Post a summary of your week’s progress on the blog. Think of it as a journal. It will enable your Thesis Advisor and Resident to get an overview of your work. It will help you reflect on your progress and highlight areas where you might want help. You will keep all your ideas and notes for documentation. It doesn’t have to be long—just informative and useful. Can be notes—but they must be comprehensible to someone living outside your mind!

Post your Weekly Progress Report on Sunday night before class so that your Thesis Advisor and Resident have time to review it before class.


You are required to see advice and feedback from at least 3 outsiders. You will write up the feedback you received and your response to it.


There are two kinds of thesis: production and written:

·       A Production Thesis demonstrates creative strategies or purposeful innovations in digital media, along with the ability to document this work and its implications in written form.

·       A Written Thesis proposes and defends a position based either on a practical research project and its conclusions, or on scholarly research into the nature and impact of digital media or emerging technologies.


In the past, students have asked for some guidelines to know more precisely what is expected of them and what the elements of a good thesis are. This is ITP, and there’s a lot of latitude. We don’t want to lay down rules to stifle your creativity, but perhaps looking at general parameters of acceptability will help you right-size your idea. There will always be leeway and exceptions, but make sure your Thesis Advisor is on board so you’re not caught up short. We want to be satisfied with your thesis, and we want you to be proud of it.


·       Evidence of research (knowing the field, alternative, previous and current approaches, your audience, how is your project different from other similar things, what are your influences)

·       Process documentation throughout

·       Documentation of user feedback when the idea is far enough along to solicit meaningful feedback. By week 10, some evidence of user testing.

·       User Experience: While for most interactive projects including complex websites, 14 weeks is not enough time for a fully-functioning product, you must be able to show a demonstration prototype; and also include user experience specifications such as flows and visual design.

·       Any material help you get on the development of your project outside of class and Thesis Advisor feedback (i.e. design, programming, production) must be approved by your Thesis Advisor in advance, roles articulated, and acknowledgement given. If you need support for an element or two, that’s ok...but at least 80% of the work must be your own.


Changes to these requirements are possible with approval from your Thesis Advisor.

·       Websites: A fully functional demonstration prototype. See User Experience above. The content will be fleshed out and real as far as possible (that is, at least half way between lore ipsum and ready to launch!). User tested by week 10.

·       Social Software: The web aspect is the same as websites—but user feedback and testing even more important. The concept will be user tested early (week4) and revised continually.

·       PComp: A working prototype, with a credible theory/plan of how it will work in the real world. User tested by week 10.

·       Performance: Must be performed outside ITP. By Week 8, you will have organized and secured a venue to perform, send invitations, etc. Secure an outside critic in that field by mid-terms. Performance by week 11. Documentation of the Performance for Thesis Week Presentation.

·       Public Art Installation: create a proposal imagining: your site of choice (site study including text description, and photos), context (flow of people, whether they'd count on a public of passersby (who are they?) or invited public (via marketing), feasibility (power, security), time and seasonal frame (one night or one year), budget, sketches and videos demonstrating a proof of concept (and sited on site through photoshop/video and visualization), work samples that support the project (prove you can do it), Artist Statement, Crits with outside artists by week 8

·       Art: artist Statement; context (Does your work have any kinship with current art works out in the world? Historical precedents, how this could be part of a larger body of work in the future, or relates to prior works); working sketches to document progress (process and end-result); document finished work in a meaningful context, with user interaction if appropriate; crits with outside artists by week 8; piece completed; students must do their own work.

·       Mobile or iPad Apps: mock-up, interactive demo, user tested by week 10.

·       Interactive Storytelling & Games: Scripts and storyboards finalized between weeks 3-5; production to happen between weeks 5-10; user testing weeks 11-13.

·       Video: Remember this is ITP, not the film school. How does your project demonstrate interactivity in a way that a ‘regular’ video would not? Scripts and storyboards finalized between weeks 3-5; production to happen between weeks 5-10; user tested by week 10.

·       Research: Find a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to advise and critique, to assess and verify that the work is valid. By the proposal, you need to have a SME to verify that your idea is doable and/or hasn’t been done. Take the knowledge from an outside field and bring it into the ITP environment/with ITP tools , skills and design. Written paper will be reviewed by 3 people, suggestions of where you want to publish it, bibliography and footnotes.

·       Data Viz:By week 3: Gather your data, explore it using manual tools. By week 4: What is the story? Why are you visualizing? By week 5: First working visualization prototype. Week 6 on: design and re-design.