Design research for Media Psychology students: A meaningful integration of psychological skills and theory

What was the activity?

The assessment, for our MSc Media Psychology students, involves a report of group project work based on a brief from industry partners (latterly, BBC Research and Development). The brief requires the design of a new technology product that addresses contemporary concerns within the media industries. The outcome is a mock-up or prototype which demonstrates the principles and features of the product. This is presented back to the industry partner for feedback which students can then incorporate into their individual reports.

The activity is structured around a ‘design thinking’ model from Stanford (2018), applying phases of empathising (with users), defining (a design problem), ideating (solutions), prototyping (realising ideas in tangible form) and testing (gathering feedback and refining). These phases provide experiences to apply skills and knowledge. Seeking to empathise with users and test ideas allows the students to employ psychological research methods. Defining problems follows from meaningful interpretation of data and application of Psychology theory. Ideating and prototyping focusses attention on synthesising data and ideas within real-world solutions. The project work is completed via a blend of dedicated class time (for instance, a ‘data collection’ session) and self-directed study. Students are guided through the phases via practical sessions across the course of a trimester, including frequent opportunities to share and reflect on progress. The project is then assessed at the end of the module via an ‘industry report’ which is compiled for a non-academic reader. This prepares students for scenarios in which they may be required to provide psychological consultancy to a non-specialist audience. 

The activity is designed to provide meaningful experiences that prepare the students for careers in the media industries and beyond. Methods of design research are valued within the user experience (UX) field and are here contextualised within the wider design process. Students must navigate an uncertain course through multiple possible approaches and solutions to the brief. To embolden them, they are encouraged to take risks, explore the unfamiliar, and embrace the opportunity to learn from failure. They are also required to think about how to communicate their ideas visually, in writing and through professional presentations. There is a strong reflective component: assessment is not simply based on the real-world potential of the prototype, but also on the ability to reflect on the underlying rationale for the design and what has been learnt that can be applied in future projects. The multiple phases of the activity, structured by the design thinking model, therefore engage processes of experiential learning by providing concrete experiences, and encouraging reflection, abstract conceptualisation and experimentation (Kolb, 1984). The value of embedding a design thinking approach within curricula has also been emphasised elsewhere (for example, Dunne & Martin, 2006; Fabri, 2015).

Initial reticence toward this unfamiliar activity is not uncommon. However, the opportunity to work creatively and to showcase the outputs to industry motivates students through the challenge and the resulting standard of work is often exceptionally high. The outcomes also provide students with a portfolio of skills to demonstrate to potential employers.

How did it impact students?

Many of our graduates develop successful careers in UX and some have shared their reflections: 

“the biggest impact … was just giving me the idea that UX was a career I could go into and providing me with the confidence to take to interviews and when applying for jobs.” (Matthew, Siemens)

“The skills that I acquired while doing the project made big contributions to my resume. I never knew making apps could be so much fun!” (Aishwarya, Psychologist)

“Learning about the full UX process from idea conception, through to design development and finally pitching to stakeholders was really useful… I have adapted the core principles into my own research process.” (Francesca, BBC)

“it was the first time I’d seen both of my interests combined (design and research) …and consider where the psychology course could be utilised within my design background” (Terri-Samantha, BBC)

“The module helped me to understand framing questions, building out ideas and be brave enough to convert those ideas into prototype design.” (David, the Home Office)

“Thanks to that assessment I discovered many of the techniques and tools that I’m applying today in a professional environment. I chose this career path due to the UX module” (Andrés, Deloitte)

Any advice for others?

The students on the course come largely from psychology, social science or media studies backgrounds, therefore design processes are often unfamiliar to them. Appropriate scaffolding of the activities that supports student progress without inhibiting their creativity is key to success. To this end, the students participate in a workshop at the start of the module in which they undertake a condensed version of the whole process. Participating in this workshop creates for them a mental model of the overall design process. In addition, resources supporting all stages of the process are provided up front in the virtual learning environment, allowing students more control in planning the activities in advance. Each of these support mechanisms have been evaluated positively through student feedback. 

Other contextual details

The module in which this assessment is based is situated within the second trimester of the MSc Media Psychology programme. The first trimester of their learning provides a suite of research tools (skills) and background in media psychological theory (knowledge). The second trimester has an applied focus which allows the students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills.

References (2018) Design Thinking Bootleg (2018). Available at:

Dunne, D. and Martin, R. (2006) ‘Design thinking and how it will change management education: An interview and discussion’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(4), pp. 512-523.

Fabri, M. (2015). ‘Thinking with a new purpose: Lessons learned from teaching design thinking skills to creative technology students’, in Marcus, A. (ed.) Design, User Experience, and Usability: Design Discourse. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. vol 9186 (pp. 32-43). Springer, Cham. 

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.



  • Adam Galpin

    I am a Senior Lecturer, consultant and researcher in Psychology and have held an academic post for 15 years at the University of Salford. I developed and co-led the UK’s first and only MSc programme in Media Psychology, now running for its 12th year.

How to cite

Galpin, A. (2022) Design research for Media Psychology students: A meaningful integration of psychological skills and theory. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2023)

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Posted in Edition 2, Recipes for Success