Developing a Senior Thesis Project

In broad academic terms a thesis is a document or project submitted in support of candidacy for an academic degree presenting research and findings based on an original concept. A student design thesis should encapsulate this definition in the visual sense, while utilizing a similar thought process to assist in its development.

Coming up with a thesis idea can be a bit daunting at first, where to begin?!? Try using the three steps below to help you get started:

1. Answer to the following questions as the framework for a mindmap to assist in brainstroming possible thesis topics:
• What area of the design field most interests you after graduation? 
• What are the strengths of your current portfolio of work?
• What interests do you have outside of design that could be incorporated into your thesis?
• What topics/issues/subjects do you feel strongly about/wish to share with larger audience?
• Are their any products/services you have dreamed of creating and/or improving?

2. Once you have completed the mindmap, jot down a list of possible thesis project ideas. Then, try answering the following questions (from the UNC Writing Center) for each to help you decide which ideas are strong enough to develop into a proposal:

  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument or providing a new idea.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. What can you add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning?

3. Identify your strongest two or three ideas that have passed the above litmus test and develop each into a one-page written proposal. Remember to focus on the concept first, and expand on your concept by outlining a number of possible visual directions, format options, and research necessary to develop the content.

At this point, you should be ready to defend your ideas with confidence and provide enough material to encourage productive dialog in a classroom setting!