People-Centered Design of Complex Sociotechnical Systems

We are not your typical design program. Although we do teach more traditional design skills, especially those for industrial, interaction, product, and service design, our major focus is upon design as a way of thinking, of focusing upon how people interaction with complex systems and technology, and upon ensuring that we solve the right problem, the root issues that define the true needs of the people and groups that we serve.

The Design Lab draws upon almost all areas within the university: we work with the schools and devisions of Art and Humanities, Medicine, Global Policy and Strategy, Engineering, Management, and Social Science. We are:

  1. Focused upon People-Centered approaches to Complex Sociotechnical Systems;
  2. Organized around Centers of Excellence, each addressing a substantive problem area ;
  3. Building a substantive body of theory and evidence-based findings to establish a solid scientific basis for design.



Activity-Centered Visualization
Design-Driven Transformation
Design for Health
Large-scale, individualized learning
People-Centered Automation
Social Computing
Work, Technology, and Society



Minor in Design

We started as a research organization, now expanding to an ever-increasing set of educational activities. We are starting to hire faculty and have established plans for a sequence of courses. Our first step was to establish an official undergraduate Design Minor. The first few courses are underway and new ones are constantly being offered. The minor focuses upon design as a way of thinking, one based on an iterative cycle of field observation, problem finding, and evaluating alternative solutions and tradeoffs by prototyping and testing. The minor enables students from any division and major to diversify their studies and incorporate design thinking skills into their academic experience.

Future plans include a PhD specialization, which can be thought of as a minor for graduate students, an undergraduate major, and a master’s degree.

Executive Education

Jointly with UCSD’s Rady School of Management, we offer Executive Education programs in Design-Driven transformation of companies. This program goes beyond the usual “Design Thinking” curriculum to ensure that design actually gets done, that the entire hierarchy of company management has been trained in design methods so that they can all appreciate the value that the designerly way of thinking can guide the company strategy in all divisions, all the way to the C-Level Strategic decisions. Our founding partners in this enterprise are two industry leaders: SAP and IBM Design. The executive education program plays a central role in the Center for Design-Driven Transformation. The Center provides the background research, the development of case studies, metrics for measuring the current state of the company and its progress, and continuing development of the scientific basis for design.



One of the ways we work with the community is via partnerships with companies, civic entities and community organizations. Our approach to these partnerships is one of collaboration and co-creation.

The Design Lab Collaborative is a community of academic, industry, and civic leaders focused on joint thought leadership and mutually advantageous research opportunities.  The word “Collaborative” reflects the focus upon truly collaborative activities, where all parties join in a common effort.



For us, design is a way of thinking that can be applied to any problem, any discipline. We focus on the needs and understanding of the people who are served or affected by the design. Our focus is upon user- or people-centered design of complex systems. User-Centered System Design defines our work and our name: UCSD.

Don Norman

Join Us

Are you a Design practitioner, student, or industry professional interested in getting involved with the Design Lab? Contact us, we want to hear from you.

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