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Design Graduate Specialization Details

Learning Objectives

Upon completing of this specialization, students should be able to:

  1. Use human-centered design principles, as appropriate for their home discipline, to guide the design of tools, artifacts, services, and other resources. 
  2. Use appropriate observation approaches relevant to one’s home discipline (e.g., ethnography, surveys, interviews, etc) to gain insights about the needs, assets, contextual requirements, desires, and insights of various stakeholders.
  3. Use appropriate design processes and protocols relevant to one’s home discipline, such as user experience design, interaction design, speculative design, participatory design, co-design, or community-driven design.
  4. Collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams and communicate effectively with others with differing training, perspectives, and beliefs.  
  5. Use iteration as a process to clarify and refine understanding of stakeholders, needs, problems, or solutions. 
  6. Develop self-awareness of one’s and other’s power, privilege, and the appropriate ethical response when in the role of a designer.

Course Overview

The specialization requires four courses (16 credits) plus attendance at our visiting lecture series course (1 credit) for a total of 17 credit hours. Courses are as follows:

  1. DSGN 201: Human-Centered Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems. An introductory, project-based course on principles of HCD and their application to complex, sociotechnical systems (described below)
  2. DSGN 219: Design@Large Speaker Series. A weekly lecture series course (1 credit: Described below).
  3. Three DSGN courses from the approved list of design courses. Two of these must be from the student’s home department. The third can be any course on the list of approved courses, with a recommendation that the third course be chosen from outside of their home department. 
  4. Among the courses chosen to meet requirement C, one must include instruction on power, privilege, and ethical response. All students will be required to take at least one course that provides instruction and learning opportunities related to understanding issues of power, privilege, equity, marginalization, and ethical responses to these issues. The sub-list of approved classes that meet this requirement are listed at the end of the full list below. 

Required Courses

DSGN 201: Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems 

This class exists to expose students to the complexities of engaging in design, broadly defined, to bring forth desired future states within complex areas of work that require accounting for social, behavioral, technological, and, often, ecological factors and constraints (henceforth labeled as sociotechnical systems). This is no simple matter as it requires anyone acting in the role of a designer to have myriad, inter-connected knowledges, skills, and practices that span these areas. For example, designers need capacities in dealing with ethical and political quandaries, issues of power and privilege differentials that manifest from historical cultural norms, precedents, and default options, understanding of humans and human behaviors, technical capacities to understand what is truly possible and implementable in real-world contexts, and knowledge and understanding of natural systems and the ways in which humans interact, both positively and negatively, and are embedded within said natural systems. Given these complexities, the class seeks to offer two key perspectives, compassionate critique and systems thinking, as foundational bases with which to engage as a designer in complex sociotechnical systems. The compassionate critique approach is explicitly meant to provide students with an actionable approach to engage with the social complexities whereas systems thinking is meant to provide students a way of thinking to engage with the technical aspects of sociotechnical systems.  After taking this course, you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate capacities in the use of contemplative practices as an approach to make conscious the influence of social norms, customs, beliefs, defaults, and actions.
  2. Demonstrate capacities in the use of a compassionate contemplative practice to create spaces of intersectionally fair and equitable spaces of discourse.
  3. Demonstrate capacities in engaging in a compassionate design critique as related to the match or mismatch for different design approaches to different contexts and goals. 
  4. Provide an overview description of different design approaches (e.g., human-centered design, urban design, community-driven design, speculative design, etc). 
  5. Demonstrate basic understanding of fundamental principles of systems science and systems thinking, particularly related to understanding dynamics, networks/network theory, and the use of various modeling approaches to develop understanding of complex adaptive systems. 
  6. Articulate your own design mindset to guide your future work and action.
  7. Work in interdisciplinary teams to engage in compassionate design critiques and systems thinking. 
  8. Have basic knowledge of different approaches to design, with sufficient skills to identify when to use one approach over another. 
  9. Develop initial fluency in discussing issues of power, privilege, and ethical responses when working as a designer.
  10. Demonstrate basic exposure to fundamental challenges and opportunities involved with working with and seeking to support historically oppressed and underserved populations and individuals.

DSGN 219/DSGN 119: Design@Large Speaker Series 

Design@Large is a weekly seminar sponsored by the Design Lab that brings in outside and local experts in design to discuss their work. It introduces a broad range of applications and approaches. Students are required to attend the lectures and develop reports on activities. 

Courses that can be selected from to meet the Specialization Requirements 

Note – If you are a student or faculty member who thinks a course should be included, please send a request to the program coordinator,  Program Coordinator, Thanh Maxwell at and the Specialization Director, Eric Hekler,

Cognitive Science

COGS 220: Information Visualization

COGS 230: Topics in Human-Computer Interaction

COGS 231: Design Seminar on Human-Centered Programming

COGS 260: Crowdsourcing


COGR 275: Design and Politics

COGR 275: Mediated Ability: Media, Technology, and [Dis]ability

COGR 275: Ability/Cultures of Care

COMM 106i: Internet Industries

COMM 201D: Methods in Media Archaeology

COMM 201D: Methods in Material Culture

COMM 243: Media Technologies

COMM 275: Advanced topics in Communication: Histories of the Senses

COMM 275: Advanced topics in Communication: Designing for Access

COMM 275: Advanced topics in Communication: Disabling Modernism

Computer Science and Engineering

CSE 210: Principles of Software Engineering

CSE 216: Interaction Design Research (cross-listed with COGSCI 230)

CSE 218: Advanced Topics in Software Engineering- Ubiquitous Computing

CSE 276B: Human-Robot Interaction

CSE 276D: Healthcare Robotics (will cross-list as DSGN)

DSGN (includes courses taught by Design Lab FTE faculty that are or that will be cross-listed as DSGN)

DSGN 100: Prototyping (2 or 3 sections)

DSGN 160: Civic Design

DSGN 260: Human-Centered Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems.

COGS 219: Design@Large Speaker Series (will cross-list as DSGN)

MGT 452: New Product Development (Taught by Design Lab FTE faculty member; will cross-list as DSGN)

ECE 284: Mobile Health Device Design. (Taught by Design Lab FTE faculty member; will cross-list as DSGN)

Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science

FMPH 258C: Ethics in Public Health Research and Practice

FMPH 460: Design & Public Health

Sublist of Courses for the Power, Privilege and Ethical Response Requirement

FMPH 258C: Ethics in Public Health Research and Practice

FMPH 460: Design & Public Health

FMPH 270: Cultural Perceptions about Health and Disease

COGR 275: Design and Politics

COGR 275: Mediated Ability: Media, Technology, and [Dis]ability

COGR 275: Ability/Cultures of Care

COMM 275: Advanced topics in Communication: Designing for Access

COMM 275: Advanced topics in Communication: Disabling Modernism

Capstone, thesis, or dissertation 

There will be no capstone, thesis, or dissertation requirement for the specialization. Instead, project requirements will conform with home degree requirements on projects and advising, including no project requirement. If a home program requires a project of some kind, students will be encouraged but not required to incorporate human-centered design.

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