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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 survey course of different approaches to design for seeking to bring forth desired future states in complex, sociotechnical systems (described below)
  2. DSGN 219: Design@Large Speaker Series. A weekly lecture series course (1 credit: Described below).
  3. Electives Requirements. Three Elective courses from the approved list of design courses (see below). 
  4. Power, Privilege, and Ethical Response Requirement. among the elective courses chosen, one must include instruction on power, privilege, and ethical response.

Required Courses

1. 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, interconnected knowledge, 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 engaging with social complexities whereas systems thinking is meant to provide students with 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 making conscious of 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 a 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 an 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.

2. DSGN 219: 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. 

This class is cross-listed as CSE 219 and COGS 229, but we encourage students to register as DSGN 219 for the specialization.

3. Elective Requirements 

Three elective courses must be chosen among the ones approved and listed below.
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 is chosen from outside of the home department. 

*Courses marked with an asterisk satisfy also the Power, Privilege, and Ethical Response Requirement

Note – If you are a student or faculty member who thinks a course should be included, please send a request to the Specialization Director, Eric Hekler,

Cognitive Science (COGS)
  • COGS 220: Information Visualization
  • COGS 230: Topics in Human-Computer Interaction
  • COGS 231: Design Seminar on Human-Centered Programming
  • COGS 260: Crowdsourcing
Communication (COMM/COGR)
  • 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
  • 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*
Computer Science and Engineering (CSE)
  • CSE 118 – Ubiquitous Computing
  • CSE 165 – VR User Interaction and Technology
  • CSE 176A – Healthcare Robotics
  • CSE 170 – Human-Computer Interaction Design
  • CSE 194 – Race, Gender, and Computing*
  • CSE 210: Principles of Software Engineering
  • CSE 216: Interaction Design Research (cross-listed with COGSCI 230)
  • CSE 217 (formerly 190/291) – Human-Centered Computing for Health
  • CSE 218: Advanced Topics in Software Engineering- Ubiquitous Computing
  • CSE 276B: Human-Robot Interaction
  • CSE 276D – Healthcare Robotics
  • CSE 291 – Programmers are People Too with Prof. Michael Coblenz
  • CSE 291 – Design and Deployment of Internet of Things Devices with Prof. Pat Pannuto
  • CSE 291 – Security, Privacy, and User Experience with Prof. Imani Munyaka
  • CSE 291 – Antisocial Computing with Prof. Kristen Vaccaro
  • CSE 291- Social Computing with Prof. Kristen Vaccaro
  • CSE 291 – Usable Security and Privacy with Prof. Imani Sherman
  • CSE 291 – Towards Human-Centered AI with Prof. Nadir Weibel*
  • CSE 291 – Antisocial Computing with Prof. Kristen Vaccaro*
  • CSE 291 – Computing Education Research
  • CSE 291 (upcoming) – Critical Analysis and Computing with Prof. Pat Pannuto*
Design (DSGN)
  • DSGN 100: Prototyping (2 or 3 sections)
  • DSGN 160: Civic Design
  • DSGN 260: Human-Centered Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems.
Rady School of Management (MGT)
  • MGT 452: New Product Development
Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
  • ECE 284: Mobile Health Device Design. 
Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science
  • FMPH 191: Critical Digital Health Course (Spring)
  • FMPH 270A: Cultural Perceptions about Health and Disease*
  • FMPH 413: Ethics in Public Health Research and Practice (Fall)*
  • FMPH 428: Dissemination and Implementation, Policy, and Health Services in Mental Health
  • FMPH 430: Technology + Precision Health (Fall)
  • FMPH 460: Design and Public Health (Winter)*
  • FMPH 491: Community Academic Partnerships (Spring)

4. Power, Privileges, and Ethical Response Requirement

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.

  • COGR 275 – Researching Creative Labor: Media Production Cultures

The sub-list of approved classes that meet this requirement are marked with * in the list of electives above.

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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