This interdisciplinary project-based course emphasizes human-centered design process as well as critical social theory on the relationships between humans and designed things. Through hands-on, individual, and collaborative making, students will learn design thinking skills such as: user-experience research, rapid idea generation techniques, prototyping and iterative implementation. This learning will happen alongside rich class discussions of both seminal and contemporary scholarly work on design’s role in shaping the lived experience. Perspectives include: archaeology, critical psychology, civil engineering, postcolonial studies, cognitive science, sociology, and art history.

Students in this course will appreciate that a “design” results in social action or interventions that are not limited to new products and new services, but include new experiences and new narratives. Students will learn to be critical of design’s role in shaping and transforming social structures that both empower and endanger users. By critiquing their own designs, and those of the latest social intervention startups, students will interrogate how power and social justice issues are constituted in design processes, institutions, and claims of expertise.

Students will learn the following design process techniques:
Synthesis of user experience research and qualitative research observations. Agility in scaling from single-user insights to multiuser design ideas. Use of storytelling to frame problems, to communicate ideas, and to understand the ethical, political, and socioeconomic implications of design in the world.

Students will develop the following design thinking mindsets:

  • Human-centeredness – design that is driven by empathy for an articulated “other.”
  • Experimental – learning through iteration, learning with materials.
  • Collaborative – leadership and joint effort in vision and execution of design tasks.
  • Metacognitive – reflective awareness and conscious use of process techniques.

Students are also encouraged to attend the Design Thinking Initiative’s inaugural speakers’ series, Speaking of Design…Our two speakers, Kat Steele and Toni L. Griffin are designers engaged in community development projects. They will visit campus in this semester, and have been invited to attend class sessions that coincide with their visits.

Weekly Reading Assignments (30% Total)

There is one reading per week, to be completed well in advance of the class discussion on Friday. On the first day of classes, students must sign up to be the lead discussant (10%) for one reading, and the supporting discussant (10% each) for a second reading. The lead discussant’s role is to prepare, in advance, prompts for discussion and steer the conversation to insightful and nuanced readings or the texts. The supporting discussants’ collaborate with the lead discussant in creating a lively class discussion. Together the discussants have flexibility to plan creative engagements with the readings for peers.

Project Portfolio (60% Total)

Emphasis will be placed on process and portfolio work of students. While teamwork will merit a team grade, individual members of the team must demonstrate their contributions to the collaborative efforts of the team.

The grading will be based on a portfolio of three projects (digital and physical documentation of process and results); and the show and tell class sessions.

Deep Dive 1 (10%) [individual]

Deep Dive 2 (20%) [team]

Deep Dive 3 (30%) [team]

The three projects (“Deep Dives”) will be weighted for the same following qualities.

  • “Embrace of failure that results in demonstrable learning or new understanding.” The designers must explain their process, describe their iterations, and detail how they incorporate user feedback.
  • “Human-centeredness.” There is evidence the design is inspired by users. The role of the user’s story on the evolution of the project is clear and evocative.
  • “A major intellectual risk was taken.” There is evidence of that “bad” ideas were entertained in a productive and reflective way for the purposes of creating moments of learning.
  • [For team projects only] The team shows the ways they work together, and shows examples of reflective teamwork in action.

Community Membership (10%)

Contributions to other teams’ efforts and to class discussions that foster a spirit of collegiality and intellectual generosity will be rewarded.

Late Submissions

An assignment is treated as a late submission if it is not ready for delivery on the due date. Late submissions will not be accepted. Should students experience extenuating circumstances, which require late submissions, they should work directly with the instructor and their Class Dean to accommodate changing needs.

Throughout this course, it is expected that students will adhere to the Smith College Honor Code. It is a violation of the Honor Code to submit another’s work as one’s own or provide one’s work to another student for submission. That said, collaboration is strongly encouraged, and indeed, the goal of the course is to facilitate opportunities to work with fellow students and explore concepts learned in imaginative ways. Team project submissions must outline the role and contributions of each team member. If there are concerns about what is considered to be an Honor Code violation students must refer to the College guidelines and/or talk to the instructor. Any violation of the Honor Code is serious and will be presented to the Honor Board for their adjudication.

Disability Accommodation
Contact the Office of Disability Services in College Hall 104 or for any accommodations needed. This must be done as soon as possible to ensure accommodations can be implemented in a timely fashion.

Course Syllabus

Download the final syllabus. We will discuss the assignments and deadlines on the first day of classes.

Course Resources

Slides from class and handouts are shared in the
Google Drive Folder: IDP 316 Course Resources.

Reading Schedule

  • Week 1 – Friday 8 September

    Discussion of Reading will be on Monday 11 September.
    Glaser, M. Ilic, M. and Civilization. (2017) The Design of Dissent. Non-Breaking Space Exhibition No. 1. Download

  • Week 2 – Friday 15 September

    Discussion of Reading will be on Monday 18 September.
    Lead Discussant: Angie Supporting Discussant(s): Julia
    Hamraie, A. (2013) Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory ofUniversal Design. Disability Studies Quarterly, 33(4). Download

  • Week 3 – Friday 22 September

    Discussion of Reading will be on Friday 29 September.
    Lead Discussant: Isabelle Supporting Discussant(s): Zaza
    Latour, B. (1992). ‘Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundaneartifacts.’ In W.E. Bijker and J. Law (Eds.), Shaping Technology/Building society:Studies in sociotechnical change, pp. 153-169. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Download

  • Week 4 – Friday 29 September

    Reading to be discussed with Pilloton Reading. Download de Laet Reading

  • Week 5 – Start Reading on Friday 6 October

    Discussion of Reading will be on Friday 13 October.
    Lead Discussant: Natalie and Rose Supporting Discussant(s):Lucy, Amalia, and Isabelle
    De Laet, M. & Mol, A.(2000). The Zimbabwe bush pump: Mechanics of a fluidtechnology. Social Studies of Science, 30(2), 225-263.

    Pilloton, E. & Kuruvilla, J. (2009). The Design Revolution Toolkit. Project HDesign. San Rafael, CA: Blanchette Press.
    Download Pilloton Reading

  • Week 6 – Discussion on Friday 20 October

    Lead Discussant: Amalia Supporting Discussant(s): Mirella, Pinn
    Rawsthorn, A. (2008). What Defies Defining, But Exists Everywhere? The NewYork Times. Download

  • Week 7 – Discussion on Friday 27 October

    Lead Discussant: Angie Supporting Discussant(s): Mirella, Lucy, Isabelle
    Hodder, I. (2011). Human-thing entanglements: Towards an integratedarchaeological perspective. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(1),154-177. Download

  • Week 8 – Discussion on Friday 3 November

    Lead Discussant: Pinn Supporting Discussant(s): Rose, Amalia
    Norman, D. (2016) The Future of Design: When You Come to a Fork in the Road,Take It. LinkedIn Pulse. Download

  • Week 9 – Discussion on Friday 10 November

    Lead Discussant: Lucy Supporting Discussant(s): Rose, Natalie, Angie
    Kabayadondo, Z. (2017) The Disinherited: Zimbabwe’s Kombi Riders and a Casefor the Role of Cognition in Informal Economies. Under review. Download

  • Week 11 – No Reading

    No reading.

  • Week 12 – Discussion on Monday 20 November

    Lead Discussant: Mirella Supporting Discussant(s): Rose, Angie
    Bjögvinsson, E., Ehn, P & P. Hillgren (2012). Design Things and Design Thinking:Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges. Design Issues, 28(3). Download

  • Week 13 – Discussion on Friday 1 December

    Lead Discussant: Amalia Supporting Discussant(s):Natalie, Lucy, Pinn
    Søndergaard, M.L.J. (2017) Intimate Design: Designing Intimacy As a Critical-Feminist Practice. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts onHuman Factors in Computing Systems. Download