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 and a third 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 ods@smith.edu 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

  • Connector.

    Weeks 1 & 2 (Discussion Wednesday 14 Sept)

    Discussants: __ .
    Latour, B. (1992). ‘Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundane artifacts.’ In Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. W.E. Bijker and J. Law, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Pp. 225–258. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 3 (Discussion Friday 23 Sept)

    Discussants: __ .
    Beckman, S. L. & Barry, M. (2012). Teaching students problem framing skills with a storytelling metaphor. International Journal of Engineering Education, 28(2), 364-373. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 4 (Discussion Friday 30 Sept)

    Discussants: __ .
    De Laet, M. & Mol, A.(2000). The Zimbabwe bush pump: Mechanics of a fluid technology. Social Studies of Science, 30(2), 225-263. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 5 (Discussion Friday 7 Oct)

    Discussants: __ .
    Gibson, J. J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, acting, and knowing: Toward an ecological psychology, (pp. 67–82). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 6 (Discussion Friday 14 Oct)

    Discussants: __ .
    Hutchins, E. (2010). Cognitive ecology. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2(4), 705–715. Download

  • Connector.

    Weeks 7 (Discussion Friday 21 Oct)

    Discussants: __ .
    Gibson, B.E., Carnevale F.A., & King, G. (2012). “This is my way”: Reimagining disability, in/dependence and interconnectedness of persons and assistive technologies. Disability and Rehabilitation, 34(22), 1894-1899. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 8 (Discussion Friday 28 Oct)

    Discussants: __ .
    Hodder, I. (2011). Human-thing entanglements: Towards an integrated archaeological perspective. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(1), 154-177. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 9 (Discussion Friday 4 Nov)

    Discussants: __ .
    Kabayadondo, Z. (2016, under review). The disinherited: Zimbabwe’s kombi riders and a case for the role of cognition in informal economies. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 10 (Discussion Friday 11 Nov)

    Discussants: __ .
    Fanon, F. (1965). This is the Voice of Algeria. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review: 69-98. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 11 (Discussion Friday 18 Nov)

    Discussants: __ .
    Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional Vision. American Anthropologist, 96(3), 606-633. Download

  • Connector.

    Week 12

    No reading.

  • Connector.

    Week 13 (Discussion Friday 2 Dec)

    Discussants: __ .
    Nieusma, D. (2004). Alternative design scholarship: Working toward appropriate design. Design Issues, 20(3), 13-24. Download

  • Connector.

    Weeks 14 & 15

    No reading.