Course Syllabus

This is a live document. It will continue to grow and evolve.

If I am in, what should I be doing now?

See the announcements and the course timeline.

How Can I Join the Course?

The course is now full (some people have immunization holds or experience other snags, but we have 75 people who are interested and confirmed). If anyone drops out in the near future, I will reach out to someone who originally applied. I try to balance academic backgrounds and experience so who I pull in from the original list of applicants depends on who leaves (so I cannot tell anyone person where they are on the waiting list).

What Is This Course About and Is It For Me?

Broadly speaking, this course will help you develop a toolkit of concepts and skills for answering two classes of questions: What should we build, for whom, and why? and How should we build it?

This course is often taken by students who consider careers in product management, design, and entrepreneurship.

We welcome undergraduates of all experience levels (yes, first years are welcome) and academic backgrounds (intellectual diversity in the classroom is what makes this course work!). 

There are no prerequisites. There is no programming. Yes, the course is rigorous and you will work quite hard without writing code or proofs. 

Learning Goals

  • Design useful interactive systems. Learn how to discover real and valuable needs and aspirations of people who might be very different from yourselves. Make design decisions that appropriately support those needs and aspirations. Articulate and validate your design hypotheses. Identify all relevant stakeholders and design your solutions such that all of them will advocate in favor of your solution. Begin to recognize that technological solutions exist as part of complex sociotechnical systems. 
  • Design usable interactive systems. Recognize that designers and users often have different mental models of interactive systems. Uncover users' mental models of relevant tasks and make design decisions consistent with those models. Analyze existing solutions and design new ones using contemporary knowledge of human perception, cognition, and motor performance. Design for diverse abilities. Appropriately use existing design principles. Create interactive prototypes. Design, conduct, and analyze results from usability studies.
  • Be intentional about and accountable for societal consequences of your solutions. Recognize that design decisions (what problem to solve, for whom, and how) impact the distribution of power and resources in a society. That is, design inevitably has moral and political consequences. Articulate and explain your moral and political stance. Make design decisions consistent with your stance. Analyze your designs for likely indirect and "unanticipated" consequences.
  • Be ready to be part of or lead design organizations. Contribute to effective teamwork. Lead teams with or without authority. Understand the benefits and challenges of diverse organizations. Effectively communicate design research and design decisions. Provide systematic design critique. Productively receive design critique. Use effective team-based creative processes.


None. We will teach you all the skills required for the course. 

Course Format

Besides the two lectures each week, students will also meet every week in studios. Each studio will comprise of up to 15 students and a TF. Each studio will have its own meeting time of one standard class period on either Thursdays or Fridays (exact times and locations TBD). The studio time will be used primarily by the teams to present their work and to solicit critique. 

There will be three team-based projects. The first two will take three weeks each, and the topics for those projects will be provided by the course staff. The third project will take six weeks and it will be a chance for the teams to pursue a topic of their own choice. 

Pandemic-related adaptations

For now, we assume that the course will be held primarily in-person. However, we consider it likely that at any given time there will be some students (and course staff!) who cannot attend class in person. For that reason, we will do our best to design all class activities (lectures, studios, team projects) such that students who cannot attend in person can still meaningfully participate in all activities. 

Course Policies

  • Studio attendance is mandatory. If you have to miss a studio, you must let your team and your studio leader know in advance and receive an acknowledgement from both. You are allowed one excused (i.e., reported and acknowledged) absence for the semester without penalty. To receive credit for attendance, you must arrive on time. Note that if you have a mild illness you can still attend via Zoom (see below).
  • Lecture attendance is expected and contributes to the grade. Note that if you have a mild illness, you can still receive attendance credit by attending via Zoom. If you have a more serious medical/family/life situation, please reach out to your studio leader with appropriate documentation (e.g., doctor's note) if appropriate. If you are very uncomfortable sharing details of a particular situation with your studio leader, you can contact the instructor instead.
  • Attend remotely if you are not feeling well. If you are feeling a little sick, it's best if you stay in your dorm/home. However, unless you are feeling really bad, you should still participate synchronously via Zoom. We will design the lectures and the studios such that people attending remotely can meaningfully participate. If you plan to attend a studio via Zoom, make sure to notify your team and your studio leader as early as possible.
  • Active participation is essential particularly in the studios and will contribute to the final grade.
  • You are welcome to knit, sketch, snack, etc,  as long as you do it in a way that does not distract those around you.
  • Take your own notes, even though the slides will be made available. We recommend notebooks with dotted paper — the dots provide just enough of a guide so that you can draw neat sketches, but they do not get in the way of your drawings.
  • No auditors allowed. During class activities and discussions, we will all take intellectual risks and make ourselves vulnerable at times. For that reason, we will strive to create a supportive community in class. Interlopers (auditors, etc.) would detract from that goal.
  • Simultaneous enrollment is not allowed. 
  • Visitors are OK in lectures, but please introduce them. It’s OK for a class member to bring a guest to a lecture. But if you do so, please alert an instructor prior to the start of the class so that your guest can be introduced to the rest of the class. Also, please make a name tag for your guest at the beginning of the class so that they can be integrated into our community.
  • All students’ first point of contact is their section TF. All students’ second point of contact is the logistics TF. All TFs have been instructed to respond within one day. 

Diversity and Inclusion

In an ideal world, science would be objective. However, much of what we know about design is subjective, reflects the behaviors and preferences of a non-representative sample of the world's population, and is historically built on a small subset of privileged voices. In this class, we will make an effort to learn from a diverse group of designers and researchers, but limits still exist on this diversity. We acknowledge that it is possible that there may be both overt and covert biases in the material due to the lens with which it was written or because of how the participants contributing to the research were chosen. Integrating a diverse set of values, abilities, cultures, etc. is important for building design knowledge that equitably benefits everyone. We will discuss issues of diversity in design as part of the course from time to time.

Please contact us if you have any suggestions to improve the quality and diversity of the course materials.

Furthermore, we would like to create a learning environment in our class that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives and experiences, and honors your identities (including race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, politics, religion, etc.). We (like many people) are still in the process of learning about diverse perspectives and identities. If something is said in class (by anyone) that made you feel uncomfortable, please talk to us about it.

As a concrete step toward creating a civil and supportive environment in our class, we ask everyone to follow the no-dogma rule which states that no position is self-evidently correct.  Because design directly impacts the world, it is inevitable that our discussions will touch on controversial issues. Everyone is welcome to share their positions, but you have to do it in a manner that is respectful toward people who disagree with you. People who support a different position may have good reasons for doing so. You may not pass judgement on people who think differently from you. If you are baffled by what another person says, consider asking Why? Why? Why? until you understand the underlying reason for their stance before jumping to argue your point.

If you feel like your performance in the class is being impacted by your experiences outside of class, please don’t hesitate to come and talk with us.

What to do if some piece of course technology fails

It is unlikely, but possible, that some piece of technology we use in the course breaks or that the course staff make a mistake somewhere. For example, we may forget to upload the paper you are supposed to read, the Canvas site may go dead, etc. If you detect a problem, please follow these steps:

  1. See if you can come up with a quick fix (e.g., can you find the paper elsewhere else on the internet?)
  2. Check the discussion forum (Slack, Piazza, or whatever we pick for the course this year) and if you are the first to notice the problem, create a post to report the problem (and perhaps to share your fix). This will help make sure that everyone is on the same page and that if somebody else has found a solution, they can share it quickly.
  3. Do as much of the work as you can.
  4. Do not panic if the TF or the instructor do not respond immediately — if there is a problem beyond your control, we will accept late work without penalty.

Regrade policy

It is very important to us that all assignments are properly graded. If you believe there is an error in your assignment grading, please submit an explanation in writing to your studio leader (Cc-ing the instructor) within 7 days of receiving the grade. No regrade requests will be accepted orally, and no regrade requests will be accepted more than 7 days after receipt of the initial grade.

Academic Integrity

In general, many activities in the class will be collaborative and we will expect you to work with others. In all cases such collaboration has to be acknowledged. Each assignment and quiz will come with a detailed collaboration policy.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

If you have a health condition that affects your learning or classroom experience, please let the instructors know as soon as possible. We will, of course, provide all the accommodations listed in your AEO letter (if you have one), but we find that sometimes we can do even better if a student helps us understand what really matters to them.

Mental health

If you experience significant stress or worry, changes in mood, or problems eating or sleeping this semester, please do not hesitate to reach out to the professor. There are also several free and confidential resources available to you including:

  • Counseling and Mental Health at UHS , 617-495-2042 (during business hours), 617-495-5711 (at all other times)
  • Room 13, 617-495-4969

We recognize that mental health challenges can be intermittent, that a person who is doing great in many aspects of their life may have difficulties with others. We recognize that mental health challenges can be invisible to outsiders making it hard to get the support and understanding you need. We will do everything we can to help.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due