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Today’s students are eager to pursue careers in innovation and we need to prepare them to do so. In addition to gaining a comprehensive technical education, they need to be able to identify important challenges, conceive of novel and useful technology, build them, and bring them to fruition. Yet, upon graduation, they often lack collaboration and implementation skills needed to bring their ideas to market.  Existing training provides partial, but incomplete preparation. Lectures provide technical detail to large numbers of people, but don’t often teach collaboration. Lab instruction provides collaborative hands on learning, but lack the complexity of real-world problems. Faculty selected projects are often well-scoped real-world problems, but are not personally meaningful to the students. To prepare our students for successful careers in innovation, in addition to the rigorous technical skills, we need pre-professional learning opportunities to appropriately teach them how to collaborate, apply learning to real-world problems, and develop perseverance and passion for problem solving.   My mission is to provide students with opportunities to master the skills, knowledge, and attitudes critical for innovation.

Over the past 17 years, I’ve designed curriculum and taught courses in organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, innovation, and human centered design at the undergraduate, graduate, and executive education level. My experience starting Design for America, building the Stanford d.school, performing theatrical improvisation, designing toys with kids in the bay area, and leading outdoor education programs has profoundly influenced my understanding of what motivates student initiative and learning. This year, I am teaching the following courses:


Coursera: User Experience: Research and Prototyping

What makes for a great user experience? How can you consistently design experiences that work well, are easy to use and people want to use? This course will teach you the core process of experience design and how to effectively evaluate your work with the people for whom you are designing. You’ll learn fundamental methods of design research that will enable you to effectively understand people, the sequences of their actions, and the context in which they work. Through the assignments, you’ll learn practical techniques for making sense of what you see and transform your observations into meaningful actionable insights and unique opportunity areas for design. You’ll also explore how to generate ideas in response to the opportunities identified and learn methods for making your ideas tangible. By answering specific questions and refining your concepts, you’ll move closer to making your ideas real. We’ll use cases from a variety of industries including health, education, transportation, finance, and beyond to illustrate how these methods work across different domains.

Coursera: Leadership Through Design Innovation

Today’s workplace calls for a new style of leadership to embolden and accelerate innovation. Design offers a novel way of discovering opportunities and bringing new approaches to life in ways that benefit all stakeholders. Learn how to engage with end users, effectively frame problems, identify potential solutions, and build prototypes to test assumptions and learn what works (and doesn’t). Then dive into a range of ways large and small to bring design innovation into your organization.

Fall Term 2019

COMM ST 525, MTS 525, DSGN 495: Communication Design

Communication design is the intentional design of information to motivate a response. Communication design relies on a combination of the senses (hearing, sight, touch, sound, and taste) to attract attention. This studio course will introduce you to the fundamentals of communication design theory and practice. You will practice individual techniques and how you might layer the techniques to hone your message. Once you achieve mastery in these techniques, you can choose the appropriate technique to suit the information you are communicating. In the process of learning techniques of communication design, you will also learn the design process. The design process emphasizes collaboration and rapid iteration – expressing and testing ideas with an audience in a virtuous cycle.  You will develop this understanding through studio critique and in-class and out of class assignments and readings.  The class will lay the foundation for productive and creative use of design in communication.

DSGN 495: Business and Design Integration Project

The Business Design Integration Project involves applying specific knowledge of design and operations together with general knowledge of business to address a real world problem of importance to a client. Students work in teams of 4 – 7 students with the aid of a faculty mentor to provide practical guidance to an industrial client. Students engage in contextual inquiry to assess needs and blend design and analytical thinking to develop solutions. Past clients include Kaiser Permanente, Abbott Laboratories, Northwestern Medicine, and Herman Miller.

Winter Term 2020

DSGN 305: Human Centered Service Design (Undergrad)

The service sector dominates the US economy. Companies are turning to human centered design to innovate new services in our knowledge-based society. In this course, we will learn about a human centered service design process and apply the process to design new or improved services that connect deeply with people’s needs for connectedness, belonging, and autonomy. DSGN 305 is a project based course for students interested in a human centered design approach to service design. Outcomes may include organizational structures, new service designs, and possibly designed products to support the service. By the end of the course students will have discussed different types of services, applied a human centered service design process and tools to a real project, produced and tested service experience prototypes, discussed the challenges of implementing a new or improved service, and documented and communicated your results to stakeholders and peers. Examples of project partners include Office of Equity, Office of Civic Engagement, and NU Votes.

DSGN 401:3: Human Centered Service Design (Grad)

This course explores interaction in the context of experiences and services. Students explore the nature of “service ecologies,” which comprise a set of actors (people and interactive products) and the relationships among them. Students learn to map and analyze existing services, and to design new ones. Case studies are drawn from areas such as retail, health, financial, and consumer services. Teaching methods include lectures, reading, case studies, homework assignments and projects. Examples of project partners include Proctor and Gamble, City of Chicago, Erie Community Health, and Hope Lab.

Future offerings

DSGN 420: Organizing for Innovation

This course explores how managers organize for innovation.  Students explore how to lead innovation teams to action and how to leverage different roles and functions within their organization to drive innovation.  Students will learn different innovation strategies. Cases studies are drawn from areas in health, finance, and technology. Teaching methods includes lectures, readings, case studies, homework assignments, and organizational analyses.

Additional design and HCI classes taught at Northwestern:

  • COMM ST 227: Communication and Technology (Birnholtz)
  • COMM ST 353: Collaboration Technology (Birnholtz)
  • COMM ST: Assitive Technology (Piper)
  • EECS: Human Computer Interaction (Zhang)
  • EECS: Crowdsourcing Seminar (Zhang)
  • PSYCH: Visual Design (Franconeri)
  • SESP: Design of Learning Environments (Easterday/Horn)
  • SESP: Tangible Interfaces (Horn)