Human-Centered Design...What's That?
If you've read my intro post, then you might already know that I am pursuing a minor in Human-Centered Design through the Thayer School of Engineering. But whenever I tell anybody that I'm a Human-Centered Design minor, I usually get hit with some form of the same question: "What the heck is that?"
Well, for starters, Human-Centered Design (HCD for short) does not fit neatly into one discipline. Though it was created and is run by engineering professors, the minor is described as "an interdisciplinary program focused on the process of innovation for addressing human needs." I personally like to think of HCD as being at the intersection of entrepreneurship, anthropology, design thinking, and psychology, as these four fields are integral in creating solutions that are driven by and molded around the people who will benefit from each innovation.
So, now that you know what Human-Centered Design is, you may be wondering how exactly one can learn HCD in the classroom. The short answer is that you can't. There is no class or department at Dartmouth called "Human-Centered Design." Rather, minors take classes in ethnographic methods (anthropology), human factors (psychology), design, and engineering to gain experience in and an understanding of all the factors that go into designing for the needs of real people.
My first taste of Human-Centered Design came last winter when I took ENGS 12: Design Thinking with Professor Peter Robbie. This class did exactly what I hoped college would do for me---it challenged me to think differently and it changed the way I approached problem-solving on a daily basis! The class was structured around individual and group-based projects that included creating products and services to solve the everyday problems many people have turned a blind eye to, working with established organizations on campus to improve their appeal to students, changing the narrative around a pertinent societal issue, and building a roller-coaster out of formcore and hot glue to learn both the power and flexibility of constraints. In addition to these engaging projects, I was asked to keep a design log outside of class where I responded to assigned TED talks, podcasts, and readings and kept a daily list of pet peeves, things that surprised me, and things I found beautiful.
The other courses I have taken or will take for the HCD minor include Social Entrepreneurship, Game Design, Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology, Product Design, and Social Psychology. As a Paganucci Fellow this past summer, I applied what I learned from Design Thinking to tackle a project aimed to help a non-profit in Lima , Peru, and I continue to apply what I am learning from this course of study as I work on my Stamps Scholars project to research and promote female entrepreneurship abroad.
I never expected to minor in human-centered design when I first came to Dartmouth. In fact, this minor wasn't even being offered when I first looked at the college. However, in discovering what I'm truly passionate about, I've stumbled upon a field that both fascinates and challenges me on a personal and intellectual level.