First Year
Fall Semester

A History of Design

A review of critical movements in design from the second half of the 20th century to the present is the focus of this course. We will consider how much of the craft that designers have valued historically is important for what we do today. Using insights grounded in history, students will evaluate what separates good design from “other” design in digital media, and review case studies of why certain products and companies have risen triumphant over others. Students will visit centers of design in the City and learn to use them as resources for research, exploration and experimentation.

Research Methods

User-centered design begins, by definition, with an understanding of users. In this course, students learn how to model interaction by conducting qualitative and quantitative research of users’ behaviors, attitudes, and expectations. By exploring ethnographic techniques, usability testing, log analysis, surveying, and other research methods, students learn how to engage user feedback effectively at every stage of the design process. We will also address how to conduct secondary research into published literature and other sources that can inform thesis projects and beyond.

Service Design and Transformation

With the rise of the service economy, our opportunities as designers are shifting: more is being asked of us, and the nature of the challenges we want to and can help solve is changing. Our work may target individuals in the experiences that they encounter, or increasingly businesses in the structures they build to support service delivery, or even have a larger impact beyond the confines of one organization. To succeed as designers today, we need to be equipped with tools and approaches that work best in this service-oriented world. In this class, students should come away with a richer understanding of service design — what it is, when and where it is applicable, how to practice it, and why it is a valuable approach — and gain experience using service design approaches and tools to identify opportunities, define and frame problem spaces, develop innovative directions, and execute and communicate service solutions. Students will also become familiar with the roles that they may be asked to take on in various situations or service-related projects beyond the program.

Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design

The design of interactive products and services differs from other forms of design in important ways. Developing the context for successful user experiences requires designers to think more holistically about the business models for the products they create: how the value proposition to customers and users unfolds over time; what’s being “sold” and where the costs of production and management occur; how to engage, complement, and benefit from other services that intersect with what is being offered. This course will help students in becoming more effective at understanding and describing the strategic decisions involved in the creation of interactive products and services, and to equip them with tools and methods for generating innovative options and making smart strategic choices.

Hello World: The Logic of Interaction

"Hello World" is traditionally the very first program people write when they are new to a programming language. It’s used to test programming syntax, implementation and sanity. The goal of this class is to provide students with a primer into understanding the world of computer hardware, software, and designing with code. Students will grow the tools they need to read and understand source code, critically think about software applications and write their very own programs. They'll start with a foundation in programming and build applications of increasing complexity as the course progresses. By the end of this class, students should have the skills to speak the language of (almost) any machine using fundamentals from Python, JavaScript, and C. 

Electives, First Year

(Optional) Students can choose to audit one elective per semester in any department at SVA. Some classes may require approval from department staff and/or the department Chair.

Learning Lab

Remote learning has created a new set of challenges for students seeking education. These challenges, though, become a design for constraint and pose new opportunities around how we learn, and more specifically how we best learn in remote circumstances. Indigenous to the question of “how we best learn in remote circumstances” is yet another design for constraint.

How might we together, through this course, create connections among individuals (you!) that would otherwise be formed in the SVA studios, in the kitchen, or over group projects in person.

This course has two goals: to address new ways of forming connections, and to create weekly opportunities to discuss and evaluate weekly interactions across courses. Using the Agile methodology, students will be asked to reflect on what’s going well, what could be done differently, and what they want to see in the upcoming weeks.

Students will be a part of this journey as we explore these issues together.

Instructor Lisa Lurie

First Year
Spring Semester

Crafting Interactions

Interaction design concepts can be hard to describe. And the best way to both communicate and improve your design is to prototype it quickly and often. This course examines how to integrate lightweight prototyping activities, as well as some basic research and testing techniques, into every stage of the interaction design process. A range of methods will be covered, from paper prototyping to participatory design to bodystorming. Students will learn how to choose the appropriate method to suit different dimensions of a design problem at different stages in the process and the pitfalls of each approach. The course is highly collaborative with hands–on prototyping and testing. Working individually and in teams, students will create rapid exercises, with one prototype developed or iterated each week, with the goal of evolving toward more robust ways of expressing ideas in rich interactive form.

Smart Objects

The ubiquity of embedded computing has redefined the role of form in material culture, leading to the creation of artifacts that communicate well beyond their static physical presence to create ongoing dialogues with both people and each other. This course will explore the rich relationship among people, objects and information through a combination of physical and digital design methods. Beginning with an examination of case studies, students will gain a sense of the breadth of product design practice as it applies to smart objects. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on studio exercises, we will investigate all aspects of smart object design, including expressive behaviors (light, sound and movement), interaction systems, ergonomics, data networks and contexts of use. The course will culminate in a final project that considers all aspects of smart object design within the context of a larger theme.

Framing User Experiences

Products are no longer simply products; they live within complex business and technological ecosystems. To fully understand the user experience, designers must be highly flexible communicators, facilitators, mediators and thinkers. Whether designing a dialysis machine, a mobile phone app, or a water filtration system for the developing world, design is as much about framing user experi- ences as it is about the creation of new artifacts. This course focuses on the relationships between objects and their contexts, how to identify human behaviors and needs, and how those behaviors and needs converge to create user experiences.

Design in Public Spaces

Interfaces are embedded in nearly every aspect of our daily lives—from grocery shopping to banking to reading books. How can we integrate technology with the physical world to create better interfaces and more useful, playful and mean- ingful experiences? This course explores how interaction design fundamentals apply to physical spaces by surveying branded environments, retail stores, museums, urban settings and corporate venues with specific user goals and design considerations in mind.

Conversation Design

Voice technology is no longer “the next big thing.” It’s here. As platforms increasingly allow humans to speak to their devices, not just tap or click on them, interaction designers should be prepared to expand their toolbox. This course will introduce students to conversation design. Inherently multimodal, this growing field is a synthesis of several disciplines, including voice user interface design, interaction design, audio design, and UX writing. We will examine its unique patterns, methods, and challenges, and its relationship to machine learning and AI technologies. The course emphasizes practice. Students will come away with the tools to apply for an internship or introductory position on a conversation design team.

Entrepreneurial Design

Entrepreneurial Design provides a real-world setting for students to: launch, iterate, seek out advice and feedback from others, and learn to make their own decisions. The course takes a broad definition of entrepreneurship (from coffee shops to tech startups), and focuses on the emerging opportunities that come from living and working in an increasingly networked world, while challenging the students to think of themselves not as designers but as creators.

The Advanced Fundamentals (UX, Design, Writing)

This course launches students in developing a course of action for a thesis area of investigation through a series of readings, discussions and probes. Students evaluate what comprises an appropriate thesis topic and its requisite components over the thesis year. The course is taught in three parts:

  • The Advanced Fundamentals of UX
  • The Advanced Fundamentals of Graphic Design
  • Writing Basics

Second Year
Fall Semester

Thesis I: Development

Design problems invariably grow out of real human needs–the needs of a community. Thesis consultation focuses on advising and shaping the thesis project with critiques from the student peers, advisors, and where needed, the community. The students will work directly with a mentor to develop their project into one that is equally rigorous in concept and execution. With the support and guidance of a faculty advisor, and evaluations from a panel of industry experts, students will come away with a market-ready product or service.

Public Interfaces

Public spaces have traditionally been designed to support the social, places for culture, education, work and leisure; we more and more turn to our digital devices to fill these same roles. This course will explore the multi-modal physical world and the role that interaction design and the digital design process have in reactivating and finding new opportunities in the spaces that we inhabit. We will investigate new possibilities available to us through leveraging technology, and working closely with architects, lighting designers, and acoustic designers to create a fully integrated experience that engages people through all of their senses. This studio class will be heavily focused on prototyping and charrettes, and on developing skills in rapidly iterating design concepts. Students will use their thesis projects as a starting point and develop ideas as adjuncts to the projects, or as the main project itself.

Design Management

Once a product or service is designed, it needs to be managed. Whether as an entrepreneur, a design consultant, or an in–house designer, integrating the creative and business sides is rarely easy. This course will illustrate how to mediate between the two, empowering students to merge the design and business aspects effectively. We will examine design in its real–world, contemporary contexts (rather than silos such as product design, web design, or mobile design) to realize its broad potential and reach.

Future Wearables

Students in this course will develop lifestyle products that enhance everyday life through a new device or enhanced addition of a core device. They will be encouraged to emphasize displays in new places and new inputs with an emphasis on emerging technology such as AR/VR or other immersive experiences. The challenge is to deliver appropriate data in an unobtrusive way.

Future (Im)perfect - Exploring the hidden ethics of emerging technologies

The ubiquity of our personal data, facial recognition, and AI are impacting our everyday lives in unprecedented ways. As designers, we consider how to transform the potential of these technologies into products and services or facilitate change on an organizational level.Recent national and international situations have highlighted the need for a more ethically minded thinking about the potential future implications of the technologies we help to deploy.

This class investigates designers' responsibility not only to think about the potentials of these technologies, but also explore their potential social consequences. How might designers create new methods that accelerate our learning of the ethical implications of the technologies we work with?

Throughout the course, students are introduced to a variety of tools to explore some of these unintended consequences and social frictions of today’s emerging technologies to develop a clear point of view about the potentials — but also potential downsides — of specific technologies.Students use critical thinking to identify some of the potential issues but, more than than, use their design skills to devise new visual and experiential methods that engage others into discussing the open ethical questions of today’s emerging technologies.

Electives, Second Year

(Optional) Students can choose to audit one elective per semester in any department at SVA. Some classes may require approval from department staff and/or the department Chair.

Foundations of Responsible Design

In classic product design the limits are well-defined. The margin for error is clear, apparent in the breaking point of physical material. You test for this. You set the limit and put your product through the ringer to push it two times, five times, ten times further. This sets the margins to ensure something is safe to use by anyone even in the most extreme conditions. Everything eventually breaks, but that moment should live within the limits of responsible design. This course will help students to find the line. It will be a field guide to provide insight on the development of responsible design methods, how digital experiences have become ubiquitous in our lives and its impact, the challenges and limits of modern design, and how we find the limits and address the challenges through responsible design practices.

Instructor Albert Shum

Second Year
Spring Semester

Leadership, Ethics and Professional Practices

Creative business practices, ethical standards and effective networking are the cornerstones of this course. Through studio tours, students observe examples of successful practice. Case studies will illustrate the importance of creating viable and responsible business models. Through studio tours, guest lectures, case activities and small group activities, students will observe and critique examples of successful, flawed and failed practices. Upon completion of this course, students will be equipped to describe and cite examples of creative business practices, ethical standards and effective networking in the business of design management.

Narrative and Interactivity

A well-told story transcends any particular medium, and at a very basic level, defines a satisfying interaction. The study of narrative offers designers a tool for exploring the user journey and understanding that journey from different perspectives. This course will explore aspects of narrative such as plot, setting and point-of-view, and train students to use narrative as a way to frame and evaluate interactions.

Instructor Lisa Lurie

Form, Content, and Behavior

Content is often an afterthought in the interaction design process. This half-semester course, held at the very end of a student's time at SVA, seeks to correct for that. We'll look at how design can guide content creation, whether on Twitter or at the New York Times, talk through editorial power structures, and look inside existing files and digital content forms to understand why the digital world can be resistant to change. We'll also discuss the discipline of content strategy and how it is applied to improve digital products. Simultaneously we will make, edit, and distribute a class podcast about student thesis projects, and learn as much as we can about creating and syndicating content in the modern world of giant media platforms.

And one more thing…

You've learned to research, analyze, prototype, and design concepts in their business, social, and cultural contexts. You’ve studied with a wide range of extraordinary designers, and been introduced too many more. You’ve collaborated on projects, become teammates with your fellow students, and are tackling the huge challenge that is your MFA thesis. You’ve been coached on how to sell good design, and even learned how to ask for a raise. What else is there to learn before you enter the job market proudly clutching your hard-earned MFA?

It turns out, there is one more thing to learn and ponder before you go. In this class, you’ll get help figuring out what kind of designer you want to be, on what type of career path, and at what kind of organization—agency, nonprofit, startup, established business, and so on. Each week, an experienced interaction design pro will be a guest for a Socratic question-and-answer session that probes their careers, their personalities, their successes and failures, and the way these all relate to each other. Shy and withdrawn but hope to command a large team of ambitious specialists? You might want to rethink that. 

Guests will be quizzed, then the “mic” will be turned over to students for further questioning. In-class exercises will be conducted from time to time to learn more about each other and track where students think they’re headed, professionally, and why. Through these interviews and exercises, students develop a stronger sense of which jobs and at which types of organizations will work best for the career you want to have. Students will be set to design the greatest interactive experience of them all: your own professional life.

Thesis II: Presentation

Selecting the appropriate format for a fully functional thesis project is critical to the project’s success. It must include proof of concept that demonstrates the depth of research and application, and also demonstrate the research, strategy and artifacts that have been gained through second-year coursework. Each student must present a thesis project to be approved by the thesis committee and the program chair.