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.

The Fundamentals of Physical Computing

This class is a practical hands-on exploration of physically interactive technology for the designer. Students will learn how to interface objects and installations with the viewer’s body and ambient stimuli such as motion, light, sound, or intangible data. Starting with the basics using the open-source Arduino platform, the class will move through electrical theory, circuit design, microcontroller programming, sensors, and complex output including motors, video, and intercommunication between objects.

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 from SVA's Continuing Education course offerings. Some classes may require approval from department staff and/or the department Chair.

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.

Instructor Jen Clark

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.

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.

Designing a Business

Designing a business is not just about building a successful product. A venture can only succeed if it has a realistic (and profitable) business model, a deep understanding of its customers, the competition, and the marketplace, and a thoughtful go-to-market strategy. This course will go through the basics of venture design including value proposition design, business model design, testing business ideas, and understanding the business model environment. Using real-world examples and the designers’ own ventures, the designers should finish this course with a framework for creating, launching, and scaling a successful venture.

Instructor Lauren Eve Cantor

Advanced Fundamentals of UX

In this course students explore concepts fundamental to the user experience (UX) practice; how to frame design problems through synthesis of research and various project inputs, problem-solving through mapping, sketching, and wire-framing, and problem sharing through constructing narratives of our work. 

Students work to become better practitioners and strategists through seeking to understand and respond to influences, both inside the project and outside of it, that might impact its outcome. Students work to think both broadly and deeply about a problem and communicate its solution via mixed-fidelity artifacts that they evolve through multiple iterations. Finally, students learn to shape artifacts as well as conversations to appeal to varied audiences, including clients, project stakeholders, designers, and developers, in order to influence how a project takes shape over time.

Instructor Matthew Raw

Thesis Preparation

John Dewey once wrote, “every experience is the result of an interaction between a live creature and some aspect of the world in which he lives.” How we interact in the world, then, is not just the context for technology, it is the material. What is known about how we interact? And more, what is assumed and unwritten? What are the rules? This is the investigation to be undertaken as preparation for thesis.

Instructor Pingyi Wang

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.

Augment Ideas into Reality

Augmented Reality is our future. We see this technology widely portrayed in sci-fi films, like how Tony Stark used AR to design and build his suit in Iron Man, and technology is slowly turning this fantasy into reality. In this course, we are going to design a product that uses AR technology and translates this futuristic concept into a concept video. 

As designers, we are visionaries. In this class, we will learn how to develop a concept beyond the boundaries of today, and also learn how to turn an abstract idea into a concept video.

Instructor Diamond Ho

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 from SVA's Continuing Education course offerings. Some classes may require approval from department staff and/or the department Chair.

Digital Accessibility

Creating delightful and user-centered interactions for everyone must start with a foundation in digital accessibility. In this course, students will learn the fundamentals of accessible design, from WCAG criteria to readability. Students will gain direct experience with assistive technology and participate in group projects to reimagine existing technology through an accessible lens.

This course uses a broad definition of accessibility beyond just WCAG criteria and will include language access, readability, inclusion, and UX research. Through weekly readings, students will also gain a deeper understanding of the importance and definition of accessibility and will leave the course prepared to advocate for the importance of accessible design in their future work. 

The ultimate goal of this course is to help students incorporate accessible design into the fundamentals of their practice, and design beautiful, functional, and intuitive digital interfaces with accessibility in mind from the beginning.

Instructor Elyse Voegeli

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 TBA

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.

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 wringer 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 impact our daily lives, the challenges and
 limits of modern design, and how we find the limits and address the challenges 
through responsible design practices.

Instructor Karen Ingram

UX Writing

Writing is part of every design project—from jotting down notes and questions to summarizing research, instructing users, and presenting work in proposals and marketing pages. In this course, students examine the writing process, collaborate on long and short-form pieces, practice editing, and use language as a strategic tool in the design process.

Instructor Scott Kubie