The Socially Engaged Design Academy (SEDA) uses a learning block model and combines online learning with face-to-face, hands-on coaching. Each learning block begins with a prior knowledge review before moving into studying core content on a specific topics from multiple disciplines and sources. Afterwards, you meet in person with an coach for active practice and real-time feedback before reflecting on what you’ve learned.


Enroll in the Socially Engaged Design Academy

SEDA’s learning blocks cover a variety of topics to help designers through the socially engaged design process. Read below to learn more about these topics and how they fit into the socially engaged design process.

Planning a Design Ethnography Experience

Ethnography has long been used to understand how people live and why they do what they do. The principles used to collect and analyze this information are also very useful for designers who create products or processes to improve people’s lives. In this block, you will learn basic and core anthropological principles that guide ethnographic fieldwork and how these techniques are applied to design processes. Case studies will demonstrate how ethnography has been used in real-world design products, after which you will have the opportunity to plan a design ethnographic experience yourself

Crafting Design Interview Protocols

A skilled interviewer knows how to ask questions and knows the right questions to ask and in what order. Here we focus on the writing of an interview protocol to gain in-depth information from users, stakeholders, or experts to guide design decisions.

Conducting Design Interviews

A thoughtful, organized interview protocol can act as a solid framework for a researcher to work off of, but physically conducting the interview is an art of its own.  How one conducts an interview determines the quality and amount of information any given interview will produce. Good researchers need to be prepared if things don’t go according to plan and to be able to apply their skills and strategies to a variety of situations.

Design Observations

Observing in the design world is crucial for identifying true user needs. By exploring the context and determining the effectiveness of different concepts and prototypes directly with the users, you might more appropriately address a problem at hand. Observations are crucial in all settings, from behaviors of drivers of the US. vs. Japanese cars to farming in low-resource settings. Active observations not only lead to a better understanding of the design context to be addressed, but also inform more appropriate design solutions for the intended users.

Prototyping Throughout the Design Process

A common misconception of the design process often leads designers to prototyping only after they finalized user requirements and engineering specifications and developed concepts. However, prototyping can be used as a creative, problem-solving technique that not only helps you test out ideas, but also develop them right from the start. In this block, you will learn how prototyping can and should be used throughout the entirety of the design process, from when you’re starting to understand the problem to when you need to demonstrate a function or form.

Writing Needs Statements

The need statement is the foundation of any organized design project, providing direction and focus while effectively communicating the problem being addressed.

User Requirements & Specifications

After you have defined the design problem you’re working on (or perhaps while you’re still figuring it out), the next step usually involves determining exactly what criteria a solution should meet in order to address the design problem. Directly engaging with the users and stakeholders is oftentimes the first step to figuring out what needs to happen to address a particular challenge – does the solution have to be intuitive? Easy to move? Adaptable?

Idea Generation

After selecting a need or problem to focus on, it is time to figure out how to address it. Rather than jumping to the first idea, or getting stuck on a single idea, the designer and his/her team should spend time generating many potential ideas, exploring a wide variety of ideas, and limiting evaluating during this concept generation phase. In this block, we highlight key aspects that support successful idea generation and brainstorming techniques that can help to explore the solution space.

Concept Development

Once you have an understanding of what generating concepts entails, it is time to learn efficient and effective tools for generating a wide variety of novel solutions for the need you are addressing. During the initial concept generation process the goal is to ideate as many different potential solutions as possible. Transitioning to the concept development process is a time to begin iterating on those ideas with a greater perspective and more deliberation.

Concept Selection

Once you spend time exploring the solution space, ideating and developing concepts, you should have a large quantity of novel, effective, and quality ideas to approach your design problem. To move forward, you will need to be more critical of your ideas, deciding what is worth pursuing further and what ideas should be set aside. Concept screening is a time to organize and narrow down your concepts into a more manageable set of potential solutions. Afterwards, you will evaluate your concepts, judge your ideas, and determine a final concept to focus on.

Effective Technical Design Project Meetings

Efficient meetings are an essential component to successful teams of any form, particularly design teams. They occur frequently for a variety of reasons, be it one-time meetings with a singular purpose or regular standing meetings to discuss status and/or progress. Regardless of the type, oftentimes team members do not know or understand the purpose of a given meeting, why the meeting length is set at the time it is, or even their purpose in attending the meeting. Learning how to facilitate effective meetings can ensure achieving the desired design project goals by making progress efficiently.

Community Engagement

For this content please visit the MOOC here, created by a collaborative team including individuals from School of Engineering (C-SED), Ginsberg, the School of Social Work (Office of Global Activities), the School of Information (Engaged Learning Office), and the Provost’s Office.

Planning a Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is an approach used to gain an in-depth understanding of complex problems and focuses of the needs of a community to derive human-centered solutions. It consists of, but is not limited to, observations, interviews, literature reviews and extensive critical thinking. In conducting a needs assessment, you will not only be able to identify the needs in a given community or setting, but also determine how best to address those needs.

Secondary Information Gathering

Information for research or projects is necessary for not only obtaining background, but also for benchmarking and making informed decisions. With all the information out there, it is necessary to develop skills for efficient navigation and collection of the information you need.

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