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 questions about a learner’s existing knowledge before moving into studying core content on topics from multiple disciplines and sources. Afterwards, you meet in person with a coach for active practice and real-time feedback before reflecting on what you’ve learned.

Enroll in the Socially Engaged Design Academy:

University of Michigan Student, Faculty, or Staff

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Non-University of Michigan Student, Faculty, or Staff

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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.

After completing this learning block, you will be able to:
  • Differentiate between ethnography and design ethnography by understanding how the core anthropological principles are used in design
  • Recognize how design ethnography enhances the overall design of a product or process
  • Practice basic field methods for data collection
  • Identify stakeholders, develop a stakeholder map, and utilize it to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful manner
  • Structure a plan for conducting design ethnography



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.

After completing this block, you be able to:
  • Create a thorough and effective interview protocol
  • Craft a variety of types of questions to elicit high-quality information
  • Organize interview questions in a structure that facilitates gaining the most useful and meaningful information


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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • approach sensitive topics that may arise during an interview
  • build rapport with an interviewee while remaining neutral
  • determine the impact of body language during an interview
  • ask appropriate follow-up questions


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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Articulate why observing is important in the design process
  • Plan and perform meaningful observations in various settings
  • Employ observation frameworks to capture observational data


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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Have an understanding of what prototypes are and what they do
  • Demonstrate the iterative value of prototyping throughout the design process
  • Understand when and how to use different types of prototyping techniques
  • Recognize the limitations of prototyping
  • Recognize and utilize best practices in prototyping
  • Evaluate your prototypes to inform and improve your design


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.

After completing this block, you will be able to:
  • Write an effective needs statement
  • Distinguish common mistakes made when writing needs statement







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?

Good user requirements are one of the key factors that lead to a successful design as they capture the users’ and stakeholders’ needs, desires, and expectations for a product. Once the user requirements are determined, they are usually translated over to what is called ‘specifications’, which quantify the requirements and are the statements against which solutions are tested and verified with. Like the user requirements, you might elicit them by directly interacting with users and stakeholders, or through prototypes, trial and error, literature reviews, or standards, among many other methods.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • elicit and develop user requirements from users and stakeholders
  • prioritize user requirements
  • translate user requirements into specifications
  • utilize data collection strategies to inform user requirements and specifications
  • write specific and unambiguous user requirements and specifications



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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Use concept generation in the design innovation process
  • Be cognizant of the type of thinking needed to conduct concept generation
  • Explore the solution space using different brainstorming techniques and keeping a design notebook
  • Recognize challenges you might face when generating ideas



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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Iterate on the ideas from the concept generation process
  • Understand how to become more effective in ideating different solutions
  • Focus on drawing out the quality and novelty in your design solutions
  • Apply a wide variety of methods to generate a large quantity of concepts
  • Organize and cluster ideas in meaningful ways
  • Check your ideas early on to determine the best ones



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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Organize and filter through potential solutions in a meaningful way
  • Use data gathered through the design process to effectively evaluate solution concepts
  • Objectively compare solution concepts against a need specification to determine what concepts to pursue
  • Apply an approach, such as the Pugh method, to develop a decision matrix to evaluate and select a final concept



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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Utilize best practice techniques for effective technical design project meetings
  • Prepare for design project meetings and follow-up afterwards
  • Define the objective of the meeting and create a purposeful meeting agenda
  • Conduct meaningful in-person and virtual meetings
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of each meeting
  • Implement U-M online meeting tools



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.

Now more than ever, people are seeking ways to affect change in their communities — both locally and around the world. This course is for anyone — from novices to experienced practitioners — who wants to work more effectively with community members and organizations, including through, but not limited to:

  • community-academic partnerships
  • social change projects
  • traditional and community-based participatory research
  • non-profit internships
  • public scholarship
  • civic performance



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.

After completing this block you will be able to:
  • Plan and conduct a needs assessment
  • Differentiate between problems, needs and solutions
  • Identify needs and develop methods to categorize them
  • Choose a strategic focus that aligns with you/your team’s mission, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Recognize, acknowledge and understand stakeholder perceptions with respect to the needs
  • Determine key factors for filtering and prioritizing needs
  • Document the needs assessment


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.

After completing this block, you will be able to:


  • Define secondary data, understand its importance and develop criteria to determine its validity
  • Identify trustworthy sources of secondary data and where to find them
  • Differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of secondary data sources
  • Synthesize secondary information by developing a plan, organizing your data and carrying out best practices when conducting your research




SEDA Shorts

Here you can access each section of the learning blocks found in the Socially Engaged Design Academy and use the content you desire for your own personal, group, or course work. This content is available for curricular & co-curricular U-M students, faculty and staff.

Each block consists of the core content and section reviews that you can use to revise the content you’ve learned, so you can always test your skills on your own. For a more comprehensive study of each topic or to receive a certificate, please visit the desired block on the main Socially Engaged Design Academy page (, where you will also have the opportunity to discuss concepts, apply what you’ve learned, and receive constructive feedback to develop your skills further.

Note that there is no certificate associated with reviewing the core content here.

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