Human-Centered Design curriculum in development

Anabelle Dillard, News Reporter

A new Human-Centered Design (HCD) program is in the works at Whitman that may take the form of a multidisciplinary concentration in the field. Currently, Whitman only has one concentration in Global Studies. 

The organizers of the developing HCD program plan to propose the curriculum in Fall 2022. If the plan is approved, students will be able to register for a foundation-level course starting in Fall 2023, with more classes to be created and offered in the following years. 

Human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving that focuses on the perspective and needs of the users of a product and develops solutions by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. It is an approach that is becoming increasingly common in a variety of fields, such as design, management and engineering. 

Senior Cassidy Nelson is interested in a career in user experience and design. She and her housemate, senior Eva Coulon, both participated in a focus group for the program last summer after learning about it from Professor of Sociology Michelle Janning.

“[Janning] mentioned how integrating a design studies program at Whitman was something many professors have been thinking about. However, they didn’t know if students would be receptive to the topic or even if they knew much about it,” said Nelson, “So that was the purpose of my summer research with Eva… we wanted to ask students who would be receiving the benefits of this new field of study, what they would want to see.”

Coulon became interested in User Experience (UX) during her first year at Whitman and completed a UX Independent Study with Associate Professor of Art Justin Lincoln. 

“Professors took notice of alumni and current students like myself who are interested in subjects like design, UX, UI, etc. and sought to build space for these curiosities,” Coulon said. “Currently, I am helping develop ideas for curriculum, internships and beyond.”

Lincoln is also involved in the development of the program. The initial planning began in spring 2021, after which a group met up to discuss the goals and structure for the program. 

“Many of us, as faculty and staff, found ourselves working with very motivated and enthusiastic students that are interested in design in the broadest sense,” said Lincoln.  “We also discovered that many of our alumni were finding post graduation employment in [HCD-related] areas. If our students are already heading in these directions, we hope that we can mindfully address the skills and strengths that they are already developing here at Whitman.”

Recently, the computer science department received a $2 million donation for a new endowed chair position. The computer science field, like HCD, has seen national growth over recent years, and the CS department hopes to use their endowment to contribute to the new HCD program. 

“Organizing and developing this program has been very informative and invigorating. Forefronting the human in design processes has so many profound implications,” said Lincoln. “It’s been exciting to dream together with so many different people and we are excited and hopeful about implementing these plans.”

Nelson echoed Lincoln’s enthusiasm for students to engage in this cross-disciplinary opportunity. 

“I’m most excited for incoming students to get involved in a very new and up-and-coming field of study, one that incorporates creativity with science and social science,” said Nelson. “It really is an interdisciplinary concept, and I can’t wait to see future Whitties getting involved.”