Course experiences that promote and inhibit human-centered design

Elizabeth A. Sanders, Molly H. Goldstein, Justin L. Hess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Engineers contribute to large-scale socio-technical challenges, and human-centered design offers a design thinking approach that helps engineers develop a thorough understanding of the socio-technical effects of their design work. Thus, effective strategies for assessing and teaching human-centered design are needed. This study aimed to identify course characteristics that influence how students experience human-centered design in an introductory systems engineering design course. First, we categorized open-ended written reflections to understand the degree to which students experienced human-centered design. Second, we performed a thematic analysis to characterize salient course experiences for two groups of students: (1) students who experienced human-centered design in a technology-centered (i.e., non-human-centered) way and (2) students who used user input to guide their design thinking and thus experienced design in a human-centered way. Finally, we identify commonalities in course experiences across these two groups of students. Our analysis suggested that most students did not prioritize human-centered design approaches during the course. Most students strived for technical perfectionism, centered CAD competencies, fixated on novel design, and prioritized design decision-making tools. However, students who demonstrated human-centered design approaches integrated user research into their design process, valued communication, and expressed feeling a tension between user information and course requirements. While students may complete the same design course, their design experiences will vary. We provide a heuristic that we encourage instructors to utilize to identify students’ ways of experiencing design. Moreover, we encourage instructors to extend study findings to help non-human-centered designers bridge the divide between social and technical knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Design Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Design thinking
  • Engineering design
  • Human-centered design
  • Systems engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering(all)


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