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A Culture of Care

Read Smith’s UPDATED plans as of August 5, 2020,
for an entirely remote fall 2020 semester.

For Students

Four students smiling in the studio

This is where deep disciplinary knowledge and cross-disciplinary interests come together in action. Human-centered design is an opportunity to critically and actively engage with the messy and challenging problems facing our world at a scale we can actually impact. This is a space for experimentation, exploration, cultivating creative expression, and messing around with materials and ideas responsibly. This is a place to get your hands on some real tools for making change.

We have a new, fully accessible makerspace at Capen Annex. Come check out our vinyl cutter, Glowforge lasercutter, Ultimaker 3D printer and sewing machine during open hours.


Intro to Human-Centered Design (IDP 116)

This 1-credit introduction to human-centered design emphasizes hands-on collaborative design, driven by qualitative research. Students will develop a critical lens on design and explore the implications of design in shaping the world around us. Students will explore what it means to reframe challenges as opportunities, ask animating questions and communicate ideas through new means of storytelling.

Critical Design Studio (IDP 316)

This 4-credit interdisciplinary project-based course emphasizes human-centered design process as well as critical social theory on the relationships between humans and our contexts. Through hands-on, individual and collaborative making, participants will learn qualitative research methods, rapid idea generation techniques, prototyping and iterative implementation. This learning will happen alongside rich class discussions of both seminal and contemporary scholarly work on design’s role in shaping the lived experience.

The aim of this course is for students to cultivate an appreciation of human-centered design in service of greater social issues and an understanding of design as a form of civic engagement, not just as the shaping of the world by some for others. Participants will put the skills of observation, active listening and overcoming confirmation bias into practice through field research. They will be asked to reframe their challenge and build design solutions iteratively, learning to push the boundaries of their initial conceptions. Participants will be exposed to making as a way of thinking and prototyping as a way of testing new ideas. Participants will be challenged to navigate team roles and dynamics through team collaboration. Ultimately these teams will reflect on and present their processes and learnings in a critical review.

Students will learn the following design practices:

  • Lateral thinking techniques for insight synthesis and ideation
  • Mindfulness practices for developing the capacity to observe without judgment
  • Active listening in field research
  • Navigating dynamic teams and providing peer reviews through constructive critique
  • Thinking and communicating visually through sketches and imagery
  • Modeling and rapid prototyping material manipulation and fabrication techniques
  • Use of narrative to frame problems, communicate ideas and reflect on the ethical, political, socioeconomic and social justice implications of design in the world

Students will cultivate the following design mindsets:

  • Attention and presence
  • Compassion and humility
  • Creative courage
  • Thinking through making
  • Experimentation and resilience
  • Embracing not knowing
  • Radical collaboration
  • Challenging assumptions

Throughout this course, it is expected that participants will adhere to the Smith College Honor Code. It is a violation of the Honor Code to submit another’s work as one’s own or to provide one’s work to another participant for submission. That said, collaboration is strongly encouraged, and indeed, the goal of the course is to facilitate opportunities to work with fellow students and explore concepts in imaginative ways. Team project submissions must outline the role and contributions of each team member. Where possible, acknowledge outside help and insights that led to breakthroughs in your work. If there are concerns about what is considered to be an Honor Code violation participants must refer to the college guidelines and/or talk to the instructor. Any violation of the Honor Code is serious and will be presented to the Honor Board for their adjudication.

Design Process and Projects (40%)

Emphasis will be placed on the design process and projects. Participants will be evaluated on how engaged they are in the process itself—their willingness to deeply examine a challenge, come at things from multiple perspectives, engage people most affected by the challenge in the process, adapt to new ideas and inputs, work effectively in a team, and come up with compelling and relevant design proposals.

Participation and Collaboration (40%)

The studio is a model for how human-centered design can make change. Making change is rarely a solo act. It requires navigating often complex social situations and the engagement of a wide variety of people. The studio itself requires a similar deep commitment to working together in small teams and as a class, which is why attendance is absolutely critical. Although not always easy, the skill sets that participants will acquire while navigating group work will contribute to the development of more rigorous and interesting design solutions. To facilitate cross-fertilization and exchange with peers, participants are encouraged to use Capen Annex as the primary work space in and out of class.

Read/Watch/Listen and Reflections (20%)

  1. Readings, videos and audio will be provided as handouts, digital downloads or links. We will discuss these, and participants will be evaluated on their engagement in these discussions as well as on how they demonstrate integration of the ideas into their work and written reflections. As the semester progresses, individual participants will be charged with leading the discussions of case studies, bringing research and reflection to spark the conversation.
  2. Participants will be expected to keep a sketchbook with weekly observations/reflections that will be periodically shared and reviewed.

Contact the Office of Disability Services in College Hall 104 or for any accommodations needed. This must be done as soon as possible to ensure accommodations can be implemented in a timely fashion.


Design Immersions


Design Immersions are an applied learning opportunity to connect Smithies with organizations and institutions across the country and around the world who leverage design practices and methods for advancing socially, economically, and environmentally healthy communities.



Student Project Awards

Are you looking for funding to complete a design or making- oriented project? Student Project Grants are meant for small projects which use design thinking methodology or concepts, center making as a way of thinking, or are associated with a Design Thinking Initiative class. Typical awards range from $20-$100, but other award amounts will be considered based on the availability of funding. Funding is strictly limited to Smith College students. Students may re-apply during their time at Smith.

To apply, please submit both of the following:
  1. The Student Project Grant information form
  2. An itemized budget, including the item, dollar amount, and link, through email to and
You will be notified of your acceptance within 5 business days.



Learn More About the Design Thinking Initiative