Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Design Thinking for a better tomorrow

The School of Human Ecology is relentless in its work to include design thinking and consumer insights into a wide variety of programs—both inside and outside the school—because we want to keep a human-centered point of view in front of the inventors and engineers who create spaces and products.

We understand that when the design process is applied as a problem-solving strategy, the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design thinking is at the core of successful strategy development and organizational change.

Appreciating good design is easy. It is the process behind it that often goes unnoticed, and yet it is this process that molds and shapes the design’s impact. At human ecology we are working towards making the design process more visible because we know that design thinking contributes to everything from product development to services to responding to societal challenges.We believe that design thinking is a creative act that is both reflective and intentional. Our courses are set up to allow students the creative freedom to rethink how they solve problems and develop resources to replace, augment, and enhance their problem-solving skills.

After all, a human-centered approach isn’t just specific to the School of Human Ecology—humans, design thinking reminds us, are everywhere.

The Harvard Business Review described how employers are actively seeking graduates with design skills. For example, IBM Design is on track to hire 1,000 designers and G.E. Healthcare (a Wisconsin company) and Samsung have made design thinking part of their strategic mission. Nationally, between May 2017 to May 2018, over 26,000 jobs were posted for jobs that required a master’s degree and skills in design thinking, product design, creative design or interaction design[1].  In Wisconsin, employment opportunities in interdisciplinary design range from the state’s many product manufacturers, such as S.C. Johnson and Harley-Davidson, to product development companies like Design-Concepts, IDEO, i3 Product Development, Frog and Continuum. Because of these trends and opportunities, many major universities have an interdisciplinary design program, including Stanford, MIT, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, Northwestern, University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech and the University of Washington.

Given the demand for master’s training in design, the School of Human Ecology led with campus partners saw a critical opportunity to leverage innovation efforts across the campus by bringing together the Design Thinking Initiative already underway in human ecology, the prototyping expertise and facilities in the College of Engineering (CoE), the corporate and entrepreneurial activities in the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB), and the user experience and data analytics capabilities in the Information School (iSchool) to offer a new interdisciplinary Master of Science in Design Innovation. Based on the principles of transformative design, the program uses design thinking as a non-linear, collaborative process to problem solve for systemic transformation of services, products and processes. Students will work on interdisciplinary teams to solve complex problems that are desirable from a human point of view, while being technologically feasible and economically viable. Students will leave the program with skills that enhance their professional practices, whether it’s engineering, business, graphic design, software development or business ownership, with transformative design strategies and tools that elevate their ability to create meaningful solutions.

Within the University of Wisconsin-Madison the School of Human Ecology offers an M.S. and MFA in Human Ecology with named options in Design Studies. These programs are both research and thesis-based.  M.S. students select an area of specialization in design history, material culture studies, environment design, or textile science. Students in the MFA typically focus on either Textile and Fashion Design or Interior Architecture with a substantial studio work component.  As a partner in this degree, they have assisted in developing a new design degree with little overlap to their existing programs. In fact, through this partnership with the College of Engineering, SoHE can meet one of the strategic goals  to strengthen graduate programs by expanding depth and breadth of graduate course work.