PXDD Course

Product and Experience Design for Desirability

Syllabus Spring 2021

Enrollment Details

  • Meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:45pm – 5:45pm. Each class includes some studio time.
  • Location: Remote / Zoom
  • Professor: Dr. Beth Altringer (SEAS); Also teaches at the GSD and HBS
  • EnrollmentSpace is limited and instructor permission is required. This is a cross-listed course. Steps to request enrollment:
    1. Email: ba[at]seas.harvard.edu to request instructor permission and briefly mention why you would like to take the course this year.
    2. Petition for enrollment as follows: Undergraduate SEAS ES22 Canvas Link // Graduate GSD = SCI6276 Canvas Link
    3. Enrollment Update Jan 23: As of Jan 23, we have approved students for which we have both an email request, and petition inside Canvas. The class is oversubscribed and we will now run a waitlist. To join the waitlist, do steps #1 and #2 above. In the first week, we will learn actual enrollment numbers. If spaces open up, we will offer them to waitlisted students.
    1. Zoom Link: https://harvard.zoom.us/j/5582537269

Course Overview and Learning Goals

DESIGN SURVIVOR (SEAS ES22 / GSD SCI 6276) is a Harvard University course cross-listed in the engineering and design schools, and open to students from all schools. It appeals to those interested in designing products and services that are desirable. In today’s competitive landscape, products and services that connect with human meaning, usability, and emotions are more likely to be successful. Designing for desirability begins with questions of what we mean by ‘desirable’ and ‘for whom’. It can mean irresistible, delightful, meaningful, cool, covetable, viral, easy, and more. The class explores different meanings of desirability in design for designers and different types of users.

Designers, engineers, developers, entrepreneurs, architects and creators of all kinds work in professions where technical functionality and economic viability are no longer enough to remain competitive. Design for desirability has long characterized the creative industries, and in this course, students learn from these principles, and practice applying them to other forms of innovation – from improving health literacy campaigns to revamping declining technologies or redefining luxury goods as both aspirational and sustainable. This course uses experiential, analogical and case-based methods across a range of domains. Students study real world examples of how organizations like Apple, Lyft, IDEO, Duolingo, Nike, Gucci, Pinterest, Tesla, Sonos, Bose and others use different approaches to strategically design for desirability to capture and maintain the attention of their target markets. Students then apply these concepts to new domains through design challenges.

The course emphasizes fundamental concepts in design, analogical transfer, the psychology of designing for desirability, and how to use these for engineering design challenges. The course provides technical workshops to students without previous prototyping experience. Weekly and bi-weekly cases and experiential challenges are designed to address the applications of the course content to real world problems. Research and tight feedback loops provided by the class structure and regular teaching staff and industry critiques enable students to develop their own personal design point of view, and to finish the course with a diverse design portfolio.

Class Structure and Grading

Course Structure: The course consists of a series of five themes of desirable design. Each section begins with an introduction to relevant theory, experimentation, and a discussion of exceptional examples from product and service design that represent each theory in practice. These introductory lectures and discussions set the stage for an associated hands-on design challenge.

  • Introduction to the course: theory and practical skills. Short practice design challenges emphasize skills training in UXUI design for students who need it.
  • Five Themes of Desirable Design. In each section, students complete: a) a prototype (usually in randomly assigned teams of 2-4), and b) a short (individual) essay to demonstrate their grasp of theoretical concepts.
    1. Designing to capture and sustain attention
    2. Designing to influence behavior
    3. Designing to inspire, connect, and give meaning
    4. Designing to influence perception
    5. Designing to reduce friction and simplify the overall experience
  • Final Project: Bringing it all together to design for overall satisfaction and desirability; Design Portfolio and Reflection

Course Grading

  • Participation and reflections: 30%
  • Short essays for each theme: 20%
  • Product designs for each theme: 30%
  • Final Project, portfolio, reflection: 20%

Course Schedule

Occasional schedule changes: We work with industry professionals in this course and as such we have to be flexible with their schedules. This will sometimes involve rearranging our planned schedule.

Parts of the CourseTheory and PracticeScheduling

Introduction and skills training

Note that full scheduling details will be shared on the first day of class.Tuesday, Jan. 26th to Feb 2nd
Part One: Design that captures and sustains attention

Theory: engagement, exploration, novelty, and simplicity. Practice: case studies and design challenges.

Tuesday, February 2nd through Thursday Feb 18th
Part Two: Design that influences behavior

Theory: Motivation and compliance, achievement, behavior change, and self-direction. Practice: case studies and design challenges.

Thur. Feb 18th through Thur. March 4th
Part Three: Design that inspires, connects, and gives meaningTheory: Inspiration, connection, beauty, triumph, benevolence, and sense of meaning. Practice: case studies and design challenges.Thur. March 4th through Thur. March 25th
Part Four: Design that influences perceptionTheory: anxiety reduction, cognitive load, security, legitimacy, trust, power. Practice: case studies and design challenges.Thur. March 25th through Thur. April 15th
Part Five: Design that reduces friction and simplifies the overall experienceTheory: Overall satisfaction and integrated theory of design desirability: Bringing it all together. Practice: case studies and design challenges.Thur. April 15th through Tue. April 27th
Final Project: Design that brings this all together for overall satisfaction and desirability + final portfolioTheory: Cohesion, storytelling, reflection and critique. Practice: Final project vision and prototype demonstration, reflection essay incorporating your response to critiques, and design portfolio cohesively representing your work to date in and out of class.

Tuesday April 27th through Friday May 14th

NOTE: April 28th (Wed) is the last day of spring classes. Final deliverables can be submitted remotely anytime between the last day of classes and May 14th.

Special Thanks to Past Guests. We line up new class guests and case studies each year. Here is a sample of past guests:

  • Head of Behavior Design, Google (formerly Facebook and Zynga)
  • Head of Design (multiple), IDEO
  • Founding team, Piaggio Fast Forward (robotics company)
  • Spalding Rehabilitation Center
  • Head of Product, Bose
  • Founders, BE Works (behavioral economics consultancy owned by IDEO’s parent company)
  • Head of Sustainable Design, Gucci Group
  • Founder and CEO, Onewheel (electric skateboard)
  • Professor of moral decision making, Yale
  • Curator, Design Museum, London
  • Head of Design, Swarovski
  • Investors, Angel Investors and Venture Capitalist (various)
  • Seasoned Investor, Broadway (theater)
  • Founder / CEO, competitor of Escape the Room
  • Executive, Polar Springs (water company)
  • Senior Executive, Zipcar
  • Senior Designer, Diane von Fustenberg
  • Various surgeons, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Global Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson
  • Senior Designer, 2 x 4 Design
  • And morere