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 decisionmaking 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.


This version of the article has been accepted for publication, after peer review (when applicable) and is subject to Springer Nature’s AM terms of use, but is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections. The Version of Record is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-023-09834-w


Design Thinking; Human-Centered Design; Engineering Design; Systems Engineering

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Sanders, E.A., Goldstein, M.H. & Hess, J.L. Course experiences that promote and inhibit human-centered design. Int J Technol Des Educ (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-023-09834-w

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