Civic Design

Prof. Steven Dow

WINTER 2020, T/Th, 12:30-1:50pm (final on March 17th 11:30-2:30)

Location: HSS 1330

DSGN 160, 4 credits

This studio course explores how to design products, services, and policies for complex socio-technical systems. The class will follow a human-centered design process that includes user research, concept generation, prototyping, pitching, and alliance building. Students will work in teams to design solutions to civic challenges affecting people in the San Diego region. This will be a good course for intermediate to advanced design students who want to build up their portfolio and to practice their skills with sketching, storyboarding, prototyping, and evaluating services for real-world problems.

As part of this class, teams will enter the Design for San Diego 2020 challenge ( and interact with other innovators, experts, and mentors throughout the city to address problems related to Mobility, Health, Environment, and Housing. Top teams will have an opportunity to present their work and win prizes at events in downtown San Diego!

This is a 4-credit hour class that has been approved as an elective for CogSci majors and DSGN minors. As a prerequisite, students should have completed as least one prior project-based design or engineering course at UCSD.

To request enrollment, look for the course on the Enrollment Authorization System (EASy).

Learning Objectives

Students who have successfully completed this course will be able to do the following:

  • conduct multiple methods for user research
  • sketch as a means of visual exploration and ideation
  • give form to design ideas through prototyping
  • understand how designers think in order to collaborate on interdisciplinary teams
  • give and receive feedback in a constructive way during critiques
  • communicate design ideas to a variety of stakeholders


Steven Dow is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego where he researches human-computer interaction, social computing, and creativity. Steven received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2015 for research on "advancing collective innovation." He was co-PI on four other National Science Foundation grants, a Google Faculty Grant, Stanford's Postdoctoral Research Award, and the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Grant. Before UCSD, Steven was an Assistant Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds an MS and PhD in Human-Centered Computing from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from University of Iowa.

Teaching Assistants

Lu Sun ( is a first-year Cognitive Science PhD student at UCSD, working at the Design Lab and ProtoLab. Her research area is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), with focuses on social computing and crowdsourcing. In her research, she designs systems that engage citizens in collective innovation. Prior to entering graduate program, she received B.Eng degree from China and master degree from CMU HCII.

Srishti Palani ( is a second-year Cognitive Science PhD student at UCSD and excited about research in Human Computer Interaction. Through her research at the Design Lab, she designs systems that empower everyone to be more creative. In 2018, she graduated summa cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Mount Holyoke College. When she’s not researching, you can find her playing squash, learning to surf, or petting dogs.

Instructional Assistants

Bryce Grubbs ( is a fourth-year majoring in Speculative Design and minoring in Mathematics. He is interested in experimental and practical architecture, as well as construction. Bryce also likes to spend his time writing science fiction and fantasy and hiking in the mountains.

Joanna Lu ( is a third year Cognitive Science student specializing in Design and Interaction with a minor in Computer Science. She is interested in UX/UI and eLearning to improve the experience and accessibility in the digital age. During her free time, she likes to dance and listen to new music.

Sam Brege ( is a second year Cognitive Science student specializing in Machine Learning with a minor in Design. He is fascinated with the possibilities of Generative Design and hopes to use it as a designer. In his spare time he likes to mess around with Arduino, Fusion360, and cooking.