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XD Courses

Option Studios


A tradition for more than 15 years, the College of Design Option Studios — DSN S 546 — are the original sandbox for innovative, multidisciplinary explorations. Design option studios close the loop begun with the College of Design’s interdisciplinary foundation, the first-year Core Design Program. These two curricular bookends in Design Studies offer all students an opportunity to both open and close the learning loop of their primary major in an expanded manner: but with a plunge into optional design interventions, intersections, interactions, interdisciplinarity, interpersonal skills, international explorations, interests, and interfaces.

Every spring semester, these approximately 15 advanced, frequently co-taught project-based studios examine diverse themes in the built environment, design and arts, and offer 250 to 300 students from all College of Design majors an opportunity to engage in different challenges, different scales, and different patterns of work. These studios allow students to connect with other disciplines, and with other students and faculty, in the second half of their junior or senior year.

These studios represent the embodiment of student cross-collaboration, building bridges between disciplines and the scholarship developed within the college’s seven departments.

Our world has become increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain. Education plays a crucial role in preparing next generations for a future of complex challenges such as globalization, digitalization and climate change. Additionally, skills such as creative problem solving, the ability to innovate, and critical thinking – known as part of the “21st century skills” – are increasingly important for openly embracing change and conscientiously shaping the future.

Our design studios are based on the process of reframing, by encouraging students to address challenges with a sense of empathy, viewing a problem through the eyes of someone actually confronting it. Through interdisciplinary teamwork, ideas and approaches developed in the studio are turned into physical representations in the process, to later be examined and reflected upon.

The main work of the Design Option Studios is currently guided by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, established by the United Nations in 2016 and deeply connected with civic innovation and social entrepreneurship topics. They provide the thematic structure for the interdisciplinary design starting point, because through an iterative design thinking process, it allows for multiple formulations of a specific challenge per studio.

Faculty involved in teaching these studio courses constantly challenge themselves and our students with emerging, global issues bringing them to the forefront of education. Most of these studios include multiple domestic field trips to sites critical for educational purposes, with some others taking students abroad for seven-to-ten days to truly immerse the students into the culture they are connecting with. In the past, we had studios traveling to Italy, UK, Uganda, Austria, Morocco, Turkey, and Portugal.

From sustainable design projects in Uganda to manufacturing affordability — no innovative topic is left untouched.