Human-Centered Design: Research and Practice - Seminar

Event Date: September 22, 2011
Speaker: Dr. Carla Zoltowski
Speaker Affiliation: Engineering Projects in Community Service, Purdue University
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Forney Hall, G124
Contact Name: Dr. Demetra Evangelou
Contact Phone: 494-4158
Contact Email:

Design is a central and distinguishing activity of engineering and one of the core criteria for evaluating and accrediting engineering programs.  Recently it has been argued that there is a paradigm shift occurring in design from “technology-centered design” to “human-centered design.” The shift to human-centered design processes may be occurring as leading design firms such as IDEO are attributing their success in innovation to human-centered design processes.  

Furthermore, engineering education has increasingly incorporated and taught human-centered design processes and focused on the development of skills needed for design thinking.  As a result, there is a need to be able to assess students' understanding of human-centered to both construct appropriate educational experiences as well as evaluate the experiences.  However, in order to develop appropriate assessments, we first need to understand the variations in the way that students experience and understand human-centered design. 

To identify the qualitatively different ways in which students experienced human-centered design, we conducted a phenomenographic study of students’ experiences of human-centered design.  Thirty-three student designers from a variety of academic contexts were interviewed using a semi-structured, open-ended approach in which they discussed concrete experiences “designing for others,” and reflections and meanings associated with those experiences.   Analysis of the data yielded seven qualitatively different ways in which the students experienced human-centered design; these seven categories of description formed a two-dimensional outcome space. 

This presentation will present an overview of the study as well as the educational implications of the findings.  These findings have the potential to greatly enhance the way engineers learn design and the other attributes being called for by ABET, the NAE’s Engineer of 2020 and industry in today’s global economy. 


Carla Zoltowski, Ph.D., is the Education Administrator of EPICS, overseeing the Purdue EPICS Program.  She is a three-time graduate of Purdue, receiving her B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1985, M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1987, and Ph.D. in Engineering Education in 2010.   Her academic and research interests include Human-Centered Design, Ethical Reasoning, Leadership, Service-Learning, and Assistive Technology.