THINK66 • Design that Understands Us

Stanford University, Winter 2021
T+Th 10:30-11:20am
course syllabus

THINK66 archive: 2020 | 2019

Ge Wang
Associate Professor
Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)
Department of Music (also Computer Science, by Courtesy)

Kritika Yegnashankaran
Associate Director, Faculty & Lecturer Programs,
Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy

Teaching Fellows
Dr. Artemis Brod
(Section coordinator)

Dr. Emily Rials
(Course Canvas coordinator)

Dr. Kirsten Paige

Dr. Chloe Edmondson

Course Overview

At Stanford, you will find many courses that ask you to make things—everything from algorithms, products, policies, to artworks. What is rarer is to be given the space to stop and really think about why we design these things, and whether we should continue to design in ways demanded by commercial and political actors. This critical thinking course examines the nature, purpose, and meaning of design in human life, and asks the fundamental questions of “what is design?”, “why do we do it?”, “how do design, technology, and society shape one another?”, and “how can we design to resist, reform, and revolutionize?”. We will consider two main models of design: need-based design (as we are often taught), and values-based design (that helps us flourish as human beings). As you learn about various aesthetic and ethical frameworks and a fundamental language of design, your critical tools for analyzing and conceptualizing design will sharpen and transform. From everyday objects such as media, tools, toys, games, and musical instruments, to aspirations for artificial intelligence and virtual reality, you will learn how to more clearly and critically view our technology-drenched human world—and to exercise your ethical and artful imagination to reimagine better worlds.

Course Learning Goals

Through active engagement and completion of course activities, you will be able to:
  • Compare and contrast two approaches to design: "human-centered" and "artful".
  • Characterize social, cultural, and ethical contexts in which design decisions are made.
  • Evaluate design along functional, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions.
  • Conceptualize the design of products aimed to promote flourishing.
  • Adapt the course to your personal experiences, interests, and circumstances.
  • Acquire “tools with which to think” that will stay and grow with you for years to come.


Adapted from the book Artful Design, Design that Understands Us draws from engineering, philosophy, art, and social sciences to examine how we shape technology, and how technology shapes us in turn. Below are texts for the course.

Ways of Thinking / Ways of Doing

Design that Understands Us fulfills the following Ways of Thinking / Ways of Doing breadth requirements.

  • Aesthetics and Interpretive Inquiry (AII)
  • Creative Expressive (CE)