DESIGN INNOVATION – Segal Design Institute – Northwestern University

Creating all-out innovators at every level.
Expanding the research frontiers of human-centered design.
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Design innovation empowers Northwestern students to imagine a new future.
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We teach design innovators to apply a human-centered approach to problem-solving and expand the research frontiers of design. Discover our range of programs featuring hands-on, interdisciplinary projects that solve real problems for real people.
Mindset: Design innovation is serious play. Adopt a designer’s mindset: let go of fear of failure and have a solution-focused attitude. You’ll be better able to take risks and design what’s next.
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Process: The design innovation process involves some version of these steps: identify, ideate, and iterate. The goal: allowing you to design with the end user always first in your mind.
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Tools: There’s no big prize for correctly solving the wrong problem. Tools like user observation help you understand the people you’re designing for and build empathy for their situation.
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from the MMM Program
from the Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program
from the Master of Product Design and Development Management (mpd²) program
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At both the graduate and undergraduate level, our students work on projects that produce tangible results and improve the lives of people around the world. Our team-based approach to education encourages students to use design thinking together to solve complex, authentic problems in product, interaction, service, and business design.
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The Alligator Tail
A V-shaped aluminum rail that hooks onto the axle of a wheelchair.
New wheelchair users risk falling backward while learning how to perform a wheelie, a critical skill for navigating in a wheelchair.
While The Alligator Tail is attached, the user will be safely caught if they tip back beyond their point of balance.
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A video game controller designed for patients who have hemiplegia.
A recreational therapist observed that patients with hemiplegia have trouble playing video games with a controller designed for two hands.
A team of students designed a controller by mapping both joysticks to the user’s functioning hand.
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CattleTECH, a system of high-visibility collars and a virtual tether post.
In Thailand, the cooperatively-run Raitong Organics Farm is transitioning to a free-range cell grazing system, but faces challenges.
Students worked with farmers to address two problems facing the farm: cattle visibility and tetherless grazing.
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James Kubik
“So much of Segal Design Institute is about how design and engineering go hand in hand in a very practical sense. You’re doing both engineering and design at the same time in the same class and that’s the beauty of the MaDE program.”
See James’ startup venture
Haoqi Zhang
Associate Professor of Computer Science
“Design arguments are the reasons why a design may work. You need to build a language for thinking about how to argue for an idea and explain why it is the right move.”
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Amelia Fish
EDI & Senior User Experience Designer, 3M
“Coming to the design team [at 3M] with several years of engineering experience was a huge advantage. I was able to better relate to the people I worked with on the technical and business teams than a traditional designer might.”
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Manogna Lekkalapudi
“[The MMM Program] adds an extra dimension of empathetic and user-centered perspective to your management skills, bringing together both the EQ and the IQ elements of analytical thinking.”
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Wendy Roldan
Segal Design Certificate
“With the mentorship I received at Segal Design Institute and Delta Lab, I have discovered my passion for research at the intersection of design thinking, manufacturing, and engineering.”
See Wendy Roldan’s project

The interdisciplinary academic programs at the Segal Design Institute provide undergraduate and graduate students with collaborative training at the forefront of innovation and human-centered design.

Explore our opportunities to find a program that best fits your goals.

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The interdisciplinary academic programs at the Segal Design Institute provide undergraduate and graduate students with collaborative training at the forefront of innovation and human-centered design.
Explore our opportunities to find a program that best fits your goals.
See all programs
Whether you’re looking to take a single design course or earn your bachelor’s degree or certificate in design, Segal provides a wide range of exciting opportunities for undergraduates.
Discover the right program to position yourself for the next step in your career in industry, research, or academia.
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We do not offer a PhD program, but we’re part of a larger ecosystem of centers and labs pursuing design-related academic research at Northwestern. PhD students interested in design-related research can explore the Design Research Cluster, an interdisciplinary doctoral program sponsored by the McCormick School of Engineering and The Graduate School at Northwestern.
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Design innovation creates value using design-centric tools and frameworks such as empathy, visualization, prototyping, and iteration. By acquiring design innovation skills, we are prepared to find and frame problems, identify opportunities, and innovate across a variety of spaces. We are ready to bring our ideas to life.
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