Introduction to Technological Design

Dr. Komal Magsi
Research Assistant Professor, Technology and Society, Stony Brook University

A 2016 SENCER Model

SENCER Model Course Logo

This course introduces undergraduate students to technological design through the understanding of global issues, including (but not limited to) malnutrition, water scarcity and purity, sustainable development, climate change and safety for women and girls.

Design is treated as an iterative universal human activity comprised of learnable principles, processes and skills. Specific topic areas include: creativity and innovation in design, human needs (problem identification), empathization of user needs, design specifications, using research on design processes, design concept generation and development, prototyping tools using 2D and 3D models, user testing, and redefining the problem statement.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate an ability to apply technical tools and knowledge to practical systems and problem solving.
  2. Design, understand, build, or analyze selected aspects of the human-made world. The “human-made world” is defined for this purpose as “artifacts of our surroundings that are conceived, designed, and/or constructed using technological tools and methods.”

Instructor’s Goals

  1. Developing the largest consortium of undergraduate social entrepreneurs with
    design engineering skills.
  2. Enable undergraduate students to launch their own start-ups
  3. Instill within students, the necessary skills to empathize with individuals living in impoverished communities.
  4. Inspire undergraduate students through next generation design examples of socially conscious products.

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students will be able to use empathetic design thinking principles to identify user needs (and understand the critical importance of avoiding solutions built upon their own assumptions).
  2. Students will be able to use digital tools to develop early prototypes of their ideas.
  3. Students will be able to build physical design models by applying simple design
    principles and techniques.
  4. Students will be able to employ user-testing techniques to redefine user needs and reiterate on their design models.
  5. Students will be able to understand design as a circular, reiterative process to solve global issues and obtain valid solutions.
  6. Students will learn the importance of interdisciplinary teams and the role they play in developing groundbreaking innovations.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Technology issues taught “through” civic and social contexts:

  1. Radio Frequency noise taught through open source hardware
  2. Maxwell’s equations taught through fair trade smart phones
  3. Iterative problem solving taught through empathetic technological design for impoverished communities
  4. Photovoltaic Effect taught through global energy shortages and 3D printing solar cells
  5. Viscosity taught through the cleanup of the 1989 oil spill

The Course

Introduction to Technological Design Syllabus

Download (PDF, 377KB)

This course introduces undergraduate students to technological design through an examination of global problems including (but not limited to) malnutrition, water scarcity and purity, sustainable development, climate change and safety for women and girls. Design is treated as an iterative universal human activity drawing on learnable principles, processes and skills. Specific topic areas include: creativity and innovation in design, identification of human needs and problems, empathizing user needs, developing design specifications, using research on design processes, generating and developing design concepts, prototyping using 2D and 3D models, user testing, and redefining the statement.

Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a process that includes the “building up” of ideas, with few, or no limits during a “brainstorming” phase. This helps reduce fear of failure in the inventor/participants and encourages input and participation from a wide variety of sources in the ideation phases. The design thinking process in this course begins with a deep understanding of our “customers” – either individuals living in impoverished communities or individuals who are suffering from one or more of the Millennium Development Challenges ( This human-centered methodology, coupled with a “fail fast” attitude, allows students to quickly identify, prototype, and conduct user testing.

By implementing “Design Thinking” – we spend less time planning, more time doing, and, above all, challenge ourselves to see the world through the eyes of our customers and constituents.

Evaluating Learning

Assignments/Quizzes and Course Participation/Attendance – 50%
Final Project – 50%

Design Thinking Assignment

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Final Projects are developed through extensive discussion in class. Students must design a technical solution for a specific location using empathetic technological design.Student expectations are evaluated at the beginning of the course and detailed evaluations are submitted at the conclusions of the course. Some student evaluations include the following comments:

“The course provides a deep understanding of technology and its uses in society.”

“Professor Magsi provides ample opportunities for students to do well. Her presentations included a plethora of practical examples as well as multimedia to better deliver the course material to students. She offers plenty of in class time to work on our hands-on term project.”

“Dr. Magsi made sure we knew the importance of what we were doing. The things taught in this class have importance in the world.”

“Going out and actually getting feedback from people on our product was very helpful.”

“Interdisciplinary teamwork skills are most valuable.”

“I learned how to empathize with people worldwide and now have a deeper understanding of patents and the design thinking process.”

“The professor was amazing she pushed us to our limits and succeeded. If this was my major I would take her classes again!”

Background and Context

Introduction to Technological Design has been offered for over two years now, and I have been the primary instructor of the course at Stony Brook University. My goal in designing the course was to provide a hands-on opportunity for students to develop solutions to some of the most pressing global problems, an approach that is rooted in my background as an engineer. As an electrical engineer and material scientist, I have worked for a solar energy company and also done work in Pakistan to understand the complex nature of the energy crisis there. What I learned from that experience are tools and techniques to use technology to better serve individuals living below poverty, and how engineering and design can address their needs. Our responsibility as engineers is also our greatest source of fulfillment, to develop products that alleviate problems for individuals in dire need. How we approach this issue depends on the tools we have as designers. Allowing students from different majors to take this course has opened up a window of innovation and opportunity for me as a faculty member and for my department.

Institutional Context
This course was developed to satisfy the university technology requirement for undergraduate students as well as to call attention to how technology can alleviate some of the greatest challenges facing the world.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Educated people must seek to understand how this “magic” works and anticipate its negative consequences. The advent of nuclear energy, for example, offered a clean alternative to old methodologies, but with shortcomings and drawbacks that have become apparent. The internet offered instant access to mountains of information, but without distinguishing the useful from the incendiary and inaccurate. We buy increasingly complex cars, houses, and electronic devices in the 21st century, but naively leave ourselves open to exploitation if we don’t learn to manage the technology and the built environment we live in. I believe that even a single course in one aspect technology can teach us how to go about understanding others and give us the confidence to do so.

Related Resources

The course has been received very positively, both by students and within the university:

Professor inspires students to change the world using empathy and innovation