Brown University attracts a lot of students who seek an interdisciplinary and open approach to their education. Many of these students (including myself) are also strongly interested in design and its applications. At the moment, however, Brown does not offer any formal resources or curricula that address design interests — this has been left to students to figure out on their own over the past decade. 

In the Fall of 2018, I was part of a group of students who recognized this problem and decided to find a solution. Through an independent study project, we created an official report that states the case for design at Brown. 

context + goals

Our goals for this report were:

  • Understand the need/interest for design at Brown 

  • Understand what a design curriculum looks like

  • Propose a design curriculum for Brown 

  • Propose a five year strategy plan for implementation


type - proposal

length - September 2018 / TBD 

role - researcher, committee member, teacher's assistant

process + development

We officially conducted the report through a departmental independent study project, or DISP, for the School of Engineering. This is because the drive for design is most popular among engineers at Brown, who feel a big disconnect between what they learn in class and what they do in practice. A lot of research was directed around why the School of Engineering would benefit from a stronger emphasis on design. Because design is more of a mindset and approach to problem solving rather than an entire discipline on its own, many of the solutions we found are applicable to most other degrees within the University as well.

Between the ten of us, we divided into groups that approached the argument for design from different perspectives. These groups were the State of Design at Brown, Design at Other Institutions, and Industry and Aftermarket. We conducted surveys, interviews, and desk research to comprehend how design exists within and impacts each of these categories. Using our findings, we were able to define design for Brown as: 


"...the action or manifestation of creation that is supported by planning or technical logic of some kind. In short, design is creation with intention" 

This definition came from our understanding of what Brown students look for in design. We needed this definition because a lot of the push-back we received was from faculty who said that the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) down the road answered our design needs. While this isn't true for many reasons, one of the most important is that RISD pursues a fine arts version of design, which is different from what Brown students tend to look for in their education.  


One of my major responsibilities was compiling information on the student interest portion of the State of Design at Brown using surveys and interviews. Our biggest finding while looking at students in engineering (and beyond) is the dissatisfaction with the emphasis on theoretical education. While Brown is a research institution, we argued that design provides opportunities for application that reinforces theory learned in class.

Another one of my major responsibilities was running a sprint to organize and unify our research, and identify our final proposal solution. Before the sprint, there was a disconnect between all of our research. However, after a focused 10 hour work session and approximately 500 Post-It notes, we were able to leave with a thorough understanding of what direction we were going to move in and what our final proposal would look like. 

end result

The report was presented to the School of Engineering faculty with great reception. We are now in the process of working with the School of Engineering to craft an Engineering Design that will serve as a trial for the Design+ degree (which is described in detail  in the final report). 

1.  Design@Brown logo  // 2.  Student satisfaction within the Brown School of Engineering // 3.  Group photo form out research sprint // 4. Image of me generating Post-Its // 5. Close up shot of our Post-Its // 6.  Write up of our compiled points // 7. Full-scale shot of one round of Post-Its // 8. Summary of the Design@Brown 3+ year implementation plan

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