Innovation and Design Minor at UW Tacoma

A new design minor with emphasis on project-based and collaborative curriculum.

By: Trisha Carandang, Layout Designer

The Innovation and Design Minor offered at University of Washington Tacoma, allows students to collaborate on projects that let them become advocates, improve the UW Tacoma community and build their portfolio upon graduation. 

The minor is designed to be completed within a year or two allowing students to learn about inclusion, exclusion and biases in design while being able to choose their projects by integrating the Design Thinking Process.

“You need everyone at the table for the best solutions,” said Professor Divya McMillin who led the creation of the Global Innovation and Design Lab and a core faculty of the Innovation and Design minor, “Those who are closest to the struggle are often the ones who have the best ideas for the solutions but also farthest away from the resources.”

Prior to the minor launching in Winter 2021, the core faculty members used the design thinking process they teach students taking the minor. The faculty interviewed students, worked with advisors at UW Tacoma and iterated the minor that will cater to students who wish to complete the minor in a year with a portfolio to show their future employers.  

The minor, having a design thinking process at the forefront, is made up of five project-based, hands-on, and collaborative classes and it requires two studio-based classes to work on projects that matter to them which could potentially have a client partner or community partner. 

One project that’s been implemented on campus is the Anti-Racist Library located near the grand staircase. It was designed by students taking the minor in spring quarter of 2021 by doing intense user research and design thinking process after a funder came to the lab with a problem about the lack of access to BIPOC representation in books for children.  

“I start by asking students what they care about and what they want to change about the world,” said Professor Emma Rose, who is one of the core faculties that proposed the minor, “That usually leads us down a path where students get to choose topics they’re passionate about.”

Such topics can be but not limited to homelessness, climate change, police brutality or mental health.  Rose said that she currently has a group of five women in her class who are working on an issue on period poverty where they are creating a prototype to free dispense feminine hygiene products in the bathrooms.

“The big questions around design are who were designing for, who is designing, and who is either intentionally or unintentionally left out of the design,” Rose said, “Or to take it even further, we question who is harmed by this design.”  

For students who are unable to complete the minor but want to gain some design experience and build a portfolio, they are still able to take part in community based and short-term projects that are offered at the Global Innovation and Design Lab located at the TPS building room G016. 

“My biggest advice would be to listen and observe to whose voice isn’t heard,” McMillin said, “Those are the ways in which you can understand the gaps and create a bridge because nobody would have thought about what’s in the shadows.”