Project focus: How to teach seamless integration of finding a meaningful project direction, and integrating software, hardware, and data design prototyping to prove the concept to others?
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
Harvard Business School
Role: Course founder, current co-professor
INTEGRATED DESIGN is an advanced design course designed by Altringer and co-taught with colleagues at SEAS (Krzysztof Gajos) and HBS (Alan MacCormack). Leading advanced design projects requires the integration of multiple skill areas and ongoing learning about the best data-driven tools to guide development. This course is structured to provide a comprehensive education in all stages of the new product design process, from idea generation to concept development, detailed design and prototyping, testing and integrating data into design decisions. The emphasis is on the way that design teams must both generate and utilize data to make decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty. A critical feature of modern technical design challenges is that the problem space and solution space are often poorly defined, and/or to a large extent unbounded. The course aims to provide students with rigorous analytical tools to deal with such uncertainties.
Recommended Prep: Integrated Design is a required core course for the Harvard MS/MBA joint degree program. It builds on skills and tools developed in prior courses in the MS/MBA core sequence. Specifically, students enrolled in this course must have taken Systems Engineering, which covers advanced statistical analysis techniques, data analytics, and the modeling and simulation of complex engineered systems. Students must also have taken the intensive course Technology Venture Immersion, which covers the fundamentals of achieving product-market fit in early-stage ventures, encompassing tools and techniques for problem finding (e.g., customer interviewing and persona development) and solution finding (e.g., brainstorming, prototyping, user testing and defining a Minimum Viable Product).
Course Learning Goals
Integrated Design has four sets of learning goals relating to: new product design, data systems for design decision-making, technical tools, and management of the inherent uncertainty of advanced design and innovation projects.
New product design: Integrating customer needs, concepting, and prototyping processes
- Students will learn how to design an effective new product design process, including the various stages that must be completed in this process, and the challenges associated with each. Specifically, students learn how to identify customer needs, establish market and product specifications, develop new product concepts, design product architectures, and develop and test product prototypes.
- Students will learn applied behavioral science methods for product design that help them design, maintain, and critique the data-driven approaches that they choose to inform their own product design decisions.
- Graduate level design techniques that may be taught depending on student teams’ chosen projects include: establishing market and product requirements (MRDs and PRDs); designing product and system architectures, and advanced methods for identifying and analyzing subjective user preferences.
Data systems for design decision-making: Integrating methods to manage common risks in product development and people (team) management
Students will learn about common decision-making biases that add risk to product design processes (e.g., confirmation bias, planning fallacy, sunk costs, etc.) and how to design ongoing and efficient analysis systems that can help mitigate these risks.
- Students will learn and practice techniques for managing projects and interdisciplinary teams. They will develop and monitor project plans, identify critical team management risks, and take actions to mitigate these risks.
- Research and testing: Students will learn data-driven approaches to find, define, test, and prioritize design criteria, articulate the relative pros and cons of each approach, and practice estimating the relative efficiency of each approach their own design goals.
- Graduate level design techniques that may be taught depending on student teams’ chosen projects include: experimental design, advanced qualitative methods (field methods and large-scale methods for analyzing a large repository of user reviews like coding, tagging, text mining, and working with NLP APIs) quantitative methods from statistics and behavioral economics, interpretation and application to design decision-making, various project management methodologies (Gantt charts, task matrices), development process design choices (e.g., Waterfall versus Agile development methods for software development).
Technical tools: Integrating tools and managing parallel technical development challenges
- The technical tools used in this class will be the same across the three design sprints, and then vary depending on specific student projects.
- Students will learn how to use and apply well-known software tools associated with the design process. These tools may include, but are not limited to Solidworks 3D design software, Sketch, Adobe suite, UX and A/B testing software, R and python, Jmp statistical discovery, analytics tools for specifying, tracking and analyzing user events (e.g. Firebase), NLP API tools, project management tools, etc.
- Students will learn how to use and apply physical prototyping and manufacturing equipment, such as 3D printers, laser-cutters, printed circuit board fabrication, soldering, soft material prototyping, etc.
Management of the integration of the self within a team and product development process
- Students will identify a personal organizational behavior goal relevant to the challenges of integrated design (e.g., delegation or motivating others from other skill sets), read about approaches in management literature, experiment with concepts from the readings, test, and reflect on their progress throughout the term.
Format of the course
This course functions primarily as a studio classroom with readings outside of class and studio time during class. It is organized into two phases: Phase One consists of three focused integrated design sprints. And Phase Two provides a supported studio environment to rigorously put lessons from the three sprints into practice on new innovative projects. Phase Two culminates in a final project.
Phase One: Integrated Design Sprints
Phase One includes three 2-3 week sprints. Each practice project has the following components: Educational goal, Short lecture, Short summary of theory and links to original sources, Exceptional case example, New design challenge.
Phase Two: Integrated Design Applied Projects
During Phase Two, students apply what they learned in Phase One to their own substantial projects, while navigating realistic professional integrated design challenges. Students are encouraged to work on projects they define themselves. In the event that students do not have a sufficiently advanced project idea to meet the expectations of the class, they will have the option to work on a starter project provided by the teaching staff. Phase Two is heavy on studio time, with lectures as needed on critical topics, which may include: customized content listed in the learning goals section, ideation techniques, how to run design critiques, how to run post-mortems, and other topics that connect our work in class with current events, and more. Note that actual lectures will be, as much as possible, responsive to student project needs.