Thesis I: Research and Design Lenses

Faculty: Allan Chochinov and Andrew Schloss



COURSE Description

Thesis I is an opportunity to explore design-thinking, design-making, and design-doing that is ambitious in scope, innovative in approach, and worthwhile in enterprise. Each student will choose an area of investigation and then begin rapid design-making exercises to create a body of design work, research, ideation and presentation materials. Research and exploration will help to surface the design opportunities that resonate most powerfully with a point of view, the urgencies of design needs, the scale of potential solutions and the richness of design endeavor. Since theses tend to be multilayered, students will execute design work on a continuum of enterprise—from design gestures and discursive design concepts through primary and secondary research to prototypes, as well as systems and business models.


Course objectives

The objective of Thesis I is to quickly choose an area of investigation and to create a wide body of design work, research, ideation, and presentation materials. The project will evolve and grow throughout the course, but the quick-start nature of Thesis I will equip the student with large quantity of work from which to cull the most promising investigations for further development and scaling in the Thesis II course the following semester.


Class experience

The thesis course is structured as a seminar. Students are expected to present their work/research every week, and the job of the fellow students and instructor is to challenge, discuss and critique the student’s work. Discourse around the project will not be limited to narrow guidelines, but will include a wide range of related and pertinent topics, such as impetus, relevance, meaning, feasibility, history, social impact, and cultural impact. Further considerations are technology, aesthetics, ergonomics, ethics, accessibility, economics, philosophy, psychology, objectives/expected outcomes, goals, relevant design theories, concept development, design development, manufacturability, testing, and market research.

During the latter stages of the Thesis I course, students are required to secure one External Thesis Advisor (or Subject Matter Expert) relating to their field of inquiry, who will commit to working with the student over a 10-session duration. This External Thesis Advisor provides the student invaluable insight in their particular domain, and the opportunity to develop professional contacts for the future.


course deliverables

Students in this course will come away with a set of tools to:

  • Conduct rigorous design research into their area of inquiry
  • Amass a significant amount of design explorations, two- and three-dimensional work, prototypes, storyboards, and videos
  • Move beyond the fear, anxiety, and doubt that typically characterizes a first-semester thesis project
  • Demonstrate power, confidence, and expertise in their topic
  • Amass a large number of outside Subject Matter Experts who have provided advice and guidance
  • Secure the commitment of one External Thesis Advisor who will be committed to working with the student one-on-one over a 10-session duration
  • Create a document that will dovetail into their upcoming work in Thesis II



For Thesis I, an extensive reading list is developed by each student, building upon itself as the area of investigation becomes clearer and the threads of the thesis project emerge. Subject Matter Experts, as well as class colleagues and thesis advisors, help inform the list, and lists are shared amongst students and faculty.