Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society

Combine fundamental concepts with hands-on design challenges to become a better designer.

About The Course

This is a course aimed at making you a better designer. The course marries theory and practice, as both are valuable in improving design performance. Lectures and readings will lay out the fundamental concepts that underpin design as a human activity. Weekly design challenges test your ability to apply those ideas to solve real problems. The course is deliberately broad - spanning all domains of design, including architecture, graphics, services, apparel, engineered goods, and products. The emphasis of the course is the basic design process: define, explore, select, and refine. You, the student, bring to the course your particular interests and expertise related to, for instance, engineering, furniture, fashion, architecture, or products. In prior sessions of the course about half of the participants were novices and about half had prior professional design expertise. Both groups seem to benefit substantially from the course. All project work is evaluated by your peers -- and indeed, you will also be a peer reviewer. This format allows you to see an interesting collection of projects while getting useful feedback on your own project.

Student Testimonials from Earlier Sessions of the Course:
"An amazing course - a joy to take. I will really miss checking in every week to see the latest. I learned a great deal, from the videos, [the course staff] and my fellow students. I think getting the feedback from my peers was such a great way to run the course. So many ideas, suggestions, thoughts and words of encouragement that were so appreciated. I've been driving everyone I know talking about it all the time."  --E. Wadsworth-Jones

"When I signed up for this course I didn't know what to expect; the experience was so good and rewarding. I just loved it every step of the way. The course was brilliant, challenging and fun! Our professor, Prof. Karl Ulrich, is an amazing teacher, I loved his down to Earth approach. Participating in a tournament was also one of the course's highlights. The whole thing was a great, unforgettable experience. I wish to thank with all my heart Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania for the opportunity given to us." --D. Rosi

See examples of student projects: here

Karl's Advanced Design Course: if you're interested, please click here for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    You will need some physical tools (e.g., marker, razor knife, straight edge, glue, and so forth). However, these tools are readily available for very little money. 

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    You will learn a structured process to tackling unstructured challenges of all types. As a designer, you’ll be better able to create traditionally designed artifacts like buildings and products, but also artifacts not usually thought of as created by designers, such as services and business models.

      For more information on Penn’s Open Learning initiative, please go to:

Recommended Background

No specific background is required. Those with strong skills in visual expression (sketching, 3D modeling, model making) will find the design challenges easier than those who struggle a bit more with the mechanics of expressing an idea or building a prototype. Still, anyone with an interest in learning to be a designer (or to be a better designer) will be able to take this course. Indeed, the goal of the course is to reach both professionals as well as those who are just really interested in design. This is definitely not an engineering course. Although engineers who wish to become engineering designers will benefit from the course, this course will not include any specific domain knowledge in engineering (e.g., circuit design, design of structures, and so forth).