Program Type: Cluster

The Design Cluster brings together a dynamic group of faculty and graduate students from a variety of disciplinary perspectives – including but not limited to engineering, communication studies, arts, architecture, psychology, journalism, business and management, and music. The main objectives of the cluster are to:

  • Discover, develop, teach, and practice the common principles and techniques underlying Design and idea creation.
  • Engage faculty in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to pursue new funding opportunities in Design.
  • Provide an alternative intellectual community for Design faculty and doctoral students at Northwestern with “dual citizenship.”

Today’s problems are not defined solely by technical concerns. They involve humans, groups, organizations, and societies, and they impact law, business, journalism and medicine, raising new issues related to ethical and environmental concerns that call for trans-disciplinary collaborations. Design research and education provides the intellectual underpinning and offers knowledge and experience to serve as a foundation for this endeavor.

In many fields, research is currently being done to determine the best methods for the creation of a designed experience, whether that experience arises from an interaction, a process, a product, a service, a therapy, or simply an artistic experience. However, the methods vary widely across domains and disciplines. For example prototyping in the robotics field is vastly different from prototyping in the journalism field. The wide variety of tasks and insight needed for design in a particular domain often requires experts from other disciplines to adequately undertake the design project.

See Design Cluster Requirements for specific courses and procedures needed to complete this program.

Programs and Events

The cluster program organizes social events, seminar series, and an annual research symposium that invites Northwestern faculty and students as well as researchers from other institutions and industry who share common interests. The goal is to provide an alternative intellectual community for students from multiple departments and schools to gain “dual citizenship” in both a department and the cluster.

The graduate students will also serve as coaches to interdisciplinary undergraduate project teams and perhaps teaching assistants in design courses of the Segal Design Institute, further broadening their interdisciplinary experience. Furthermore, it is our intent that this effort will directly aid students in becoming successful applicants for faculty, government, and industrial positions, and thereby become tomorrow’s leaders in the expanding and increasingly diverse Design community.

How to Apply

This cluster program attracts gifted doctoral students who are eager to work on cutting edge Design research across the boundaries of multiple disciplines from multiple schools. Fellowships will be awarded on a competitive basis to second-year doctoral students based on the on-going active research collaborations among participating faculty members.

Cluster fellows will need to work on their doctoral research with faculty advisors from at least two different schools. The applications are accepted in Spring Quarter before the coming academic year.

Who to Contact

Please contact the program directors, listed below, with questions about this program. Or, explore the Segal Design Institute website for more information.

Elizabeth Gerber, Director
Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Darren Gergle, Co-director
Professor, Communication Studies

Wei Chen, Co-director
Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Malcolm Maclver, Co-director
Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering