Skip to main content

HCDE Study Abroad in London

October 10, 2019

17 students - 5 credits - 3 weeks - 1 global experience

Full London Study Abroad team of about 20 outside in London's streets

In September 2019, a team of UW students and faculty took a deep dive into experience design in one of the world’s most vibrant design capitals, with the Human Centered Design & Engineering Study Abroad in London program.

The inaugural three-week, five-credit program was led by HCDE faculty members Drs. Brock Craft and Tyler Fox, together with Dr. John Fass of the London College of Communication. Seventeen UW students participated, consisting of five graduate students and twelve undergrads.

“We wanted the students to engage in experience design using the urban environment as their site of investigation,” described Craft. “The infrastructure of the city provides opportunities for students to explore new places through making observations, developing vizualizations, and designing and engineering new experiences.”

Student working on a laptop in the Greenlab

Two students working in the Greenlab

Through a mixed coursework of field investigation, lecturers, and studio time, students studied experiential aspects of London’s infrastructure—both its physical spaces and public activities. Sites included places like canals, pocket parks, and buildings, and activities like tourists taking selfies and people generating self-made signage. Within small teams, students captured information about their selected sites, using methods like video recording, interviews, and sketching, and interpreted their observations into new designed artifacts.

Brock Craft working with students around a table

The home base for the program was GreenLab, a co-working space and collection of makerspaces focused on sustainable design. “GreenLab was an ideal partner for our program,” said Fox. “Ande Gregson, Greenlab’s Founder and Director, was an indispensable partner. He joined us on critiques and gave students feedback—he was instrumental in a lot of the student projects being successful.”

Throughout the program, the students would explore the city and collect data on their sites, and come back to the lab to iterate on their designs, presenting evolving concepts every few days. In the third and final week of the program, students presented their final designs.

“The students created things that were really meaningful to themselves and about their experience,” said Craft. “It was wonderful to see how everyone really threw themselves into their projects.”

Student working with a textile

Student looking in to a final project box of greenery

Two students taking selfies in front of large posters of london scenes

Students standing among signage and stickers hanging from the ceiling by strings

In addition to the work in the lab, the students explored many elements of London’s art and design scene. The team took a tour of Bletchley Park, the site of the Codebreakers in World War Two and often considered the birthplace of modern computing. They did the Hidden London Tour of defunct infrastructure like abandoned Tube stations. They went on a “rubbish trip,” a tour exploring how features of London’s landscape link together through the theme of waste. They visited the Design Museum’s exhibition featuring the Beazley Designs of the Year Awards in the categories of architecture, graphic, fashion, digital, transport, and product. They saw the Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life exhibit at the Tate Modern, an installation exploring topics related to society and the environment. And they were able to participate in many of the various events and exhibits occurring as part of the annual London Design Festival.

students at an exhibit in London

Lighting exhibit


The program also welcomed guest lecturers who spoke about their work and experience design. Dr. Helga Schmid from the London College of Communication spoke about designing for time—design not for clocks but around natural time like circadian rhythms. Alistair McClymont from the London College of Communication gave a talk about his work as a digital artist. Dr. Kate McLean presented about her work creating “smellmaps” of cities and about visualizing ephemeral experiences. And Clare Farrell, co-founder of the environmental action group Extinction Rebellion, presented about designing advocacy experiences.  

“I’m hopeful students came out of this program invigorated by thinking about how they can design for experiences,” said Fox. “If they set out to design an app, or other technologically-mediated product, that they will think about it from the angle of an experience design. Because it’s always about the experience.”

“Spending three weeks working in a London makerspace has, by far, been my favorite HCDE experience so far,” said HCDE Master’s student Azima Mansuri. “The way the program was organized encouraged us to not only immerse ourselves in the art and design culture of London, but also experience the everyday lifestyle of the city through the food and historical spaces we explored.”  

Craft and Fox agreed that the close-knit nature of the program positively influenced the teaching and learning of the group. “Traveling together, eating together, working in the lab together every day, we were able to experience really tight collaborations and mentorship—we were all learning from one another the whole time.”

HCDE plans to offer the program again in Summer 2020. Interested students can be on the lookout for information in spring quarter.