New department unites design within the College of Human Ecology

The College of Human Ecology launched its new Department of Human Centered Design (HCD) Nov. 10, uniting the design faculty from two existing departments and creating opportunities for new collaborations.

“This will increase the impact and profile of our design work in Human Ecology and beyond,” said Rachel Dunifon, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “Here in the college, we use our unique design expertise to promote human health and well-being and address the most pressing social issues we face today. I know the Department of Human Centered Design will be a leader on campus and beyond in this work.”

The new department includes 26 faculty members from the previous departments of Design + Environmental Analysis and Fiber Science & Apparel Design. It will retain all the programs, majors and areas of strength of the previous departments, while providing new opportunities to collaborate and develop new initiatives. Benefits of the new department include more resources, flexibility, diversity of faculty expertise and student support.

HCD’s multidisciplinary approach will build on materials, design, biology, chemistry, engineering and social science concepts and methods. Faculty research areas include apparel design, design innovation and strategy, fiber science, health and well-being and sustainable futures.

“The expertise and knowledge of the faculty cross boundaries of sciences and art and that is what the future of design needs,” said Yasser Gowayed, professor and inaugural chair. “You need the anthropologist, the artist, the psychologist, the engineer, the scientist. Otherwise, your design will lack an important aspect.”

Gowayed added that this department could serve as a model in higher education.

“I believe if universities are going to be effective in our society in hundreds of years to come, they will need to look like the Human Centered Design department structure today,” he said.

Keith Green, professor, with a joint appointment in HCD and the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the new department exemplifies radical collaboration at Cornell.

“The Department of HCD lies at the interface of materials science, social science and design – defined very widely – with a deep focus on understanding and improving the lives of human beings and their connections to and stewardship of other living things and our planet,” he said.

Green, whose research focuses on human-machine interaction, was a member of the faculty-led integration committee that evaluated the potential of merging the two departments. He said the new department respects the rich practices of the past while, at the same time, evolving these practices and integrating new ones in a technologically focused world.

“The department has theoretically no limits,” he said. “It’s about the future: how we live and interact with what surrounds us and with what we are inseparable from. The questions that HCD poses and strives to answer will be of a complexity and urgency that will challenge and stimulate its students and faculty members.”

The origins of both departments can be traced back to 1925, as the Department of Household Art and the Department of Textiles and Clothing. They evolved separately and then joined together in 1969 as the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis (D+EA). They stayed together until 1985, when the Department of Textiles and Apparel split from the D+EA.

The units have grown together over time, thanks in part to shared approaches and resources like computer-assisted design and computer-aided manufacturing, and faculty research has become more closely linked. A number of recent faculty hires pursue research topics that span the disciplines, including assistant professor Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, who researches wearable tech.

“I believe this new department will provide students a unique environment to explore the intersections of art, design, science and engineering, and the creative space on how to apply this transdisciplinary lens to making a positive impact on some of the most pressing issues concerning the human condition today,” Kao said.