Part of the
Centre for
Engineering Education
TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
Centre for
Engineering Education


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Project introduction and background information

This course, Culture Sensitive Design, of the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of the Delft University of Technology, is both an elective course for master students and a professional course for design practitioners working for agencies and companies all over the world.

The course innovation lays in the fact that it is designed to enhance interaction between design professionals and master students, thereby increasing learning, cross fertilization, networking and motivation. Further it helps students to stay on track due to the variety of on-line and off-line activating elements.

The course entails (video) lectures & interviews, workshops, self-study and discussions in which the lecturer initiates and facilitates the learning process. Interaction between participants (design students and practitioners) and self-reflection are key in the set up.

The topic of the course Culture Sensitivity in Design, fits very well in an online course, where people are able to join from different parts of the world. Exchange of knowledge and experiences will be possible and very useful for a good understanding of how cultural sensitivity could be developed and useful applied by designers.

The course has been redesigned to a “double blended” ProfEd, in line with the current thinking of the faculty:

  • To improve the quality of educational materials
  • To increase the exposure in the faculty and abroad
  • To be more efficient when using lectures and materials in re-runs and re-using parts of the material in other courses.
  • To develop off-line paid master classes for practitioners into paid online versions.

By developing this new master elective into a double blended course for both master design students and design practitioners, all the above elements came together in one course. In addition, several benefits are to be expected on top of the items listed above.

This course is an introduction to the Delft Design Approach offering a model and a set of signature methods from Delft to teach how to get from understanding the user in context to defining a meaningful design challenge and – in the end – deliver a great design! This course learns the students how Cultural sensitivity and understanding can stimulate the potential for innovation in new product and service design.

The course is geared towards working design professionals who want to gain insight into why (reasons) culture is relevant for their work, through what (theory) lens they can study culture and how (methods & tools) they can examine culture and apply the results to their work.

The course runs on the edX platform, mainly because the university already uses this platform for MOOCS and professional courses.

The development of the course started about one year before execution and most activities (recording lectures and developing course materials) were executed within three months before summer holidays with: the instructor, three student assistants, and a learning developer for open, blended and online learning. The marketing and communication to recruit participants through social media and newsletters started three months before the course opened.

Briefly, the course lasted 9 weeks, plus an introductory week; the design practitioners joined the first 6 weeks and week 9, and the design students all weeks, from half November till the end of January (including two weeks holidays). Each week new activities and materials were made available, in total: 8 lecture-videos on cultural theories; 3 guest lecture-videos from experts in practice; 15 assignments with templates for uploading; 4 expert interview videos; 6 quizzes to assess the learning through videos; literature and links to relevant and inspiring videos; a card set was sent to the practitioners, also available online; a discussion forum to share results; questions and pinions; 2 instructor videos with feedback on uploaded work; final presentation videos from design students for the design practitioners. The ‘physical’ offering of the card set in the form of a box of cards about culture sensitive topics and illustrations, was an unusual touch devised to enhance a connection between the online and offline world.

The expected benefits for the design practitioners

To learn and benefit from the master students work, the reflection on their design, the application of the theory provided, and their use of a range of methods. They could also save time if students would work on their design challenges during the course. The fresh perspectives of students would help them to discover new possibilities for new product and service design. Most benefits were achieved, apart from saving time as students did not choose to work on the practitioners' design challenges, but their own projects.

The expected benefits for the design master students 

Increased motivation to stay on track due to the combination of online and offline activities such as lecture, templates and discussion. The contact with professionals would broaden their scope and support building their network. These benefits were achieved.

The expected benefits for design educators

Efficient and effective way to teach, preparation and recording with high quality content and thereby producing reusable material, and also the reduced work for guest speakers of which the recording can also be reused. These benefits were achieved.


  • Making such an online course pushes the lecturer to make absolutely sure to be precise, and clear.
  • Interaction between design professionals and students increased the learning effect of both groups.
  • Staying close to the personal life and experience of the students during the course, really motivates the students. Also the alternations of off-line and on-line part of the course motivates the students.
  • Elements of the course can be used for other courses.
  • For the students the course is used as formative assessment. A final report is the basis for summative assessment.
  • Discussing and reflecting on the culture design concepts amongst each other, is essential and intensifies the internalization of the importance and impact of culture on design. This is discussion is facilitated both on-line and in the off-line classes and includes participants from all over the world.
  • Have a good communication plan and PR to reach out to the target group: design practitioners around the world.  
  • The criteria for course admittance should be made very clear at the application process. Only with the relevant background the course is valuable and maximum learning benefit can be obtained
  • Due to the fact that the students can work on their own projects, the interaction with the professionals was less than anticipated. It is therefore recommended to make sure that during the course the interaction with the professionals is increased by making it more “formalized”. Several alternatives are already though of such as: couples of students could work together with practitioners on their projects; do an interview with the practitioners; involved design practitioners through video messages.
  • If the number of practitioners is less than anticipated, make sure you have a plan available which can be implemented straight away, for example, students could form groups that work together with one design practitioner.
  • Students follow the course both online and off-line in interactive sessions. The lecturer has to think carefully what to discuss in the off-line class sessions, as the lectures are already available on-line. As the practitioners do not follow the off-line part, the lecturer has to make sure that the practitioners do not feel left out when referring to the off-line elements.
  • Provide an “intruder“ for the participants, something touchable, what students need to use in the course. Each time they see this “intruder” on their desk, they think of the course! In this course a specific set of cards were handed out to the offline students and sent to the design practitioners to be used during the course.
  • Make sure that in the on-line course, reflection and discussion on design concepts is well facilitated in the course as this intensifies the understanding of the impact of culture on design.