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Human Centered Design and Engineering

Department Overview

423 Sieg

In the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE), students are designing the future by building innovative technologies and systems. Putting people first, HCDE students and faculty research, design, and engineer interactions between humans and technology. HCDE students and faculty focus on understanding human needs and interests as they design and build engineering solutions to the world’s problems.

HCDE faculty are award-winning and interdisciplinary, with graduate degrees in fields such as computer science, information studies, industrial engineering, design, education, English, linguistics, public policy, and technology and society studies.

HCDE prepares students for leadership roles in user interface design, user experience research and design, human-computer interaction, information and communication systems, computer-supported cooperative work, and related specializations, all from a human-centered perspective, internationally and globally. Whatever their professional direction, classes, directed research groups, and capstone projects, students develop portfolio quality products. HCDE graduates obtain jobs, primarily in the high-tech industry (e.g., Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Facebook, T-Mobile, Google, Boeing), researching and designing user interfaces, websites, and other form factors to improve the user experience.

HCDE emphasizes student-centered, hands-on learning. Beyond taking traditional classroom courses, students join research groups and work side-by-side with top-ranked professors and graduate students to enhance the knowledge base of this dynamic field. The educational mission is supported by up-to-date facilities.

HCDE prepares students to assume positions of intellectual leadership in industry, government, non-profit organizations, and academia, HCDE students learn the research skills appropriate to their interests, the most effective design strategies, and the most current technologies and practices. They also learn enduring theory and principles so they can dynamically respond to the evolving field of human centered design and engineering.

Technical communicators use their language, visual, and analytical skills, as well as training and research in electronic and other media, to create and enhance communication in scientific and technical environments. Human centered design and engineering prepares students to design, create, edit, and evaluate technical and scientific discourse. The department provides coursework in the development of online help systems and in the design of general-audience content for delivery by means of advanced communication technologies such as the web.

The complexities of modern life have greatly increased the number of people who need to communicate about technical and other specialized topics. Scientific journal articles, manuals, proposals, and other genres are important for a vast array of readers. With the Information Age, gaining and sharing technological understanding and capability has become a crucial human activity. People communicate in more genres, address broader (often global) audiences, and face more complex rhetorical problems than ever before.

To achieve success in their communication activities, progressive organizations are employing sophisticated planning and development methods, including user-centered design and evaluation, content management, and systems-based analyses. In addition, they undertake research projects and apply existing research to their own needs. Contemporary research in technical communication ranges from controlled empirical research on the processing of text, graphics, and multimedia content to observational research on how meaning is created and negotiated in business environments and virtual communities.

Other major interests include the human-computer interface, hypermedia, communications technology, rhetoric of technical discourse, international communication, visual communication, publications and communications management, policy analysis of technological systems, and research and testing.

Undergraduate Program

428 Sieg, Box 352315
(206) 543-2567

The Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE) offers the following programs of study:

  • Bachelor of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering degree
  • A minor in technical Japanese

Bachelor of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering

Department Admission Requirements

Engineering Undeclared Students

See section on College of Engineering Admission for additional details on Direct-to-College admission and placement process for Engineering Undeclared students. The deadline to submit a request for placement in an engineering major occurs annually on July 1.

If the number of Engineering Undeclared students requesting the major exceeds the department capacity for such students, a matching process is implemented. Factors considered include performance in prerequisite courses, quality of overall academic record, content of personal statement, applicable work or extracurricular activities, and other special circumstances as disclosed by the applicant.

Engineering Undeclared students in good standing with respect to the continuation criteria described below may request placement into an engineering major after completion of minimum requirements as specified below:

  1. ENGR 101 (1)
  2. English composition
  3. MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126 (or MATH 134, MATH 135, MATH 136)
  4. CHEM 142 (or CHEM 143 or CHEM 145)
  5. PHYS 121
  6. One course from the list on this website. Students are encouraged to choose a course required for graduation in the majors they are considering.
  7. Minimum 2.0 grade in all courses used to satisfy placement requirements
  8. Minimum 2.50 cumulative GPA in courses used to satisfy placement requirements
  9. Minimum 12 credits as a matriculated UW student. Some departments require more credits. See department websites for details.

Students in good standing who do not meet the placement requirements by July 1 will be placed into a major on a conditional basis pending the completion of all placement requirements. Additional advising resources will be available to these students. See section on College of Engineering Continuation Policy for Engineering Undeclared Students for additional details.

Other Current UW Students and Transfer Students

Current UW students without Engineering Undeclared status and transfer students may apply. Admission is competitive.

  1. Admission is for autumn and spring quarters. Application deadlines: April 5 for autumn quarter and January 15 for spring quarter.
  2. Minimum course requirements for application: 10 credits from MATH 120, MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126; CSE 142 or CSE 160; one from STAT 220, STAT 221, STAT 311, IND E 315; three from CHEM 142, CHEM 152, CHEM 162, PHYS 114, PHYS 115, PHYS 116, PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123, BIOL 118, BIOL 180, BIOL 200, PSYCH 202; 5 credits English composition; all courses completed prior to application deadline.
  3. Grade requirements: minimum 2.50 cumulative GPA in courses required for application

Factors evaluated include performance in prerequisite courses, quality of overall academic record, demonstrated ability to take at least 12 credits per quarter, record of honors, content of personal statement, applicable work or extracurricular activities, and other special circumstances as disclosed by the applicant.

Graduation Requirements

180 credits

General Education Requirements (88 credits)

  1. Written and Oral Communication (8 credits): 5 credits English composition from the University list; HCDE 231. University-required additional 5 writing credits are built into the major core requirements
  2. Visual, Literary, & Performing Arts (VLPA), Individuals & Societies (I&S), and Diversity (DIV) (30 credits): Minimum 10 credits in VLPA, minimum 10 credits in I&S, minimum 3 credits in DIV (can overlap with VLPA and I&S courses), plus additional credits in either VLPA or I&S to bring total to 30 credits
  3. Natural World (50 credits):
    1. Mathematics (minimum 15 credits; see list of qualifying courses on HCDE website)
    2. Science (minimum 15 credits; see list of qualifying courses on HCDE website)

Major Requirements (82 credits)

  1. HCDE Core (41 credits): HCDE 300, HCDE 301, HCDE 308, HCDE 310, HCDE 313, HCDE 318, HCDE 321, HCDE 322, HCDE 492, HCDE 493
  2. Engineering Fundamentals(minimum 12 credits): either CSE 142 or CSE 160; see department website for approved list of additional courses
  3. Experiential Learning (4 credits): See department website for list of approved courses
  4. HCDE Electives (25 credits)
    1. Standard Option: See department for list of approved HCDE electives
    2. HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) Option: HCDE 419, and one course from at least three of the four HCI course areas – user interface, software, and technology; design; usability, and user research; and social and ethical dimensions. See department website for approved area courses. Students take additional approved HCDE elective courses to reach the overall electives requirements.
    3. Data Science Option: CSE 143, HCDE 411, CSE 491, and at least one in each of the three course areas: machine learning; data management; and statistics. See department website for approved area courses. Students take additional approved HCDE elective courses to reach the overall electives requirements. CSE 143 satisfies the Engineering Fundamentals requirement and is not included in the minimum credit requirement.

Continuation Policy

All students must make satisfactory academic progress in the major. Failure to do so results in probation, which can lead to dismissal from the major. For the complete continuation policy, contact the departmental adviser or refer to the department website.


Minor Requirements: Technical Japanese: Minimum 25 credits to include HCDE 461, HCDE 462, HCDE 463, plus 10 credits from the approved list of elective courses. For more information, contact the departmental adviser.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Expected Outcomes: HCDE BS graduates contribute to society by applying design and engineering processes to solve problems through a deep understanding of people and their contexts. In particular, they are leaders in:
    • Investigating people and systems, using quantitative and qualitative methods, to identify opportunities for new systems and strengths and weaknesses of existing systems.
    • Designing, building, and evaluating systems according to a variety of perspectives, with an emphasis on understanding the relationships between social and technical elements of systems.
    • Bringing ideas to actualization through expertise in design strategy and processes, effective communication and collaboration skills, and ethical perspectives.
    • Identifying and learning new skills, perspectives, and tools that help them and others accomplish their goals.

    The Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering prepares students to assume positions in industry, government, and non-profit organizations and to apply to graduate programs.

  • Instructional and Research Facilities: Department facilities include the HCDE Design Laboratory and Laboratory for Usability Testing and Evaluation (LUTE).
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors). With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: HCDE undergraduates are required to complete at least one 3-credit internship. The supervised internship must be approved by the faculty internship adviser. As an internship substitution, students may elect to take part in a six-month co-op, sponsored by the Engineering Co-op program. Additionally, undergraduates work in research groups with HCDE faculty and graduate students.
  • Department Scholarships: HCDE selects one recipient of a College of Engineering Scholarship annually. The criteria for this scholarship are the applicant's academic history and likelihood for success in the technical communication field.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: Students in the HCDE degree program participate in student activities such as the HCDE Student Association, the Minority Science and Engineering Program (MSEP), and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).

Of Special Note: The HCDE department is an inclusive, hitersiciplinary academic community. Students generally call their professors by their first name and have the opportunity to work individually on projects and research supervised by HCDE faculty. Undergraduate students are encouraged to work in research groups and to attend conferences and professional meetings.

Graduate Programs

Graduate Program Coordinator
1428 Sieg Hall, Box 352315
(206) 543-1798

Master of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering

The department offers a Master of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering (MS HCDE) - an engineering degree. An evening program is offered through UW Educational Outreach, serving full time and part time students.

Upon completion of the HCDE MS degree, students assume leadership roles in human-centered design and engineering in academia, industry, government, and non-profits. HCDE MS graduates are able to:

  • Evaluate and understand human needs as a basis for designing and engineering new technologies.
  • Master conceptual frameworks that motivate interdisciplinary research and design in HCDE.
  • Select and critically evaluate user research methods for a variety of stakeholders and product contexts.
  • Create visual, interactive, experience, and systems designs and prototypes.
  • Translate organizational requirements into interface and product solutions, while accounting for all stakeholder perspectives and working ethically and collaboratively.
  • Communicate effectively in oral, written, and visual forms, while scaling communications to audience needs and sociotechnical contexts.

Admission Requirements

Faculty consider the following:

  1. Undergraduate GPA
  2. Undergraduate degree program and work experience
  3. TOEFL score (if applicable)
  4. Letters of recommendation
  5. Statement of goals and career objectives. A limited number of prerequisite undergraduate courses may be required.

Degree Requirements

48 credits

  1. Core courses (22 credits): HCDE 501, HCDE 503, HCDE 517, HCDE 518, HCDE 521 (1 credit required, max. 2), HCDE 592, HCDE 593
  2. Specialized content areas (minimum 12 credits): minimum 4 credits in each of the three areas: research, design, and engineering. Research courses: HCDE 502, HCDE 516, HCDE 519; design courses: HCDE 508, HCDE 511, HCDE 520, HCDE 536; engineering courses: HCDE 530, HCDE 532, HCDE 537, HCDE 539. Students are encouraged to gain depth in any or all of the three areas by taking additional courses beyond the minimum.
  3. Additional coursework to complete at least 48 HCDE credits. May include credits from electives, directed research groups, and optional internships. Students select electives based on specific academic, research, and professional goals.

Students must complete the MS HCDE program within three years of admission; most finish in less than two years.

Certificate in User-Centered Design (UCD)

An evening, graduate-level, one-year, four-course program for students who wish to explore a wide range of UCD issues. Involves sophisticated methods for planning and developing intuitive, user-friendly product designs. Students study the latest user research and design theories and practices for placing user needs at the forefront of each stage of the design process.

Focuses on usability studies, user-centered design theory and practice, visual communication and information visualization, and web design.

12 of the 13 credits earned for the UCD certificate may later count toward the MS in Human Centered Design and Engineering if students apply for Graduate Non-Matriculated Status prior to taking coursework.

Certificate Requirements

  1. HCDE 517 (autumn)
  2. HCDE 518 (winter)
  3. HCDE 521 (winter only)
  4. One of the following electives: HCDE 508, HCDE 511, HCDE 536, HCDE 537 (optional prerequisite for HCDE 537 is HCDE 532)

Doctor of Philosophy

An engineering degree. The program provides experience for students interested in studying the conception, design, implementation, use, evaluation, and effects of technologies.

HCDE's interdisciplinary faculty hold graduate degrees from fields such as computer science, industrial engineering, information studies, design, education, English, linguistics, public policy, and technology and society studies. The faculty's research and teaching focus on six areas of study: influencing awareness, thinking, and behavior; design for emergent collaborations and organizations; low resource and underserved populations; material and embodied technologies, and ubiquitous computing; data visualization and big data; and learning in professional and technical environments.

Early in the program, students may explore different topics and research areas through directed research groups and other independent projects.


  • Prepare graduates for a career as researchers, teachers, and intellectual leaders in the discipline of HCDE
  • Enable graduates to develop theoretical frameworks, apply investigative methods, and translate theory and research findings into technical or strategic innovations in the field of HCDE
  • Foster development and dissemination of new knowledge in HCDE
  • Foster development of an international, multi-cultural perspective and a diverse, inclusive student body and workforce in HCDE

Admission Requirements

Completion of either an undergraduate degree or a master's degree in HCDE or a relevant field (up to 30 credits of master's work may apply toward the 105-credit requirement). Applicants often come from a wide range of backgrounds.

Applicants must submit the following:

  1. UW HCDE PhD admission forms
  2. Official transcripts of all academic study
  3. Evidence of a minimum 3.00 GPA
  4. Three letters of recommendation
  5. Curriculum vitae
  6. Personal statement of objectives and research area of interest.

International students also submit a TOEFL iBT test score of at least 106 (including a speaking sub-score of 26), obtained within the last two years.

Degree Requirements

105 credits

  1. 34 core credits (HCDE 541, HCDE 542, HCDE 543, HCDE 544, HCDE 545, HCDE 546, HCDE 547, HCDE 548); 2 credits (one each for HCDE 521 and HCDE 523); 12 credits of directed research (HCDE 596); HCDE 521, HCDE 523; 30 credits of approved electives to include HCDE 518 and one additional graded, graduate-level course in each of four thematic areas; minimum 27 dissertation credits
  2. Preliminary examination
  3. Committee chair selected within two quarters of passing preliminary examination
  4. Course distribution and credit-hour requirements
  5. Directed research
  6. General examination
  7. Dissertation proposal
  8. Dissertation

Students are encouraged but not required to teach.

Students often explore different topics and research areas through directed research groups and other independent projects. By the end of the quarter following passing the preliminary examination (usually the end of the fourth quarter), students choose a dissertation adviser and focus on a research area for the dissertation. Students are often supported by a research assistantship.

Students who enter the PhD program with a previous graduate degree relevant to HCDE can petition to have up to 30 credits transferred toward this program.

Research Facilities

The department has well-equipped laboratories that effectively support its courses and research projects. Also, HCDE graduate students can utilize significant College of Engineering and University-level research facilities.

Financial Aid

A limited number of teaching and research assistantships and scholarships are available.