Create innovative, healthy, and sustainable futures through design

Program highlights: Design Innovation and Strategy, Health & Well-being, Sustainable Futures

Admissions note: A design supplement is required of all undergraduate applicants to this major as part of the application process and needs to be uploaded to Slideroom by the application deadline.



Design is about making things happen, not just making things. Design + Environmental Analysis (D+EA) combines innovative design thinking with insightful research to improve the quality of our lives and our planet’s health. We are committed to evidence-based design as the foundation to bring meaning and value to a world in need of beneficial and inspiring design solutions. Program strengths include studio-based training in the creative process, research-based approaches for understanding the human condition, and innovative technologies that can inform design process, thinking, and decision-making.

Good design requires knowledge, imagination, ethics that respect interdisciplinary collaboration and a commitment to social and global issues. It is a force for change that emanates from a well-rounded education grounded in the social sciences and design. D+EA students learn to tackle problems from a systems perspective by addressing the challenges of what is and what if through multi-disciplinary studies in interactive human-centered design, environmental psychology, ergonomics, emerging technologies, and sustainability.

D+EA is a uniquely multidisciplinary department composed of designers, environmental psychologists, scientists, and technologists who weave their research interests and methods into their courses exposing students to their unique areas of expertise. D+EA core courses instill a deep understanding of impactful design interventions and research outcomes throughout society. Our three department themes, Design Innovation and Strategy, Health and Well-being, and Sustainable Futures further define our dynamic design approach to empower our students to generate robust skill sets and experiences. Students are required to also pursue course offerings within the College of Human Ecology and across Cornell to support their individual goals.

The skills D+EA students gain are applied to a variety of contexts, including educational, healthcare, diverse workplace environments and virtual settings, from small to large scale endeavors. Our graduates are changing the world in the design and technology industries across user experience, design strategy, interiors, architecture, and sustainability.

Review our curriculum sheets (updated each year) to better understand how the major is organized.

Making a Difference by Design (DEA 1110) focuses on how leaders in a variety of fields use design as a social change agent. This course connects theories of leadership and creative problem-solving through case study examinations of a range of design innovations in technology, communication, business, education, medicine, human development, and ecology. Students learn how design affects their daily lives. Additional topics include nurturing creativity, visual communications, values-led entrepreneurship, and designing across cultures.

Introduction to Environmental Psychology (DEA 1500) focuses on how environments (from residential to urban to natural settings) affect human health and well-being.  Students examine how human attitudes and behaviors affect environmental quality, with examinations of environmental justice and culture.  This course brings a new sensitivity to how design decisions can have positive and negative outcomes on human behavior and the planet.

Human Centered Design Methods (DEA 2730) explores the use of design methods to generate ideas and evaluate designed objects, environments, and interfaces. Lectures cultivate an understanding of these methods, while hands-on activities provide opportunities to apply these methods to the design of artifacts and their interactions with people and things.

Materials for Design & Sustainability (DEA 3030) emphasizes the potential that a sustainable approach to the evaluation and selection of materials and finishes for creating products and places for people has to ensure the future survival of our planet. This course provides an introduction to basic material properties and asks students to morph the materials’ sensibilities, understand performance testing, building codes, and formulate a life-cycle cost analysis. There is a focus on “green” methodologies and assessment, including LEED building rating systems.

Awareness of design as a social art is integral to the mission of D+EA. Multiple courses have engagement and extension components through which students work on real, everyday problems in communities to gain experience creating impact.

Students learn in the classroom, but also through hands-on learning, building, and making. Students have access to excellent studio spaces, research labs, computer facilities, and fabrication shops including 3-D printing, laser cutters, and student-work assembly spaces.

D+EA students can also take advantage of multiple international exchange study opportunities.

Community engagement and extension examples

Opportunities to support community organizations and individuals in need of design and research solutions are incorporated through design studio and lecture courses. In past semesters, students have:

  • Partnered with community and corporate contacts on design, wayfinding, and branding projects; 
  • Conducted Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to examine potential effects of locally proposed policies, programs, and buildings on human health;
  • Engaged with healthcare clients to apply evidence-based design in care settings;
  • Provided design consulting services for local non-profits; and 
  • Applied design skills to the adaptive reuse of long-vacant historic buildings.

Internship Examples

Design Intern, Stantec Interior
Design Strategy Intern, Perkins and Will, HDR
Research Intern, Laidlaw Research and Leadership Program
Research Intern, Regenerative Andean Agroforestry Landscape
User Experience Design Intern, ChaseDesign, Honeywell, Tesla
Workplace Design Intern, Gensler

D+EA faculty use qualitative and quantitative methods and draw on approaches grounded in the social and biological sciences, humanities, and design. They conduct research ranging from creative endeavors, such as children’s playgrounds and graphic design, to empirical sociological and psychological investigations. Faculty are engaged in cutting-edge technologies and computer-aided design.

Undergraduate participation in research can be organized around independent studies and research assistantships.

Research examples

  • Assessing evidence-based design in mental and behavioral health facilities
  • Designing public spaces for young people: processes, practices, and policies for youth inclusion
  • VR Social Interaction: Social VR experiences to increase interaction among older adults

Honors program

The D+EA Honors Program recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in their academic work and their capacity for independent research. In addition to fulfilling the requirements for the major, students in the honors program prepare an honors thesis based on original research on a topic chosen by the student. Honors students work with a research mentor throughout the process. Students apply to the Honors Program during their junior year.

D+EA students and alumni are part designer, psychologist, researcher, and business strategist. The breadth and depth of their unique education coupled with their practical experiences result in careers that span a range of professional opportunities.

Graduates of the program are highly sought after and valued for their intellectual range, their systems approach to problem identification and solving, and their strong analytical skills. They are collaborative and responsive leaders who bring innovation and social responsibility to practice.

Graduate/Professional school

In recent years, graduates have been offered admission to a number of graduate programs including Masters in Architecture programs at Columbia University and Cornell University, as well as a Masters in Professional Studies in Information Sciences.

Sample Career Paths

Business Analyst, Deloitte
Creative Strategist, IA Interior Architects
Entrepreneur, Theo Kondos and Associates
Ergonomist, Cleveland Clinic, HumanScale
Facility Planner, Urban Green Council
Furniture Designer, StandAndBuild
Interior Designer, Tony Chi + Associates, HOK
Lighting Designer, U.S. Green Building Council
User Experience Designers/Researcher, Google; IDEO; Facebook
Workplace strategists, CBRE; Louis Vuitton; Herman Miller