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The Human-Centered Design concentration is a rigorous program of study that is focused on the conceptual development and realization of products, systems and services.

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The Human Centered Design Major at NMU

The Human-Centered Design concentration is a rigorous program of study that is focused on the conceptual development and realization of products, systems and services. In this area of concentration, students will develop a vast range of skills that enable them to research, conceptualize, and visualize their ideas in a variety of mediums. This entails a blend of techniques that merge design sketching, problem finding, problem solving, computer modeling, and digital fabrication in conjunction with traditional crafting skills. Ultimately, these skills allow for students to develop solutions as physical artifacts or as speculative proposals for future technologies.

Aside from the technical abilities required to develop form, the Human-Centered Design curriculum also challenges students to develop a design thinking/researching process that is exercised through a variety of projects both individually and in collaborative settings. This process not only helps enhance form, but also allows for a more in depth understanding of the needs, values and pleasures that lead to a more innovative concept solution. Within the structure of each Human-Centered Design course, critiques offer further insight into the concepts and provide suggestions for improvement in technical and presentation skillsets.

Human-Centered Design is an ideal choice for someone that enjoys working in cross-disciplinary process. The challenges offered in assignments encourage students to think conceptually while having the ability to work between pen and paper, a variety of software applications and many opportunities to take the “hands on” approach. Human-Centered Design is a discipline of development and refinement that stem from the desire to shape the environment with things of beauty, comfort, performance and social value.

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Students Develop Physical and Speculative Solutions for Future Technologies

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Human Centered Design Studio

The two Human-Centered Design studios consist of spaces that allow for formal instruction, individual/collaborative work settings and critiques. This space is designed to be flexible so that it can accommodate a variety of design activities and presentations. The fabrication studio provides a space for students to develop mock-ups and prototypes of their designs.

Within these two spaces, students have access to a range of model making and rapid prototyping equipment for their use. Please be sure to look at the specific requirements for the major. Students are required to take courses in other studio areas as well as Human-Centered Design. Once the courses have been completed, students will have access to other facilities (Woodworking, Metals & Ceramics) with the professor’s permission.


Dimension 1200 SST 3D Printer
Epilog Laser Engraver 36” x 24”
Techno Isel 20” x 30” x 7” CNC Router
Formech 24” x 24” Vacuum Forming Machine
Combination Machine Lathe / Milling Machine
Drill Press
14” Band Saw
Spindle / Disk Sander
Paint & Spray Booth


Rhino - 3D Modeling
RhinoCAM – CNC Machining
Keyshot – Rendering
Adobe Creative Suite

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3D Printer and Scanner
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Laser Cutter
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Computer Controlled Router
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Students Visual Concepts with Model Making and Rapid Prototyping

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Human Centered Design Faculty

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Peter Pless

Associate Professor
BFA Northern Michigan University
MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art

Peter J Pless received his BFA in Product Design from Northern Michigan University in 2000 followed by his studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art receiving his Masters Degree in 3D Design in 2002. Upon completion of his MFA, Peter has worked throughout the United States for Scott Klinker Product Design, Blu Dot and Marmol Radziner and Associates. Currently, Peter is an associate professor of Human-Centered Design in the School of Art & Design at Northern Michigan University located in Marquette, Michigan. His passion for design, craft and exhibiting his works grows continually. For him, the design process is a delicate balance between the exploration of new conceptual territory while developing refined, expressive and elegant forms. Peter's work has been exhibited in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cologne, Milan and Seoul at the ICFF, IMM Cologne and the Salone Satellite 2010, 2012.


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Peter Pless
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Peter Pless
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Human Centered Design Courses

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AD 111 Human Centered Design: Visualization Techniques

4 credit hours
Offered: Fall Winter

Introduction to the product design process through design sketching, form development and model making.

AD 211 Human Centered Design: Digital Visualization

4 credit hours
Offered: Winter
Prerequisite: AD111

Introduction to computer modeling, digital manufacturing process with advanced presentation and conceptual development skills.

AD 311 Human Centered Design: Concepts and Technology

4 credit hours
Offered: Fall
Prerequisite: AD 211, MF 134 or concurrently enrolled

Studio work is oriented toward applying material research and technological processes. Emphasis is placed on theoretical and portfolio development.

AD 411 Human Centered Design: Design Research

4 credit hours
Offered: Fall
Prerequisite: AD 303, AD 311 and junior standing or instructor's permission

Implementation of design research methodologies through collaborative projects.

AD 440 Human Centered Design: BFA Seminar

4 credit hours
Prerequisite: AD 411

Continued development of conceptual and social concerns in preparation of professional portfolio.

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Human Centered Design FAQ

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Five classes make me a designer?

The courses are demanding. Technical skills are taught throughout each of the five courses and expected to be utilized and refined through short/long term projects assigned in the courses. There are also additional courses required in other studio areas that will broaden your portfolio and enhance your design process and presentation skills. Included in these requirements are Drawing, Graphic Communication, Computer Art, Metals, Ceramics, Woodworking, and Manufacturing Process.

What degree should I pursue?

For job placement within the design industry it is a typical requirement that you have your Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA). It is also mandatory for you to have your BFA if you decide to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree. A BFA provides for more studio credit hours than a BA or BS degree. The BA and BS degrees provide you with the option to pursue a minor in addition to their major in Human-Centered Design.

What is the difference between a BFA and BS or BA degree?

The BFA degree includes 40 credits in liberal studies with 87 credits in Art and Design. This degree includes the most art and design classes with a studio emphasis.

The BS and BA degrees include 40 credits in liberal studies and 63 credits in the School of Art and Design, plus a 20 credit minor out side of the School of Art and department. The BA requires a language minor, the BS includes all other minors not in language. These degree choices allow a studio art major to diversify their knowledge with another discipline.

Will I need to submit a portfolio for admission?

There is no portfolio requirement for admission into the introductory (100 and 200 level) Art and Design courses. However, a faculty led portfolio review is conducted for students at the 300 levels in order to determine continuation in the program of study.

Are there scholarships for incoming freshman?

The school offers the High School Freshman Scholarship (four $1000 awards) that is available each year with applications due in April.

See the web for details
Scholarship Information

More Questions?
Please write Professor Peter Pless
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