IDSA Members Get a Discount to This New Design Program

May 31 2019 - 12:04pm


Sarah Rottenberg, IDSA is the faculty director of a new program at the University of Pennsylvania that focuses on human-centered design and strategy tools for social impact.

The Executive Program for Social Innovation Design (XSD), which begins on September 5, 2019, is open to anyone who would like to apply but geared towards two kinds of people: design professionals who want to utilize their skills for positive social change and business professionals working in mission-driven organizations who need design tools to achieve their goals.

The early application deadline for a discounted tuition rate is July 1 and the regular application deadline is August 1. However, Rottenberg is extending the $300 early application discount to current IDSA members regardless of when they apply.

The inaugural program is 16 weeks long and consists of mostly online courses, with two days of on-campus convening in October and one on-campus pitch day in February.

For the past eight years, Rottenberg has led a two-year master's program on Integrated Product Design at Penn. "We get students from design backgrounds," she says, "but also from engineering and business backgrounds who want to understand the other disciplines better, develop skills in those disciplines and figure out, ‘How do I work better with people who are coming from different perspectives?’”

Rottenberg started thinking about other ways she could provide design education to anyone interested in using design tools and techniques for creativity and innovation. At the same time, the university’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) reached out to the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at Penn to gage their interest in starting a new social impact program, modeled after a program SP2 had been running for a few years. 

While SP2 saw a need to create a new program that could merge their social impact curriculum with some of the design curriculum that Rottenberg and her colleagues in the Design School had been teaching, Rottenberg recalls, "we really wanted to figure out how to address a broader range of potential students.” In particular, she thought about alumni from the Penn School of Design who might be “mid-career and have a lot of skills, but maybe want to change the focus of their practice and the focus of their work.”

Coming from an industrial design background herself, Rottenberg understands the impulse. “I’ve felt from knowing that industry better, this sense of, ‘We’ve been making stuff for a while and it’s not always that great of a choice. How else can we apply our skills to be more conscious about what we make, or to make different kinds of things or to do something different entirely?'"

Recently, Rottenberg spoke to a professional involved in architecture and city planning who said they were interested in the program because, while it was easy for them to do projects that had commercial value, they kept thinking: What other kinds of value can we offer, and how can we consciously create communities that are meaningful to people? XSD provides the tools to help them get there. 

The program already is generating a lot of interest, says Rottenberg, as more people from design and non-design backgrounds are seeking purpose at the intersection of work and values. “I’m really excited,” she adds. "I do think we’re tapping into something.”

To learn more about the program and to apply, visit To learn more about the social impact content, visit

If you have questions, email or Sarah Rottenberg at