Interaction Design Seminar III Module I

Philosophy & Theory of Interaction & Service Design || Fall 2018

Tuesdays, 8:30 am — 11:20 am
MDes\MPS\PhD Graduate Studio

Instructors: Ahmed Ansari (Co-taught w/ Dan Lockton)
I hold office hours from 11:30pm to 1:00pm on Tuesdays in MM 207A
Dates & content may be subject to change over the course of the semester


We are surrounded by technology, by cellphones, posters, ATM machines, highrises and service lines. How do these things affect us? How do they order about the ways in which we live, communicate, and interact? How does technology affect our lives as they play out in their social, ethical and political dimensions? What relation through technology do we have to our environments, both natural and artificial, and to the world at large? These are the questions that philosophers, critical theorists, systems theorists, scientists, engineers and designers alike have raised for the better part of a century now, in an effort to better understand the relation between technology, the world, and the human. Recently, this rather large area of critical inquiry has once again become prominent in both academic and popular discourse, facilitated by rising concerns about issues like sustainability and our current paradigms of material consumption, to displaced populations and immigration in a more mobile and fluid world, to birth control technologies and global population, to ethical, political and behavioral dilemmas raised by our growing interaction through, and dependency on, the digital and virtual.

Technology, of course, cannot be separated from making. Engineers, scientists, and, of course, designers, all seek to shape and mold technological artifacts to realise specific aims, needs, and desires. This makes a deeper understanding of technology imperative for the fledgling designer, and this course has thus also been designed as an interrogation of the products of our making. It is an exploration of how designed products and environments communicate and interact, creating possibilities and habits and values. As a seminar, the course primarily involves using texts from the humanities and social sciences as lens with which to view technology. Over the course of the semester, we will learn both how to articulate and structure critical and analytical arguments technological artifacts, as well as put our new ways of understanding technology to use, creating propositions that can be applied in a designerly fashion to the creation of new technologies in new contexts, or old technologies in new ones.


This course intends to give students an overview of critical discourses in design over the 20th and 21st centuries. The idea is to give students lenses with which to understand the scope and implications of design activity and the artificiality of the modern world, the agency of things or man-made artifacts, whether intangible or tangible, and their effect on the human condition, and the epistemological foundations of design. By the end of this course, we hope that students should be able to use their deeper understanding of designing and the designed to reflect more deeply on the nature and impact of the work that they do.


This has been planned as a fifteen week course for a total of fifteen sessions. I will be teaching seven classes in the course, and so this schedule applies towards my sessions. As I am co-teaching with Dan, the dates on these sessions may change, in which case prior notice will be provided.

A note on readings: links to the texts have been provided below, and they will also be present on the Box folder prior to class. While the optional readings are highly recommended for the Masters students, they are mandatory for the PhD students.

09.04.2018. Things & World
Wherein we start by discussing the work of Martin Heidegger, his theory of tools and thingly worlding, and the influence of Heidegger’s thought on design discourse.

Required Readings
Peter Paul Verbeek, “What Things Do”, Pgs. 47–95

Optional Readings
Don Norman, “Affordances & Design”
James Gibson, “The Theory of Affordances”
Winograd & Flores, “Understanding Computers & Cognition”, Pgs. 27–35
Tony Fry, “The Origin of the Work of Design…”

Things to View
Tao Ruspoli, “Being in the World”

Thu 09.11.2018. Embodiment & Mediation
We continue the conversation on how things mediate our perception and extend our capacities to act in the world, with a focus on Merleau-Ponty & Don Ihde.

Required Readings
Peter Paul Verbeek, “What Things Do”, Pgs. 99–145

Optional Readings
Paul Dourish, “Where the Action is…”, Pgs. 99–126, 189–209
Dag Svanes, “Interaction Design for and with the Lived Body”

Thu 09.25.2018. World Sensitization, Craft, & Care
We talk about the designed as the outcome of a conversation between the designer and their materials and the role of craft.

Required Readings
Richard Sennett, “The Craftsman”, Pgs 19–52
Elaine Scarry, “The Body in Pain”, Pgs. 278–296

Optional Readings
Cameron Tonkinwise, “ Thingly Cosmopolitanism”
Tim Ingold, “Materials against Materiality”
Clive Dilnot, “The Gift”

Thu 10.02.2018. Knowing by\through Designing
We take a closer look at the design process, including concepts specific to it such as move-making, reflection-in-action, and the role of tacit knowledge and intuition.

Required Readings
Donald Schon, “Designing as Reflective Conversation…”
Gabriella Goldschmidt, “The Dialectics of Sketching”

Optional Readings
Zimmerman & Forlizzi, “The Role of Design Artifacts…”
Christopher Frayling, “Research in Art & Design”
Marta Sinclair, “Misconceptions about Intuition”
Harry Collins, “Tacit & Explicit Knowledge”, Pgs 99–117

Thu 10.09.2018. Practices, Networks & Taste
We discuss the importance of practices for designers, with a focus on Shove’s social practice theory, Latour’s ANT, and Bourdiean theories of taste.

Required Readings
Elizabeth Shove, “The Design of Everyday Life”, Pgs 21–39, 140–147
Bruno Latour, “Where Are The Missing Masses?”
Douglas Holt, “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?”

Optional Readings
Ansel & Bean, “Taste Regimes and Market-Mediated Practice”
Kakee Scott, “ Co-design, social practices and sustainable innovation…”

Thu 10.30.2018. World Focality & Sustainability
This class focuses on Borgmann’s idea of focal practices and things, and we juxtapose his ideas with the Slow Design movement, designed rituals and emotional durability.

Required Readings
Peter Paul Verbeek, What Things Do, Pgs. 173–199
Alistair Fuad-Luke, “Slow Design”

Optional Readings
Albert Borgmann, “Technology & The Character of Contemporary Life”, Chapter 14, “Technology & Democracy”

Jonathan Chapman, “Emotionally Durable Design…”, Pgs 57–82

Things to View
Ritual Design Lab

Thu 11.13.2018. Politics & Ethics
We talk about how things are a form of ‘frozen politics’, and open or close specific ethical choices and courses of action.

Required Readings
Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts have Politics?”
Peter Paul Verbeek, “Moralizing Technology”, Pgs 23–27

Optional Reading
Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “The Industrial Revolution in the Home”,Pgs 95–104
Viktor Papanek, “Design for the Real World”, Pgs. 54–85

Things to View
L.M. Sacasas, “Do Artifacts have Ethics?”
Decolonising Design Manifesto

Grading Criteria

My module’s total grade is worth 50% of the course. There are two graded components: 7 weekly reflections, and class participation. At the end of my module, you will be given a grade based on your successful completion of all exercises and reflections.

For Masters & Students

Scrapbook & Weekly Reflections (5% each):

In a scrapbook, within which you will keep weekly written reflections (700–1000 words for Masters students; 1000–1500 for PhD students) written using the template provided here, you will develop your own questions, observations and points of discussion based on your experiences with exercises, lectures and readings. These will offer you a chance to document your own thinking and demonstrate to us that you have been engaging with the material taught in the previous week. You may, and are in fact encouraged to, use these reflections as a means by which to think through your own emergent thesis work. In addition to the reflections, you can put printouts or cutouts of articles, posts, images, or any other material that relates to the material covered in class or complements your reflections.

We do not expect straight descriptions of what was done in class — the idea is for you to give us your own thoughts, observations and reflections on content as it relates to what we did that week, how it relates to specific issues of your choice or affects how you make sense of design and designing, and how you feel you might use it in your design practice, rather than reiterating what the instructor taught.

You will write these reflections and fill the scrapbook on your own over the weekend and hand it in every Tuesday in class — scrapbooks will be returned to studio Wednesday afternoon. By the end of semester, you should have a total of 7 reflection papers and related material in your scrapbook, one for each week of my module. Hastily written or poorly done reflections or material that seems as if it was filled in last minute will not be deemed acceptable and will result in you not getting the grade for that week — you will be assessed both on your timely submission and the quality of your reflection.

Class Participation (5%):

Missing even one of my classes without sufficient serious cause will cause you to lose 5% of your grade. This is a straight pass\fail component. We expect everyone in class to contribute to the discussions around the readings and raise questions or observations.


Responsibility — Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent from class. Late assignments, failure to complete the assignments for class discussion and/or critique, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, presentations and/or critiques will jeopardize your successful completion of this course. Students must have prior permission from the instructor to submit work late and/or adequate evidence of unforeseeable circumstance, such as a sudden illness. Work is considered late if it is not received before the beginning of class on the date due, or as otherwise detailed by the instructor. Even with permission, late work is subject to a grade penalty of a full letter grade deduction per day, i.e from an A to a B, after the original due date.

Academic Integrity — It is the responsibility of students to know and follow the university’s policies for academic integrity and to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including failure of the assignment, failure of the course, or more significant disciplinary action with the university. See:

Participation and attendance — Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, assignments, projects, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time.

Class attendance is mandatory. Missing class for any reason counts as an absence, even if unavoidable. If an absence is unavoidable, always provide evidence of the reason, such as a doctor’s note, and notify the instructor directly prior to the class, if possible, or soon after. This will not automatically excuse the absence but will provide a basis for discussion if a student exceeds the allowable number of absences and an incomplete is requested. 2 absences on any grounds brings you down a full letter grade, i.e. an A into a B. More than 2 absences on any grounds constitutes grounds for failure, i.e an F.

The following may also be counted as an absence: coming to class without the required materials, sleeping in class, doing other work in class, and using a phone, email or social media during class if not related to class work.

Delays — In rare instances, the instructor may be delayed arriving to class. If s/he has not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes before leaving. Please use the time effectively on any current group or individual work. In the event that the instructor will miss class entirely, a notice will be posted in the classroom and/or by email indicating activities for making use of class time and for the next week’s assignment.