“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”
William Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas, 1928 — later named as the ‘Thomas Theorem’

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The events of the last couple of years, from Brexit to Trump, have been a vivid demonstration for our time of the power of the imaginary to affect human affairs. Not for the first time, of course — but amplified in an unprecedented way by algorithms, bots, targeting, and strategic use of personal data via social media — huge decisions are being influenced by imagined versions of what ‘reality’ is.

We cannot avoid trying to work out how to make sense of terms such as alternative facts, fake news, and post-truth as being part of everyday discourse, and incorporating them and their effects into our own models of how the world works. As Maciej Ceglowski says, people “will happily construct alternative realities for themselves, and adjust them as necessary to fit the changing facts,” and this is greatly aided by the technological infrastructures being employed by those who want to control public opinion. The powerful are, as always, those who can create the simplest, easiest to spread, most superficially persuasive images, myths, conceptions, metaphors, frames, cause-and-effect pairings, and indeed stories, in the public mind. We shouldn’t be surprised: it’s not like it hasn’t happened before, in other eras, using different means, and we all know the outcomes of that. Fictions are political, and they matter. …

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Disguised cellphone towers, Santiago, Chile. Photo by Dan Lockton

Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design
Tuesdays, 8.30–11.20am, MM 215. Course 51–825

Dr Dan Lockton — Office: MM 207b — danlockton@cmu.edu
Ahmed Ansari — Office: MM 207a —

Please note: this is a live document — the syllabus will be updated throughout the semester. Readings will be on Box.

Introduction to the course

Welcome to Seminar III — the last set of compulsory classes in your MDes. Seminar III, despite the name, is not entirely in a seminar format. We have a single session each week, of nearly three hours, which means we will be doing a mixture of activities, from reading and writing to practical workshops and some mini-projects. …

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I miss Devon.

by Dan Lockton, Delanie Ricketts, Shruti Aditya Chowdhury (Imaginaries Lab, Carnegie Mellon School of Design)
Chang Hee Lee (Royal College of Art)

Much of how we construct meaning in the real world is qualitative rather than quantitative. We think and act in response to, and in dialogue with, qualities of phenomena, and relationships between them. Yet, quantification has become a default mode for information display, and for interfaces supporting decision-making and behaviour change.

There are more opportunities within design and human-computer interaction for qualitative displays and interfaces, for information presentation, and an aid to help people explore their own thinking and relationships with ideas. …

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The ‘Time-Traveling Hipster’ (1941)

Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Senior Design Labs, Fall 2016, 51–401

  • Final projects: see cmuplaylab.com
  • Discussion of the final projects
  • Updated: December 21, 2016: Please note: this syllabus has been updated over the semester and rewritten into a kind of ‘review’ of what happened.
  • Play Lab took place Mondays & Wednesdays, 1.30–4.20pm, MM 213/4; Session 1: August 29 — September 28; Session 2: October 3 — November 2; Session 3: November 7 — December 7, 2016

Dan Lockton, Assistant Professor, Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall 207b; danlockton@cmu.edu


Seniors (4th-year undergraduates) in Industrial and Product Design at Carnegie Mellon take three ‘Senior Design Labs’, Wonder Lab, Speak Lab, and Play Lab, each of which aims to help students develop some ‘design agility’. They set out to enable students to integrate and revisit skills they’ve developed through their time at CMU, but applying them in new and different situations. The idea is that this helps graduating students develop a shift in perspective on their own abilities and identities as designers, and gives them confidence to tackle new kinds of problems and challenges in a reflective way, through knowing themselves better. …

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‘What does energy look like?’ drawn by Zhengni Li, participant in Drawing Energy (Flora Bowden & Dan Lockton)

How can we invert ‘design for behaviour change’ and apply it from below, enabling people to understand, act within, and change the behaviour of the systems of society and the environment?

As our everyday lives are increasingly pushed and pulled by technology and the systems around us, from infrastructure to quantification to government to horrifying combinations of these, understanding these complex systems, and how to change them, is something we should be paying attention to. In ‘As we may understand’, last year, I looked — at excessive length — at the understanding bit, but not the change. Hopefully here I can address that, to some extent, though my thinking’s moved on a bit.

A constructionist approach to ‘behaviour change’ and the Internet of Things

In a world of increasingly complex systems, we could enable social and environmental behaviour change by using IoT-type technologies for practical co-creation and constructionist public engagement.

We’re heading into a world of increasingly complex engineered systems in everyday life, from smart cities, smart electricity grids and networked infrastructure on the one hand, to ourselves, personally, being always connected to each other: it’s not going to be just an Internet of Things, but very much an Internet of Things and People, and Communities, too.

Yet there is a disconnect between the potential quality of life benefits for society, and people’s understanding of these — often invisible — systems around us. How do they work? Who runs them? What can they help me do? …


Dan Lockton

Design — people — technology — society. Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon University. Director of the Imaginaries Lab: http://imaginari.es

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