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

MDes Seminar III, Fall 2017: Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts

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

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. Some weeks we will cover two different subjects, or do different activities, in each half of the session.

This is a ‘topics’ course — we will cover topics both within interaction and service design and in relevant other areas, some of which link together smoothly, and others which provide different and alternative perspectives on the subject. There are five objectives for the course:

  • Build on what you have learned in Seminars I and II and throughout your MDes so far, to give you more depth on some topics, and new perspectives on others.
  • Introduce you to — and give you an informed, rounded and reflective stance on — theory, models, themes, and new approaches in interaction and service design, which will give you strategic strength and confidence in your professional practice.
  • Give you an appreciation of the characteristics of your power, as designers — its scope to influence the ways people live, but also the constraints of the sociotechnical systems within which you work — and the wisdom to deal with this responsibly.
  • Support your work on your thesis project through giving you a set of theories and approaches which you can use practically to structure and communicate your thinking and research.
  • Build up your confidence and ability in communicating and explaining your process: what you’ve done, and why, justified through reference to theory and research (your own, and others’). This can be an issue for designers, but our aim is that you will be better equipped to do this in a professional context.
Interactive kiosk, Denver, Colorado. Photo by Dan Lockton

Course structure

We have four main broad themes, each of which has a number of topics within it:

1. The Philosophy of Design
2. Researching Through Design & Practice
3. Design and Futures
4. Design, Data, Politics, and Society

Here in this syllabus is an indicative outline of what we’ll be covering each week — but please note, this may change over the course of the semester. The four themes will not necessarily always proceed in order — there will be some skipping between themes week-by-week depending on the availability of guest speakers.

The course starts with a deeper dive into some of the theory (and history of thought) in the philosophy of interaction and service design, and relevant perspectives, led by Ahmed, before we explore how some of this theory might work in practice in your own projects. Although it’s a seminar series, we want you to make and be comfortable thinking through making and doing, particularly to explore some of the theory you’ll be learning, practically — and linking the topics in the seminars to your thesis projects.

Over the rest of the semester, through the other themes, led by Dan, we will explore different angles and focuses of interaction and service design research and practice, alongside helping you develop your own confidence to take strategic stances on issues. The assignments are intended primarily to help you design ways to translate and apply theory (from inside and outside of design) to interaction and service design practice.

The section of the course led by Ahmed (5 weeks) is worth of your final grade; the section led by Dan (10 weeks) is worth . In Dan’s section, this comprises each for two assignments, and for engagement, which includes participation in activities and discussion in class.

Willesden Railway Signal Box, London, 1966. British Transport Commission, used under Creative Commons Licence. © National Railway Museum and SSPL.

Week 1: Tuesday August 29

Dan Lockton and Ahmed Ansari


Introduction to the course, and outline of the topics we’ll be covering.

Ahmed Ansari

The Philosophy of Design: The Artificial

Tony Fry, Clive Dilnot, Susan Stewart, Design & The Question of History, pp 1–7, 163–173

Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, pp 3–14
Viktor Papanek, Design for the Real World, read chapter “Conspicuous Consumptives: Design & The Environment”
Victor Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial

More details — including information on assignments — at

Week 2: Tuesday September 5

Ahmed Ansari

The Philosophy of Design: Design as World-Making

Objects Presentations

Winograd & Flores, Understanding Computers & Cognition, Pgs 14–37
Paul Dourish, Where the Action Is, Pgs 189–209

Being In The World Documentary
Peter Paul Verbeek, What Things Do, Pgs 47–145
Don Norman, Affordances & Design
Principles of Interaction Design Derived From Heidegger
Hubert Dreyfus on Artificial Intelligence & Heidegger

More details — including information on assignments — at

Week 3: Tuesday September 12

Guest: Sarah Foley

Actor-Network Theory and Service Fictions Workshop

🌎 Event: September 14–15: Google SPAN Pittsburgh

Week 4: Tuesday September 19

Ahmed Ansari

The Philosophy of Design: Design as World-Focality & Sensitization

Objects Presentations

Alistair Fuad-Luke, Slow Design Theory
Cameron Tonkinwise, Exhibiting Animism

Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain, Pgs 278–326
Peter Paul Verbeek, What Things Do, Pgs 147–199
Thomas Tierney, The Value of Convenience, pp 15–49
Verbeek & Kockelkoren, The Things That Matter

More details — including information on assignments — at

Week 5: Tuesday September 26

Ahmed Ansari

The Philosophy of Design: Political Economy

Objects Presentations
Pelle Ehn, Work-oriented Design of Computer Artifacts, pp 96–101
Aftenposten, Sweatshop, Season 1, ep 1–5

Optional:Ellen Lupton, The Designer as Producer
William Morris, Art & Labor
John Heskett & Clive Dilnot, Design From the Standpoint of Economics\Economics From the Standpoint of Design

More details — including information on assignments — at

Week 6: Tuesday October 3

Ahmed Ansari

The Philosophy of Design: General Economy

Objects Presentations

Clive Dilnot, The Gift
Allan Stoekl, Gift, Design & Gleaning

Optional Readings:
Bataille, The Accursed Share Vol I, read “The Theoretical Introduction”, pp 19–47
Tony Fry, Returning: Sacred Design III
Elaine Scarry, “On Beauty & Being Just”

More details — including information on assignments — at

Perceived affordances, Pittsburgh. Photo by Dan Lockton

Week 7: Tuesday October 10

Dan Lockton

Researching Through Design & Practice

Applying theory in your projects. Finding ways to make the theory, and your reasoning, understandable to colleagues within a design team. Looking at some tools, card decks, and method collections.

🌞 Assignment: Doing with Theory

Set: Week 7, October 10; Due: Week 10, October 31.

In this assignment, you’ll be developing a tool or method to apply, embody, or visualise some of the theory you have learned, especially from outside design, within a practical design context. The aim is to make it something you can try out — that you can (and others) can ‘do’ something with. This will enhance the ‘process’ aspects of your portfolio, and is intended to be something you will find useful in your work.

Your tools will be exhibited during Design Week (Week 16) and for those of you who want to take the work further, we will put together a workshop or conversation submission to the DRS 2018 conference in Limerick, Ireland or another conference.

Week 8: Tuesday October 17

Dan is away. You’re going to use this session to try out an example of a structured method, in teams.

Update: Here’s a write-up from Nurie Jeong:

Abandoned television, South Kensington, London. Photo by Dan Lockton

Week 9: Tuesday October 24

Dan Lockton

Design, Data, Politics, and Society

Imaginaries, Mental Imagery, and Design
New Metaphors / Qualitative Interfaces workshop

Week 10: Tuesday October 31

Writing for designers for designers: how to explain your work. Building on some of the ideas that Molly taught you in Seminar I, we’ll be considering how to write, as a designer, for other designers. What do designers read?

Articles you’ll be choosing from in the session, to examine:

Jonathan Goodman, statistics and public understanding

Courtney Martin, other people’s problems

Laura Forlano, posthumanism and design

Joe Lindley, Paul Coulton and Rachel Cooper, the Internet of Things and object-oriented ontology

George Aye, how power is dealt with in design education

Rachel Coldicutt, women and futures

David Benque, machines and prediction

Josh Clark, design and algorithms

Rob Speer, stereotypes in machine learning

Aleks Krotoski, haunted smart homes

Jean Jackson, fieldnotes

Audrey Watters, educational technology

Julie Beck, life stories

James Clear, productivity

Jason Mesut, design leadership
and https://medium.com/@jasonmesut/design-is-hard-design-leadership-is-harder-bdbfd14e35ce

Mike Monteiro / Claire Blaustein, design ethics

Week 11: Tuesday November 7

Using a drill press, London & North Eastern Railway’s Doncaster Works, 14th August 1943. Used under Creative Commons licence. © National Railway Museum and SSPL

Week 12: Tuesday November 14

Dan Lockton

Design, Data, Politics, and Society

A tool for thinking about systems: a gentle introduction to second-order cybernetics.

Playing with Nicky Case’s Loopy.

Readings: Extracts from Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems; Jeff Sussna, Designing Delivery; and Hugh Dubberly & Paul Pangaro, ‘Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action’.


You have a choice of assignment: either continue with your Doing with Theory project (see more details below) or write an article for Developing your voice.

🌞 Assignment : Developing your voice

Set: Week 12, November 14; Draft Due: Week 14, November 28; Final version due: Week 15, December 5.

Writing and publishing a Medium article (as part of the Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts publication), based around one or more of the topics we’ve covered, and/or responding to others you have looked at, to the standard of A List Apart, UX Mag, ACM Interactions, UX Booth, or other outlets. The aim is to get a wider practitioner audience, to establish you as a thought leader, a voice, or at least someone with ideas and a professional way of articulating yourself — enabling a more strategic positioning when you apply for jobs.

There’s an opportunity to have your draft reviewed the week before the final submission, if you would find that useful.

🌞 Assignment : Doing with Theory part 2

Set: Week 12, November 14; Final version due: Week 15, December 5.

Continuing with your Doing with Theory project, taking your tool / method / approach further, to the stage where you have:

  • tried it out with people (a group / individuals / whoever is most appropriate)
  • documented it in the form of a Medium article (as part of the Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts publication) in a way that designers could apply
  • Your article should include background material on the theories you have embodied in the tool
  • It should explain how the tool can be used, with reference to your own trial of the tool (and if it’s something you’ll use in your thesis, you can talk about that)
  • It should evaluate the tool in the context of how designers might use it

Please also include (at least) two good images that represent the tool — think about how you would present it in a portfolio, or as a header image for your article. How can you convey its essence or what it covers?

Week 13: Tuesday November 21

Guest: Dr Stuart Candy, Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Design and Futures

Experiential futures. Trying out The Thing From The Future.

Week 14: Tuesday November 28

Dan Lockton

Design, Data, Politics, and Society

The boundaries of inclusive design, and paying attention to biases and assumptions. Perspectives from different projects worldwide, including Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit, Exclusion Calculator and Impairment Simulator, and excerpts from BBC’s The Big Life Fix (episodes, 1 and 2) — projects by Ross Atkin, Haiyan Zhang, and Ruby Steel. Looking at biases in interface design (Sara Wachter-Boettcher). Trying out part of Inclusive: A Microsoft Design toolkit.

Week 15: Tuesday December 5

Dan Lockton

Researching Through Design & Practice

Developing your own design philosophy: what design do you like? Why? Can you extract principles that you can apply in your own work and elsewhere?

(Week 16: Design Week: Date TBC)

Dan Lockton and Ahmed Ansari
Mini-exhibition and publication of your work for the assignments

Ethernet cables in a server room in London. Photo by Dan Lockton


While we encourage and support professional development through conferences and your search for internships and careers beyond the degree, it is also our expectation that you will balance these opportunities with the commitment you have made to your education here. You are responsible for any and all missed classes and assigned work, including team work. Please give Ahmed or Dan plenty of notice and discuss your plans with them carefully. This is particularly critical when additional days are taken for international travel. Instructors are not required to make allowances for your absences nor adjust the course schedule, so once syllabi are issued and calendars set, it is your responsibility to negotiate your absences. For team projects, it is also critical that you make these same negotiations with your fellow students, for fair completion of work according to assigned schedules and due dates.

Before making travel arrangements for the end of the semester, check with Ahmed and Dan to confirm final dates for presentations, critiques and coursework submissions.

(This text is lightly modified from that provided by Bruce Hanington)


It’s not worth plagiarising anything. In this course, our aims include your development of a professional stance and approach to your work, and so we want you to embody that in everything you do. Very little in the world of design (or academia) is wholly original, but the ways in which you build on and transform others’ ideas in a respectful and appropriate way include attribution, acknowledgement and referencing. It is a marker of your professionalism, and you should treat developing this skill as part of your toolbox as seriously as you do other skills.

If you use an idea, image, or text from somewhere else, : reference where it came from. It makes your work to do this — it shows that you are professional, well-read, and alert to developments in your field. If you are quoting or paraphrasing text, . We will discuss image licensing and copyright during the session about Writing for Designers, but the rules on plagiarism apply to the whole course.

Here are the CMU policies on academic integrity, and although they look complicated, the section on plagiarism is relatively simple. As instructors, Dan and Ahmed will have to give you zero marks for any assignment which is plagiarised, and that could have a major effect on your overall grade for Seminar III — and ultimately, your degree.

Take care of yourself

This class is meant to be fun, and exploratory, but as a student you are under lots of pressure from different directions. If you can maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester, it will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress. All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help (this is actually a really useful skill to develop anyway, even in less stressful situations). Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412–268–2922 and visit their website http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/.
Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

CaPS: 412–268–2922; Re:solve Crisis Network: 888–796–8226

If the situation is life threatening, call the police:
On campus: CMU Police: 412–268–2323
Off campus: 911

If you have questions about this or your work, please let Dan or Ahmed know.

(This text is lightly modified from that provided by Provost Farnam Jahanian, based on the work of the Task Force on the CMU Experience)

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability and have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, we encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with us as early in the semester as possible. We will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, we encourage you to contact them at access@andrew.cmu.edu.

(This text is lightly modified from that provided by Laurie Weingart, Interim Provost)

Transmission tower and electric cables, Mount Washington, Pittsburgh. Photo by Dan Lockton




Carnegie Mellon School of Design: MDes Seminar III

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Dan Lockton

Dan Lockton

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

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