What is interaction, what is design, where did these notions come from, and where are they going? Our seminar explores principles, perspectives, and practices that undergird interaction and service design and beyond. We will explore the underlying principles of design, examine themes from a variety of perspectives, and consider the effects of both on different practices. Through this grounding, you will return to questions of what kind of designer you are and wish to be, what you believe in, and how that will extend to your research and practice.

Interaction design wasn’t invented from scratch as a singular, monolithic practice. It was born out of the intersection of a number of disciplines from within design and human-computer interaction, and also from art, media, architecture, politics, and philosophy, and beyond. As such, you will notice that our readings accordingly extend beyond traditional design and HCI literature. Through my suggestions and yours, we will also turn to design questions in digital culture, film, tv, fiction, gaming, music, art and beyond as we together frame our understandings. You will be writing continually throughout the class as you grapple with questions in the readings, answering “your mission” prompts twice a week on Medium throughout the semester, then producing a longer, critical paper or literature review that supports your research interests. Throughout the seminar, as you read, discuss, and write, you’ll put a stake in the ground on what matters to you in design and find ways to apply it in your research.

This syllabus page is a living document. I will be updating it continually, outlining your missions and dropping in images, links and videos. I was inspired to use Medium in teaching by David Carr’s “Press Play” course at Boston University (he passed away last winter). It is an opportunity to build a body of work together on our seminar’s own interpretation of principles perspectives and practices.

What we’ll be doing

Your grade consists of the following:

  • Reflective essays (500 words, 2x a week): 25%
  • Participation: 25%
  • Discussion leadership (2x during the semester): 15%
  • Final paper: 30%
  • Paper presentation: 5%

Your mission… (reflective essays): 25%

Complete the readings in time for each class, and respond to each prompt with a 500-word (equivalent of two single-spaced pages) response that you will publish on Medium — it may exceed but may not go under. Your reflections on the prompt will take the readings into consideration, and then apply them in some way to broader issues. You may incorporate images, video, links, your own drawings or photos, and so on. Think of it as a sketchbook in words, a way of bookmarking your interests and ideas in writing.

There is a collection of class writings here.

You can and should be creative in your writings. Complete your response no later than 7 am the day of class. No late responses accepted. You may drop your 3 lowest scores (which is to say, you may choose to not complete 3 of them without penalty).

Here are a few links (via David Carr, again) that will help you get started on writing with Medium.

  • How to start writing on Medium. It’s the very basic information that should get you started
  • On writing in Medium. This article shows some formatting tricks: bold, italic, different ways to incorporate images or embed video or tweets, and so on. You’ll also notice that you have access to stats when you use Medium, which might be interesting to you if you would like to tweet, Facebook or otherwise share your writings.
  • On reading in Medium. You’ve probably noticed little speech bubbles with plus signs in them. These are ways to comment on stories at the paragraph level, and you don’t need to make them public as an author unless you choose. (This is something I like a lot about Medium.)
  • Using images in Medium. Medium is particularly good with ways to incorporate images. This little article shows how to do full bleeds, overlays, grids of images.
  • Stock images that don’t suck. I love this: places to find royalty free images for free. It’s a little easier than going through Flickr, looking for Creative Commons images that allow for the licensing.
  • If you are grabbing images off the Internet, you need to cite your images. You might also find license-free or Creative Commons images. I used some images from Cooper-Hewitt, contextualized them, and used the citation provided by the collection in the title image above.

Participation: 25%

This seminar lives and dies on your presence and participation. Show up, be prepared, engage your colleagues’ perspectives with respect, and make this class what you want it to be. Your participation grade also includes 5 points for your participation in reading and responding to your colleagues’ Medium missives.

Leading discussion & conversation (2x): 15%

Almost every class session will have two discussion leaders (with Molly leading some classes or pairing up with a solo leader). You will provide a critical backdrop for week’s meeting, coming up with provocative questions for our discussion, and adding your own examples, applications, and artifacts to the conversation. Discussion leaders will meet with Molly in advance of class. As you put together your approach for the session, start with an end in mind. Where would you like to end up and what kind of questions will get you there? Good questions tend to bring in the how and the why, and are more effective than making a statement and asking the class what you think. You might consider activities or debates you might like to do. You may want to turn a discussion on its head, or play devil’s advocate, or choose a contrary position. At the end of the class, you’ll conclude and summarize the discussion to see us out.

Final paper: 30%

This paper is a critical and rigorous engagement with an interaction or service design issue of your own choosing. M.Des. students, this is your first foray into exploring your thesis topic, and your paper will inform the thesis proposal that you write in 2016. (MPS students, this is a seminar paper with 2 sessions that you will attend about finding topics and constructing research questions.)

Writing isn’t a matter of one sitting and one text. It’s a matter of sketching, mapping, scribbling and scribbling things out, drafting, editing, and redrafting. Whether you write a paper for class or a paper for CHI, a book chapter or a dissertation, writing is about a set of different processes, not just putting down words but sculpting them and reworking them.

You will complete a proposal for your seminar paper, meet with Molly to discuss, and revise your proposal. Then, you’ll write a first draft of the paper, review 2–3 of your colleagues’ papers and provide feedback, receive feedback from Molly, and then complete a final draft of your paper. (There is not a separate scoring of proposal, draft, peer review and final paper, but you must complete all of these tasks to qualify for the full point count.) You do not need to make your proposal or your paper public on Medium unless you choose.

The first draft of your paper is a full, complete, as excellent as possible version of the paper. It is not a rough draft.

MDes students, here is a handout for the year’s thesis prep activities, including the paper deadlines for this class.

Important dates:

  • Monday, 10/5 at 9 am (not the usual 10 am): Hannah DuPlessis, in-class: “Discovering Personal Interests & Thesis Topics” (relates to M.Des. thesis and MPS students for paper topics)
  • Friday, 10/16, 11 am–1 pm: Stacie Rohrbach, “Constructing a Researchable Question”
  • Monday, 10/18 & Wednesday 10/20: No class meetings. Instead, you will meet with Molly about thesis topic (bring your draft paper proposal, 250 words and 5 potential sources)
  • Friday, 11/13: First draft of paper due. Share with 2–3 colleagues for peer review (peer reviews will be assigned to you)
  • Friday, 11/20: Feedback due on papers from Molly & your colleagues
  • Monday, 12/14, 9 am: Final paper due

Paper presentation: 5%

You will each give a very brief paper presentation. We will do this in Pecha style, a 5-minute presentation where the slides advance every 20 seconds. This takes practice! It’s fun, fast-paced — and over quickly. (If you’re unfamiliar, here’s an example — your professor is Internet famous for an Ignite talk she gave in 2009 on pneumatic tubes and postal services: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvSeL_LfdbA).

A reminder about academic integrity

The point of this class is to develop and situate your own ideas in a broader discourse — and in order to do that properly, you need to cite your work. No form of academic dishonesty will be tolerated. When you use words, images, videos — even ideas and thoughts that are not yours and that you do not credit or properly cite, you are guilty of plagiarism. Do not cut and paste from other sources, even into your own notes, without keeping some system that tells you exactly where your work came from. For your weekly posts, you must cite, and you must not use words without attribution. This includes paraphrasing. Use Chicago style to cite your work in your papers. We will discuss research tools that can make this easier for you. CMU’s policies are available here for your review.

Academic Accommodations

If you need academic accommodations for a disability, please visit http://www.cmu.edu/hr/eos/disability/students/index.html within the first two weeks of class.

Readings, course schedule & missions

Students enrolled in the class may access readings via Box: https://cmu.box.com/seminar1readings.

And similarly, when we have lecture slides, you will find them here: https://cmu.box.com/seminar1-lectures.

This seminar is more of a firehose and less of a concentrated stream. And yet, it is by no means comprehensive. You’ll want to find strategies for reading and summarizing quickly, and we will share these strategies in seminar.

The readings here are available to students in the course on Box.com or are linked online where appropriate. Please note that this syllabus can and very likely will change as the semester progresses, and we may choose to focus more heavily on some readings versus others. Watch this space for updates, as well as through our other channels of communication.

Origin stories

There’s not a single origin story of interaction design. In our first two weeks, we’ll examine several origin stories for interaction design and where they came from. Note the individuals and institutions that formulated this nascent field. What do you make of them? Let’s augment this list with your own suggestions.

Week 1

Please note that you will have two responses due this week.

M, 8/31: Introductions

We will go over the course structure and activities, meet your fellow students (if you haven’t already), and get to know your professor.

Your mission: First, introduce yourself. Start a Medium profile (if you don’t wish to tie it to your personal Twitter, you may start a new account and use that). Use images, video, sound, whatever you would like. Your response is due in conjunction with the next one in time for class the morning of 9/2. This may be SHORTER than 500 words if you like.

W, 9/2: Perspectives on (interaction) design

We will start with some different perspectives on interaction design. The Moggridge video below tells the story of interaction design’s emergence from and relationship to industrial design. The Mitch Kapor piece, a manifesto from the early 90s, called for the need for a different approach to design. The Saffer piece comes from his designers’ experience in practice (he is a CMU Design alum), and the Kolko piece is about design thinking, published in the September 2015 Harvard Business Review. The piece by Jodi Forlizzi & John Zimmerman sitautes service design as a core interaction design practice.

Your mission: We’ll start the semester with your own definitions and own stake. Define for yourself, based on your own experience and your own values: what is interaction, what is design, and where do you stand? Throughout this first term, you will return to your statement. Does it change, and how? Or do you feel more firmly about it than ever? (This should be the regular ~500 word length.)

Watch Bill Moggridge’s apocryphal story about the birth of interaction design, from the documentary Objectified. For as beautiful and thoughtful as the Grid’s exterior was, it was the interaction with its software that produced its soul. This is one origin story of interaction design.



M, 9/7: No class, Labor Day

W, 9/9: Origin stories
Conversation leaders: Kate & Shruti

Where last week, we talked about contemporary framings, for this class, we will look at three technological perspectives that undergird interaction design. In the weeks to come, we will delve more deeply into some of the things that Jonathan Grudin raises. Tara McPherson’s piece offers a critical lens of race politics that seems to be otherwise absent in histories of technology.

Your mission: Write your own origin story of interaction design. What should we be including as a jumping off point? Is there something local to where you are from that you might include? What about other design practices?

  • Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic, July 1945.http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/?single_page=true and scan of original — which you should see — on Box.
  • Jonathan Grudin, “Three Faces of Human-Computer Interaction.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 4 (2005): 46–62. [Box]
  • Tara McPherson, “Operating Systems at Mid-Century,” Race after the Internet, eds. Lisa Nakamura & Peter Chow-White (New York: Routledge, 2012): 21–37. [Box]

Systems Approaches

Week 3

M, 9/14: Problems & problem-solving
Conversation leaders: Lisa & Kaylee

We often talk about problem-solving in design. Where does this idea come from, and where does it lead? How we decide what is and is not a problem? How do find set about finding and framing them? Are wicked problems solvable, given enough data, modeling, and computation, or are they not?

The “How to Solve It” chart in Pólya’s book by the same title, 1945. How do you see this reflected in approaches to design process today?

George Pólya, a Hungarian mathematician, wrote several books on heuristics — rules of thumb that help to solve problems, mathematical and otherwise — including How to Solve It. It was a book intended to help mathematics teachers teach students to solve math problems but it had an impact far beyond that, influencing the writers of the other pieces we’ll read this week. We will start with Pólya’s four step process of solving problems of any kind: “Understanding the problem,” “devising a plan,” “carrying out the plan,” and “looking back.” (See p. xvii of How to Solve It).

Could we think of something like “problem worrying,” a term that MIT architecture professor Stanford Anderson came up with in 1965 to get architects away from thinking in terms of problems and solutions.

Now: all of this begs the question of whether design is a problem to be solved at all. We’ve tended to situate design in this manner (hence the historical readings: so we understand where the idea came from). Does that mean it’s the right thing to do? When I shared this week’s topic with Marc Rettig, he said, “This makes me angry!” — because in his view, problem solving is the wrong approach. (Marc, care to add some thoughts in the comments here?)

Your mission: This week, we’re looking at different approaches to problem solving. Choose your own example of a problem that qualifies as a “wicked problem.” Then using the concepts in the Christopher Alexander and Rittel/Webber pieces, how would you analyze that problem? If you’ve chosen a truly wicked problem, there aren’t simple solutions. What other questions do they raise? This is an opportunity to work your analytical side and finding a good example for discussion in class.

Summary of the conversation by Lisa & Kaylee: We discussed Alexander’s idea about designers’ roles as logical versus intuitive thinkers (this made some people mad!). We explored fit through negative qualities and the tendency to understand the “wrongs” in order to find the “rights” within a context. We referenced a video that Saumya found that tried to tackle wicked problems using visual collaborative thinking. We found that wicked problems are defined by their solution and that the context is often biased, influencing the framing of the problem and the choices of the problem-solvers. If a problem can’t be solved, is it worth trying? We discussed how failure can be much more lasting causing people to fear trying. But maybe failure can be another’s springboard to a better state, even if it is only in small increments. We touched on the role of computers in the design process. Will computers be able to tackle our wicked problems one day? Or will we always need the problem-solving abilities of humans? We brought up Wikipedia as problematic example. Lastly, we discussed whether or not design requires a problem. Is the purpose of design to make things better? Or to simply create within complexity?


  • George Pólya, How to Solve It; a New Aspect of Mathematical Method (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1945), very brief excerpts. I’ve included the table of contents so you can see the scope of his approach. Especially important: the way he approaches how to solve problems (see graphic above) and his definition of heuristics: his definition of heuristics is at the core of definitions of problems and problem solving for decades to follow.
  • Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), “Introduction: The Need for Rationality” and “Goodness of Fit.” Alexander, an architect and mathematician, is best known for A Pattern Language. But in his dissertation that was published as Notes on the Synthesis of Form, he situated design as a problem to be solved, and as the amelioration and improvement of what he called “bad fit.” This improvement process was an heuristic one, to use Pólya’s definition: a stepwise improvement until the design fit and thus solved the problem.
  • Horst Rittel & Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Science 4 (1973), 155–69. This treatise states that some problems — are too wicked (resistant to be resolved). For as much as we might like to put in place systems of control that check and balance each other and keep things running smoothly, some problems simply are too thorny to solve in that manner. “A great many barriers keep us from perfecting such a planning/governing system: theory is inadequate for decent forecasting; our intelligence is insufficient to our tasks; plurality of objectives held by pluralities of politics makes it impossible to pursue unitary aims; and so on,” they wrote.
  • [Optional: I will bring these up in class, the reading is optional. Allen Newell, J. C. Shaw, and Herbert A. Simon, “Report on a General Problem-Solving Program,” (Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation, 1959), excerpt, and “The Process of Creative Thinking,” (Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation, 1958), excerpt. [Box, in one file.] Newell, Shaw and Simon were doing this research on what is now the Carnegie Mellon campus. Pay attention to the definitions of heuristics, problems, and how they define creativity.]

W, 9/16: Communication theory & cybernetics
Conversation leaders: Rag & Saumya

At the core of communication theory and cybernetics is the flow and exchange of information in a system. This idea was so profound that it affected conceptions of systems of all kinds: not just technical systems, but biological, physical, social and mechanical ones. Communication theory and cybernetics dominated a manner of thinking about systems for much of the second half of the 20th century, and had a profound influence on many ways that we think of design process and its outward ripples.

Your mission: This week, as we talk about cybernetics and communication theory, we are considering the ways that they have prefigured just about every practice in the second half of the 20th century — not only computers and cryptography, but also social policy, anthropology, architecture, and of course, design.

What are the problems and the pitfalls in describing situation in terms of its information exchange? Please delve into either/or the concepts of communication theory and cybernetics as you do so. The Bowker piece is helpful context.

Summary of the conversation by Rag & Saumya: First we talked about the definitions for cybernetics and dived right into the idea of universality. There was bit of a debate about whether thinking in universals (i.e. abstracting ideas) was good or bad. This idea of universality also led to discussion about politics, religion, and imperialistic rhetoric as it relates to cybernetics. We explored the notion of whether or not design is a form of cybernetics, specifically drawing parallels between Chris Alexanders description of negative fit and how it is very similar to feedback loops in cybernetics. At some point we also discussed Fiske and the limitations of the linear communication model. Towards the end of the discussion we talked about the value of entropy and the value unknowns especially in relation to creativity. We ended the class by watching a clip from Terminator 2.


  • John Fiske, “Communication Theory,” in Introduction to Communication Studies (London: Routledge, 1990).
  • Norbert Wiener, “Cybernetics in History” and other excerpts, The Human Use of Human Beings (London: Free Association Books, 1950)
  • Geof Bowker, “How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943-70,” Social Studies of Science 23(1993): 113.

Week 4

M, 9/21: Is media the message?
Conversation leaders: Catherine & Kate

Marshall McLuhan famously stated, “medium is the message.” But is it? Others, like Raymond Williams criticized McLuhan’s technological determinism. German media theorist Friedrich Kittler was also critical of McLuhan, but for different readings. Kittler espoused a perspective that privileged media above everything else — the users and humans are absent, save for their inscriptions in media. This is an opportunity to dig into complementary and counterperspectives to user-centeredness and experience.

The title of this mission: two sides of a coin. Take a design issue of interest to you (perhaps one you’re thinking about pursuing for your final paper). Attempt two different readings of it: one that is medium-centric, the other that is socially or human-centric.

First, your medium-centric notion will be inspired by how Friedrich Kittler places the principles of media above anything else. He wrote, “”…we knew nothing about our senses until media provided models and metaphors” (see Optical Media, p. 34). What are the models and metaphors in your subject of inquiry? If, as McLuhan says, “the media is the message,” then what is this medium’s message?

Second, pick up Williams’ criticism of technological determinism. In a technologically deterministic mindset, Williams writes, “New technologies are discovered, by an essentially internal process of research and development, which then sets the conditions for social change and progress. Progress, in particular, is the history of these inventions, which ‘created the modern world’. The effects of the technologies, whether direct or indirect, foreseen or unforeseen, are as it were the rest of history.”

Your essay should grapple with these two sides of the coin, and you should pay attention in yourself to what feels comfortable and uncomfortable about these different readings.

As always, you may be (and should be) creative, using multiple media and citing your sources.

Summary of the conversation by Catherine & Kate: We began by discussing the definition of the word “medium” and trying to discern its boundaries and limitations. From this, we attempted to distinguish “medium” from “channel” by discussing the intentions behind and construction of both information pathways. When is a pathway more of a conversation or a two-way dialogue? Sometimes a medium is made up of layers of other pieces of media, other times it appears that it is the medium itself that is the message. We found that both can have effects on society. These effects are sometimes quite broad in scope, although they can also have a more narrow focus, depending on how the message is constructed. Additionally, it is important to examine the rate of media transmission. We discussed how railways and telegraph lines increased both the rate of and distance over which a message could be sent. We began to think about how increasing the rate and distribution of a medium can lead to a changing of the message as seen with the Bible and use of moveable type in Europe. We wrapped up the class with a discussion of the role of the designer in the construction and distribution of media. As designers we are the ones using media to create our products, services, and environments. We construct the messages and system by which the media are distributed. What are our intentions when we create? Does it matter? How can we be more thoughtful in our making?


  • Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” “Media, Hot and Cold,” and “The Gadget Lover,” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). (Box.com)
  • Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, (Malden, MA: Polity, 2010), “Theoretical Suppositions,” 29–46. Optional introduction (of use for discussion leaders and understanding Kittler’s background): John Durham Peters, “Kittler’s Light Shows.”
  • Raymond Williams, “The Technology and the Society” and “Effects of the Technology and its Uses,” Television (London: Fontana/Routledge, 1974).

W, 9/23, Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence (GOFAI): AI’s big ideas
Conversation leader: Molly, with guest Prof. Daniel Cardoso Llach from the CMU School of Architecture

Artificial intelligence presumes that 1) we model intelligence in hardware or software in some way and 2) it does so in a believable manner. Early work in artificial intelligence assumed that computers would quickly be able to model the human brain and be intelligent — which turned out to be far more difficult than its researchers imagined. We will use this week as a way to look at those issues of modeling and proof of intelligence, then return to this topic later in the class for a contemporary approach.

Your mission: How do you know when something is intelligent? What are your criteria? How does this change the scope of your work as a designer? UW-Madison computer science PhD candidate Alper Sarikaya found himself turning to a famous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode... what are your criteria?


  • Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind 59, no. 236 (1950): 433–60. (Box.com)
  • J.C.R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis.” IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE-1, no. 1 (1960): 4–11. (Box.com)
  • Alan Blackwell, “Interacting with an Inferred World: The Challenge of Machine Learning for Humane Computer Interaction,” Critical Alternatives 2015: The 5th Decennial Aarhus Conference (2015).
  • James Vlahos, “Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child.” New York Times, September 16, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/magazine/barbie-wants-to-get-to-know-your-child.html?_r=0. This is a late addition (as you’ll see by the date) but included because it’s the cover of the Sunday New York Times Magazine as I write this.

Week 5

M, 9/28: Systems: questions and conclusions & working session on research methods
Conversation leaders: Everyone

We’ll use this as a chance to wrap up & address questions. We will then verge into a collaborative working session on arguments, citations, and research methods. I will show you tools and methods I use, and you’ll do the same.

  • Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, 3rd Ed.(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). I highly recommend you purchase this indispensable book and refer to it frequently.

W, 9/30: Guest lecture: Paul Pangaro, Ph.D.
No conversation leaders

Paul Pangaro leading a conversation about conversation

Paul Pangaro talked (among other things) about cybernetics of design and conversation as a means of modeling. A few articles came up: Heinz von Foerster’s 1991 piece “Ethics and Second Order Cybernetics” and Hugh Dubberly’s piece “Models of Models.”

Problems are, of course, wicked. We could look at Herbert Simon’s definition of design: “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” (The question is, whose preference?) There’s the notion of satisficing, too: the just enough. But is it?

This week, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, who photographed her family and town of Braddock, PA (a city in disrepair just outside of Pittsburgh), just won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Ari Shapiro interviewed her yesterday and here’s something she said that really struck me about the power of participating in the conversation:

On whether it makes her feel powerless to document a crisis she can’t change

I actually feel the opposite. I feel very empowered by it because when you can take a strong look at a crisis head-on and be able to understand all the different layers of how this is stratified and how it’s structured, it helps you to deal with the loss and the struggle and the pain. And it also helps you to create a human document, an archive, an evidence of inequity, of injustice, of things that have been done to working-class people. It’s a testament, you know; this is my testimony and call for social justice. And it’s also a way of me writing people who were kept out of history into history and making us a part of that narrative, making us a part of Andrew Carnegie’s story and the story of the steel industry”


Week 6

M, 10/5: Hannah du Plessis, Discovering Personal Interests & Thesis (and seminar paper) Topics, 9 am to 11:20

We are doing a combined thesis and paper topics workshop with Hannah du Plessis to help you map what interests you and how you like to work, to potential thesis topics.

From Hannah: The writer Frederick Beuchner said that “vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I see thesis as part of finding and following the next true step on their vocational journey. My intention is to expose students to different ways of knowing in the world and different stages of ideas as seen through the lens of the creative process. I would like to show them methods that will help them discover what lights them up, ways to move from intuitive sense to concrete ideas, and a method of two that helps them work with fears around thesis. At the end of the day the students will have several things in hand to help them create a rough roadmap for the journey ahead.

Social Constructions and Values

W, 10/7: The Social Construction of Technology
Conversation leaders: Kaylee & Dixon

When we talked about media and media theory, we discussed technological determinism — the idea that technology drives society. The social constructivist approach approach turns this around — society drives technology, and technology and technological use is informed by society and social context.

  • Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109:1 (Winter, 1980): 121–36.
  • Bruno Latour, “Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts’’ in Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law, eds., Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992, 225–258.
  • Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “How the Refrigerator Got its Hum,” The Social Shaping of Technology: How the Refrigerator Got its Hum, eds. Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (London: Open University Press, 1985).

Week 7

M, 10/12: Infrastructure
Conversation leaders: Molly (and maybe TBD)

“What can be studied is always a relationship or an infinite regress of relationships. Never a ‘thing.’” — Gregory Bateson, quoted by Star & Ruhleder

All design takes place within a broader network of relationships. What if we zoom out, way out, or zoom way in, underground, behind the walls, to understand the contexts for which we design?

Your mission: Seams. The pieces we read this week are about the implications of infrastructure. In the Janet Vertesi piece, she invokes Mark Weiser’s concept of seams in ubiquitous computing — as distinct from seamlessness. As you consider an infrastructure in your writing this week, reflect upon this notion of seamlessness and seamfulness. What might be gained by looking at seams, and how does it expose the infrastructure that lies beneath?

  • Thomas P. Hughes, ‘The Evolution of Large Technological Systems’, in Bijker, Hughes & Pinch (eds.), The Social Construction of Technological Systems (MIT Press, 1987) pp. 51–82.
  • Susan Leigh Star, “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” American Behavioral Scientist 43.3 (1999), 377–391.
  • Janet Vertesi, “Seamful Spaces: Heterogeneous Infrastructures in Interaction,” Science, Technology and Human Values 39.2: 264–284.

W, 10/14: Values in Design
Conversation leaders: Tracy & Calvin

Far too often, the values of design become apparent after the fact, and not before, when we see the impact and outcome of unintended design decisions. We can learn from the social construction of technology and studies of infrastructure in order to determine what and how we want to design, and what values are reflected within the process.

  • Cory Knobel & Geof Bowker, “Values in Design,” Communications of the ACM 54: 7 (July 2011): 26–28. This very brief piece introduces the idea of values in design.
  • Phoebe Sengers, Kirsten Boehner, Shay David & Jofish Kaye, “Reflective Design,” Proceedings of the 4th Decennial Conference on Critical Computing: Between Sense and Sensibility (2005): 49–58.
  • Ellen van Oost, “Materialized Gender: How Shavers Configure the Users’ Femininity and Masculinity,” in How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technologies, eds. Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003).

Week 8: Individual meetings on paper topics

More information to follow about proposing your paper topics and interim deliverables that will count to the total of your grade. We will use these sessions as a way for you to meet individually with Molly.

M, 10/19: Individual meetings

W, 10/21: Individual meetings

Week 9

M, 10/26: From us to the city: interaction design, the Internet of Things & questions of scale (NOTE: This is a change from your regularly scheduled program)

Originally, this was going to be a session on generativity. I’d instead like to use this as a lecture and discussion on issues related to the Internet of Things to foreground what you’re doing in studio. I’m giving you a pre-history and critical angle on it, one that comes from my own research.

Molly Wright Steenson, “Architecture Machines & Internets of Things, or: The Costs of Convergence,” New Geographies 7, 2015.

Your mission: For interaction designers, what are three concerns to consider in design for the Internet of Things or the scale of the city? In your post, you should define them and go into detail. It will be useful if you use a specific example (a project or something that is out there in the world) as a way to talk about these concerns — you can use it to assess how well the example manifests the concerns.

(You will notice that this gels with what I’ve told many of you in feedback for your paper topics. This is an opportunity to use that approach.)

W, 10/28: Embodiment
Conversation leaders: Dixon, Saumya & Jiyoung

  • Paul Dourish, “Embodiment,” in Where the Action Is (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
  • Scott Klemmer, Björn Hartmann, Leila Takayama, “How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design,” in Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (June 2006): 140–149.
  • Optional: A quick interlude to introduce you to Bruce Sterling’s concept of the spime. Bruce is a science fiction writer, futurist, friend to designers, and provocateur, among many other things. He defines a “spime” as “the intersection of two vectors of technosocial development. They have the capacity to change the human relationship to time and material processes, by making those processes blatant and archivaeable” (Shaping Things, 45). Spimes are objects that are attached to information and networks — ”a thing with a name. No name, no SPIME,” Bruce writes (77). I’ve included the “SPIMES” chapter from Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling in our readings. Perhaps we can spend our last minutes in class taking on spimes as something both material and informational, embodied and not.

Week 10

M, 11/2: Ubiquity & (In)visibility:
Conversation leaders: Jiyoung & Rag

  • Marc Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st Century,” Scientific American.
  • Paul Dourish & Genevieve Bell, “Contextualizing Ubiquitous Computing,” in Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).
  • Timo Arnall, “Making Visible: Mediating the Material of Emerging Technology” (PhD. diss., Arkitektur- og designhøgskolen i Oslo (AHO), 2013), chapters 1 & 2, but also leaf through the whole, very visual dissertation.

And from Timo, regarding our conversation with him in class: some examples of work that he and his collaborators/partners have done.

Here’s Immaterials: Ghost in the field: (you can view all of the Immaterials work here)

Some thoughts on invisible interfaces: http://www.elasticspace.com/2013/03/no-to-no-ui

And the radar project, ‘Project Soli’ that we are the design partner on:

Your mission: This week, we’re going to do something a little different. Read the first two chapters in Timo Arnall’s dissertation, and page through the rest of it. I’d like you to take forward the “researchable questions” you began to investigate in the workshop Stacie led, this time. You’ve been doing that with the seminar paper for this class. But how might it extend into a broader set of explorations and experiments in your thesis project. (MPS students, you’re probably thinking about similar projects that you might do in a different setting.)

How might you use interaction design approaches as you explore what interests you? What might your central questions be? How might you map this? For this post, you might want to be mapping or drawing, even in lieu of writing, as long as you are exploring the approaches you’d like to take.

It’s useful to look at what Timo writes:

The central question I address is:
How may interaction design as a material and communicative practice intervene in the technocultural imagination of RFID?
In addressing these questions, the thesis takes up the challenges for interaction design research in the exploration and communication of new interactional materials. Implicit in this are a number of related issues.
• How can visual means be used to explore the phenomena of RFID and other emergent interface technologies, and what competencies and concerns are involved in this investigation?
• How can interaction design materials be analysed and shaped through their visual mediation, and how does this become productive and generative of new concepts and perspectives on RFID?
• How can we approach highly technical and solution-oriented landscape of emerging technologies like RFID, through alternative perspectives and approaches?
• How might we frame a culturally-inflected, material-centric and communicative design research process?


Workshop with
Dan Lockton, author of Design with Intent

Dan Lockton will be giving a workshop in lieu of our class during his visit to Carnegie Mellon. His interests align nicely with the topics that many of you are researching in this class. I’m excited to have him here. About himself, he says, “I’m a designer, technologist and researcher, specialising in the links between design, understanding, and human action, particularly with respect to what’s become known as ‘behaviour change’ for social and environmental benefit. My work centres on in-context research with people, including the use of products, services and built environments, with a focus on practical prototyping and co-creation, integrating insights from multiple scientific, technological and social science disciplines.” He is the author of Design with Intent (O’Reilly), to be published in 2016.

Readings and things to look at in advance of the workshop:

and watch a few of the examples here:

Week 11

M, 11/9: “Designing in the wild”
Conversation leaders: Sarah & Tracy

For this week, a few shorter papers on participatory design — they don’t add up to too many pages, even though there are more articles than usual (the final one is optional but useful). We start with a panel at CHI in 1990 with some of the people who led the charge in participatory design. We’ll then look at methodology, applications, and problems that can arise.

  • Jeff Johnson, Pelle Ehn, Jonathan Grudin, Bonnie Nardi, Kari Thoresen, Lucy Suchman, “Participatory Design of Computer Systems (Panel),” in CHI ’90 Proceedings (New York: ACM Press, 1990).
  • Clay Spinuzzi, “The methodology of participatory design,” Technical Communication 52(2): 163–174.
  • Rose Johnson, Yvonne Rogers, Janet van der Linden, Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze, “Being in the thick of in-the-wild studies: the challenges and insights of researcher participation,” in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’12) (New York: ACM Press, 2012): 1135–1144.
  • Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Andrea Botero, Kari Kuutti, “A Long-Term Strategy for Designing (in) the Wild: Lessons from the Urban Mediator and Traffic Planning in Helsinki,” in Proceedings of the Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (New York: ACM Press, 2012), 166–175.
  • (This is optional and brief, and relates to the previous article — not everything is always rosy when you try to use particpatory design methods: problems in being recognized in a broader design process, this brief article: Mariana Salgado & Michail Galanakis “ ‘… so what?’: limitations of participatory design on decision-making in urban planning,” in PDC ’14: Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference, Volume 2, (New York: ACM, 2014).

Your mission: How would you approach a project using participatory design methods? Take your final IxD Studio project this semester, and think through what might happen if you incorporated participatory design processes. Be specific: propose what you would do, what you might hope to learn, what activities you would engage, who and how many people it would involve, and how you would analyze your learnings.

W, 11/11: Services & Beyond, Part 1
Conversation leaders: Min & Catherine

  • Andrew Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, and Ben Reason, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, chapters 1–2.
  • Hugh Dubberly & Shelley Evenson, “Designing for Service: Creating an Experience Advantage,” (2010).
  • Robert Johnston, JoAnn Duffy, Jay Rao, “The Service Concept: The Missing Link in Service Design Research?” Journal of Operations Management (20:2, 2002): 121–134.

F, 11/13: FIRST DRAFT OF PAPER DUE by 7 pm. The first draft of your paper is a full, complete, as excellent as possible version of the paper. It is not a rough draft.

Week 12

M, 11/16: Critical and speculative design practices
Conversation leaders: Sarah & Calvin
Guest: Deepa Butoliya, CMU School of Design PhD Program


Critical design is polarizing. Let’s learn about it.

I’m out of town this week, but Deepa Butoliya from our PhD program will be co-leading a workshop with Sarah & Calvin for the class. Please read the following pieces (mostly online) and watch Stuart Candy’s TEDx Talk.

W, 11/18: Peer review session

Writing is a design process in which we map, write, respond, communicate and interate. It has an audience of readers, of people like you and different than you. And while actually writing the text tends to happen alone, reading and writing happens in a community. That’s where you come in.

WIth that in mind, for class on Wednesday, you will read and respond to two or three of each other’s papers. You should spend about an hour per paper in preparation and then you will spend about 20 minutes in class in groups discussing each paper. This is meant to be a generous and thoughtful process, one that will improve your papers and give you a chance to learn from each other. It can sometimes feel a little scary, but remember that everyone feels that way when they share their work.

Although I’m not there, this is a mandatory class, and this peer review — both giving and receiving — is a required part of the seminar paper grade.

So here’s what I’d like you to do:


Share your paper with others in your group. Make sure your name is on it! Print out the paper. Have a conversation in the margins of the paper with the author. Some things to consider:

  • What’s your favorite part of the paper? What are the 2–3 biggest strengths of the paper?
  • How clear is the major claim that the author is making?
  • What arguments is the author making? What questions do they raise for you? How might they be improved? Is there enough evidence and examples to support it?
  • Is the paper specific enough?
  • How does the structure flow? Might it work better if it were rearranged differently?
  • How does it use images (or how should it use images)? What would make it clearer?


  • What are you most certain about with your paper? What do you feel it is contributing?
  • Where do you think you most need feedback? If you could ask your fellow authors one question about your paper, what would it be?

Week 13, Concluding the seminar

M, 11/23: Data, Design & Dread
Conversation leaders: Shruti & Min

Big data has been a buzzword for the last several years, and yet it’s hard to define. The fact that its definition is so slippery offers us opportunities to look critically at what designing with and for data means and considering its societal impact. Data is said to reveal things: it can reveal patterns and behaviors that might not be apparent to its users. At the same time, the sheer glut of data can obscure and obfuscate.

  • Alice Marwick, “How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined, New York Review of Books, January 9, 2014 [Box]
  • Rita Raley, “Dataveillance and Countervailance,” “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 121–45. [Box]
  • David Cole, “We Kill People Based on Metadata,” New York Review of Books, May 10, 2014. [Online]

Your mission: What is the single biggest question that these various pieces leave you with? Ruminate upon it using the different approaches and topics we’ve taken on in this class, whether in readings, discussion, discussion resources, your own research, or beyond.

Also really worth watching: two outstanding Frontline documentaries. For the issues around the NSA, watch the United States of Secrets, Parts I & II. For the consumer issues, and the interplay of celebrity, teen culture, and Facebook’s massive datacrunching of your likes 7 dislikes, Generation Like (with Douglas Rushkoff).


Week 14: Final week of class meetings

M, 11/30 & W, 12/2: Paper presentations (Groupings forthcoming)

(Repeated from above): We will do this in Pecha Kucha style, a 5-minute presentation where the slides advance automatically every 20 seconds. This takes practice! It’s fun, fast-paced — and over quickly, so while it’s an adrenaline rush, it’s a mere 5 minutes of your life. Here’s the same style talk that I gave at Ignite in 2009 that got me Internet famous in 2009 (almost 36,000 views for a talk on pneumatic tubes). You’ll notice that I’m nervous and it really isn’t at all perfect, but i hit my stride somewhere midway through. I’m serious about this needing practice. To get it right, you’ll need to rehearse it several times on your own.

Week 15: No class, final papers due Monday, 12/14, 9 am

Things I had to cut and wish I hadn’t had to

“On Machines, Living or Otherwise:” Generativity & Self-Organization

Designers have long sought to design systems that self-organize and generate themselves. This notion is at the core of many design interests and philosophies, and also contributes to the notion of transition design.

Your mission: Why do you think that designers and design want to develop systems that generate themselves? What do designers gain from such approaches? What are the benefits, and are there disadvantages too that could arise?

  • Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1980): Stafford Beer’s preface and “Machines, Living and Otherwise.”
  • Christopher Alexander, “Systems Generating Systems,” AD 38 (1968).
  • Hugh Dubberly & Paul Pangaro, “On Modeling: What is conversation? How can we design for effective conversation?interactions 16: 4 (2009), 22–28. (Linked version is from Dubberly Design Office.)

Interaction & Service Design Concepts: Principles, Perspectives & Practices

Graduate Seminar 1, Fall 2015, Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Collection of the Seminar’s Work

Molly Wright Steenson

Written by

K&L Gates Associate Professor of Ethics & Computational Technologies @ CMU/School of Design. Author of Architectural Intelligence (MIT Press 2017).

Interaction & Service Design Concepts: Principles, Perspectives & Practices

Graduate Seminar 1, Fall 2015, Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Collection of the Seminar’s Work

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