Name this location on the CMU campus. Photo by Molly Steenson.

Syllabus: Interaction and Service Design Concepts, 2017

Context and Perspectives for Design in Flux

Seminar One (51–701), Fall 2017
Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Prof. Molly Wright Steenson, PhD
TA: Manya Krishnaswamy

Interaction design is in flux.

The decisions that designers make have a major impact how people interact with these technologies in the world. The contexts that we designers address are more complex than ever, as intelligent technologies bleed into the world around us. There’s a lot of money to be made by tech companies and unicorns alike. And at the same time, designers need to consider the impacts of technology and business decisions on everyday people in order to design in fair and ethical ways. It’s a tall order.

In this course, we are going to crack open the state of interaction design in 2017. We will look into the context around it. We will also look at where it came from and what went into it. In Seminar One, we’ll tease out the roots of interaction design.

There is no single definition of interaction design.

There are many answers. They change depending on who is asking the question and what their agenda is.

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, human-computer interaction, and computer science, and also from art, media, architecture, politics, and philosophy, and beyond. As such, you will notice that our readings accordingly extend beyond what you might expect to see in a design course.

We will examine design questions in digital culture, artificial intelligence, data, algorithms, infrastructure, publics, bias, fake news, speculative and critical design, film, tv, fiction, gaming, music, art and beyond as we together frame our understandings. We will be talking about difficult issues and wicked problems in the world, and will discuss race, gender and sexuality, decoloniality, labor, and the environment, among many other things.

What about you?

You come from all over the world. You have different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. Our goal in this class is to provide a safe but critically engaged space for us to figure out the impact on design. I expect that we will not always agree, and that’s by design — no pun intended.

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.

Readings are on Box (CMU ID required) or are linked from each week:

Lectures are on Box (CMU ID required):

Course policies are on a separate page. They include information about grading, deadlines, and important policies.

Week 1, Introductions

M, 8/28: We will go over the course structure and activities, meet your fellow students (if you haven’t already), and get to know your professor.

W, 8/30: 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 Saffer piece comes from his designers’ experience in practice (he is a CMU Design alum), and the Kolko piece (he is a CMU HCI alum) is about design thinking and was published in the September 2015 Harvard Business Review. The Ruiz piece is an introduction to service design.

Readings—complete these for Wednesday:

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.

Activities (complete for Wednesday)

You have three straightforward activities to complete in time for class on Wednesday. Read the three short pieces above, and then:

  • First mission: First, introduce yourself. Start a Medium profile (if you don’t wish to tie it to your personal social media, you may start a new account and use that). Use images, video, sound, whatever you would like. Please, however, make your piece public and allow for highlighting and annotation so that Manya, your classmates, and I can make comments.
  • Second mission: Based on your own experience and your own values, answer the following: what is interaction design? In a Medium post separate from your introduction, write a headline, write no more than 100 words (not one word over, excluding your headline), and include a sketch or diagram to help us know what you mean. This sketch does not need to be beautiful and can, in fact, be quick, dirty, and ugly. You may do it on a whiteboard, or on paper, or with some of the make tools you’ll find in the Grad Studio kitchen‚ photograph it, and then incorporate it in your Medium post. Print out your post, write your name (if it’s not apparent), and bring it with you to class on Wednesday, 8/30.
    Throughout the semester, we will return to these statements to see how they—and you—change (or don’t). This will be the beginning of your sketchnoting for the semester. (Hat tip to Christina Wodtke for her approach to sketchnoting in teaching.)
Here’s an example of a sketchnote by Sacha Chua. It’s also a useful diagram for how to approach the readings this semester.

Week 2, Origin Myths


W, 9/6: Origin Stories: lecture and discussion

Readings (please read these by Wednesday, 9/6):

  • Tara McPherson, “Operating Systems at Mid-Century,” Race after the Internet, eds. Lisa Nakamura & Peter Chow-White (New York: Routledge, 2012): 21–37. [Box] This piece will take us into a discussion of things that may not initially seem like they go together—but they do.
  • Muriel Cooper, “Computers and Design,” Design Quarterly (142), 1989, 1+4–31. [Box]
  • Please note that I have removed the Vannevar Bush piece from this week. We’ll read it later.

Activities (complete for Wednesday): Your sketchnotes. These two pieces do not intersect with each other, so you may find that you wish to do more than one sketchnote to bring the pieces into context.

And a few pieces for your own interest:

  • A new (to me) article, “How to Read for Grad School” by Miriam Sweeney offers useful strategies for working your way through your readings in grad school. You can’t read the way that you would read for pleasure, and often with the amount of reading you’ll have, that wouldn’t be possible—nor is it what I expect. We’ll start off talking about this piece tomorrow.

Chris Noessel sketchnotes his readings and conference sessions, and they’re great. (He’s Global Design Practice Lead for Travel & Transportation at IBM, and got his master’s in interaction design at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in 2003.) Here is one of his sketchnotes on Don Norman’s book Things that Make Us Smart. With any luck, Chris will make it to Pittsburgh to visit CMU sometime this school year.

Week 3, What’s at Stake?

What’s at stake in a world increasingly governed by algorithms—and what is the role of design and designers? That’s what we’ll be talking about for the next several weeks.

Update: Please take 20 minutes to listen to this week’s 99% Invisible interview, “The Age of the Algorithm,” an interview with Kathy O’Neill, author of Weapons of Math Destruction. It just came out a few days ago (which is why I couldn’t include it on the syllabus earlier) and it’ll foreground a lot of the issues we’ll be talking about in class over the next few weeks.

Another thing for you to see: Denise shared a syllabus she found for Fairness in Machine Learning at UC Berkeley.

M, 9/11:

  • Tarleton Gillespie, “The Relevance of Algorithms,” in: Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo J. Boczkowski, Kirsten A. Foot (eds.), (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), 167–193.
  • Kate Crawford, “Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem,” New York Times, June 25, 2016.
  • Two videos to watch:
    Eli Pariser’s TED Talk, “Beware Online Filter Bubbles,” 2011.
  • Kate Crawford & Meredith Whittaker, “What’s at Stake?” AI Now Public Symposium, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA, July 9, 2017.
Kate Crawford & Meredith Whittaker lead the AI Now Research Initiative in New York that examines “the social and economic implications of artificial intelligence.”

Here’s one algorithm that doesn’t recognize dark skin: HP’s notebook computer.

And here’s Kathy O’Neill on recidivism and bias.

and from Devika Singh: people apparently prefer algos to editors, according to this Reuters Institute study.

W, 9/13:

Assignment: 750 Words. You will be writing a 750-word essay (not a single word longer, no shorter than 700 words) based on an argument, the beginnings of which we will work on today in class. The first draft of your 750-word essay will be due on Wednesday, 9/20, no later than 10 am.

Your prompt: The thing(s) interaction designers most need to know in 2017 is/are _____________.

This piece, “How I Manage to Give my Students the Finger Every Semester, and Why It Made Me a Better Designer” outlines the aspects of an argument—and ties them back to design. Nice.

In class activity: An argument! We will be working out an argument that you will make based on the readings we have made in class so far. (More information to come in class.)

From Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a skit about… an argument.

Week 4, Data Humanism

Readings (complete these for Monday, 9/18):

Giorgia Lupi, in her 2017 TED talk on data humanism

M, 9/18: Special class in conjunction with Daragh Byrne’s data visualization students.

W, 9/20: Peer review, plagiarism, and some discussion of the Julia Angwin piece

Let’s read and respond to each other’s work.

You have received an email from Box to your CMU address with a link to a folder you can upload. Please upload your file there in PDF or Word format. Make sure your name is on it and that you’ve included a title.

Bring 3 copies of your essay with you to class.

In class, I’ll give you time to read each other’s essays and then comment on them. Here’s what you’ll be thinking about.

  • What’s your favorite part of the paper? What are the 2–3 biggest strengths of the paper?
  • What argument is the author making? What evidence does s/he use? How effective is it?
  • How is the introduction and the conclusion?
  • How does the structure flow? Might it work better if it were rearranged differently?
  • What questions do they raise for you? How might they be improved? Is there enough evidence and examples to support it?


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

I’m looking forward to seeing where this essay took you and to reading what you have to say.

Assignment due: First draft of 750-word essay. Molly’s comments to you by Monday morning. Final due 10/6.

Week 5, Architecting is (Not?) a Real Word

People have a lot of opinions about architecting being a verb.

M, 9/25: People really get up in arms over the question of whether “architecting” is a real word. Information architects and UX designers say yes. Architects (probably including some of you in this class) say no. What does history say? I argue that the way that programmers and digital designers pick up ideas from architecture has big ramifications on the field of interaction design. Should that make “architecting” a word that we use?

Readings (complete by Monday 9/25):

  • Molly Wright Steenson, Architectural Intelligence, introduction and chapters 3 & 4
  • Richard Saul Wurman, excerpts.

W, 9/27, activities:

  • Plagiarism. Let’s talk about plagiarism: what it is, when it happens, when you’re likely to do it without realizing it, and when you’re likely to do it and hope to get away with it.
  • Discussion on research sources. Jill Chisnell, the librarian for design, will join our class to talk about research sources.
  • Your final draft of your 750–word essay is due to Molly Friday, 10/6.
  • UPDATE: As you revise, please visit the page about reading and writing resources. I update it throughout the semester.

Week 6, What AI has to do with design, part 1

M, 10/2: No class meeting Monday; longer meeting on Wednesday.

Readings (NOTE: this will shift and Molly will indicate what to read, what to skim, and what to save till next week)

You don’t have to read the whole chapters, just what we’re calling out below in red. I will update the course syllabus accordingly and you’ll find these on Box by this evening.

  • Daniel Cardoso Llach. 2015. Builders of the Vision: Software and the Imagination of Design. London, New York: Routledge 2015. (Required reading: pp. 1–4 and pp. 49–72; additional optional reading: whole chapters 1 and 3).
  • Molly Wright Steenson. 2017. Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape. Cambridge: MIT Press, forthcoming November 2017. (Required reading: pp. 165–190 and pp. 221–22; additional optional reading: pp. 191–220 and if you wish, the whole chapter 6).

W, 10/4, 9 am–11:20, Miller Gallery: Special joint class with Daniel Cardoso Llach and his students (School of Architecture)

Week 7, What AI has to do with design, part 2

M, 10/9:

  • Coons, Steven Anson. An Outline of the Requirements for a Computer-Aided Design System. M.I.T. Electronic Systems Laboratory. Technical Memorandum, ESL-TM-169. Cambridge: M.I.T. Electronic Systems Laboratory, 1963.
  • Negroponte, Nicholas. The Architecture Machine: Toward a More Human Environment. The MIT Press, 1973.

W, 10/11: Joint class with Prof. Daniel Cardoso Llach (School of Architecture)

Week 8, Catching Up and Futures

M, 10/16: Catch up. Finish the discussions and unit so far, review what we’ve discussed, hand back 750-word papers. Grading rubric is here on Box.

W, 10/18: Guest lecture, Prof. Stuart Candy. Stuart is a new professor at CMU in the School of Design and a futurist by training (he holds a PhD from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s futures program).

S, 10/21: Paper abstract due Saturday, October 21. 250 words max, please include 5 scholarly resources (some insights here).

Week 9, Social Construction of Technology

M, 10/23: Readings

  • Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109:1 (Winter, 1980): 121–36.
  • Janet Vertesi, “Seamful Spaces: Heterogeneous Infrastructures in Interaction,”Science, Technology and Human Values 39.2: 264–284.

W, 10/25: The plagiarism discussion: here’s how not to plagiarize.

Week 10, Value-Sensitive Design and Designing Ethically

M, 10/30, Readings:

  • Cory Knobel & Geof Bowker, “Values in Design,” Communications of the ACM54: 7 (July 2011): 26–28. Very short. Introduces the idea of values in design.
  • Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Alan Borning,” “Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems,” in: Human-Computer Interaction in Management Information Systems: Foundations, 2006. This piece is longer and more academic in tone. Focus on sections 1–3, then skip to p. 15, to “Practical Suggestions for Using Value Sensitive Design,” then go back to read the case studies that start on page 4. Friedman’s research in this area goes back some 25 years, and it’s more relevant than ever.
  • 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.
  • Robinson Meyer, “Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment,” June 28, 2014, (online and not a difficult read) MDes students, take note: you’ll be learning more about IRB next semester as you put together your thesis proposals. This is one of the reasons why we do IRB.

W, 10/25, Activity: Share paper abstracts in class & discuss use of sources and APA style

Week 11, From Bias to Inclusive Design, led by Manya Krishnaswamy

M, 11/6: Readings (selected by Manya Krishnaswamy with special guest MacKenzie Cherban)

In advance of class this week, please watch this 20-minute video and read the following articles.

Microsoft Design: Inclusive (please watch in time for class)

Wednesday, 11/8: paper discussions

Friday, 11/10, 6 pm: First draft of paper due

Week 12, Design & Imaginaries (with Dan Lockton & Ahmed Ansari)

M, 11/13: Imaginaries, metaphors, mental imagery, and design
W, 11/15: Mini-workshop: Mental Landscapes, using landscapes toolkit developed by Delanie Ricketts and Dan Lockton.

Week 13, Peer Review of Paper Drafts/Thanksgiving

M, 11/20: Peer review session

W, 11/22: NO CLASS

Week 14, Speculative & Critical Design Practice ( with Deepa Butoliya)

M, 11/27: Readings

W, 11/29: Workshop on Critical Jugaad with Deepa Butoliya

Week 15, Final Presentations and Conclusions

M, 12/4: Pecha Kucha presentation in class

W, 12/6: Final wrapup

Final paper due 12/11