Category Archives: CCS MFA

Posts that apply to the school generally

Be Part of the Evolution of Interaction Design

In Fall 2017, the MFA program at CCS is introducing a new studio course called “Interaction Design Evolution.” The course invites students to riff on prior innovations in the history of interaction design and then to invent their own. Seriously.


Rendering of Vannevar Bush’s MEMEX concept from 1945

One example from history: Vannevar Bush’s “MEMEX” comes from the 1940’s. Bush conceived it as a desk containing vast amounts of information stored on reels of microfiche (because digital magnetic media didn’t yet exist). Bush imagined retrieval of information based on what we now call tagging, achieved here by visual splotches on the edge of the frames of microfiche. We’ve got tagging in modern, digital web browsers (with vastly greater numbers of tags and vastly greater speed). But Bush also imagined two displays—not one, as we have today. Why?

Read more…

Interaction Design – Theory and Practice

At the generous invitation of Chris Myers, chair of Graphic Design at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I led a 5-day workshop with 9 juniors in his BFA program and gave a public lecture.

The basis of the visit was a workshop in interaction design.  I also gave a lecture, “It Depends on Whom I’m With”, whose title expresses what I consider the cardinal goal of interaction design: to create conditions such that each participant can be whom they want to be—or become. Read more here.

System of Stakeholder Interactions

Despina Papadopoulos @ChangeModel is visiting CCS and on Friday she delivered thesis crits and portfolio reviews for @CCSMFAIXD.

Despina at whiteboard stav thesis p1

Despina Papadopoulos

Steve Stavropoulos, second-year MFA IxD student, presented his design for a service that would allow users to flag repeating issues in their neighborhood, anything from stray dogs or crime, dangerous streets or broken street lights. These concerns would then come to the attention of community groups such as schools, businesses, and churches. Despina advocated for a few foundational shifts. Read more…

When Traditions Become Trends

I was looking for some resources on cultural inspirations. We have students who are looking to their cultures for inspiration and translating to a range of material samples and artifacts. This is a thought provoking conversation with some excellent questions and ideas around the topic “Where do you draw the line between appreciation and appropriation? and ” When is borrowing designs disrespectful? “

Johanna Blakley

Yesterday, I joined “Project Runway” finalist Korto Momolu on an episode of “The Stream,” an innovative multimedia show on al Jazeera English. The topic? Cultural appropriation. Turns out that Momolu has gotten a lot of heat for incorporating African designs and textiles into her work . . . despite the fact that she’s from Liberia. I was part of the mix in order to clarify some of the ownership rules around cultural remix practices in fashion.

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Conversation Theory in One Hour


Gordon Pask at his desk in the late 1980s. Photograph (c) Paul Pangaro.

I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Read more…

What’s in Your Bot?

There’s been a huge rush toward using AI (artificial intelligence) to build “conversational UIs“—user interfaces that allow us to type or speak to computers in natural language. Sorta. It’s the latest interaction mode and it comes after people interacting with machines, then talking to each other through machines, then talking to machines. Kindah like a conversation (but not really). Here’s a diagram of that progression:


Cover of the proposal to NSF, “Graphical Conversation Theory”, written by the MIT Architecture Machine Group, 1977

Today, when you hear about all that, “AI” means a specialized kind of AI that’s hugely popular called machine learning. (Yeah, I didn’t make that a link, you can just google it. We all know that we all know how. You’ll find some OK stuff about it. )

So when Siri or Cortana, Amazon or Google, Apple or Facebook, IBM or GE—all of  whom are infected with the AI meme—deploys the machine-learning brand of artificial intelligence, it might be good for you to think about it. (But then, that’s up to you.)

I think about machine learning being everywhere in the virtual world whenever I make a typo on my mobile and my text gets snatched away from me and turned into drivel. (Or every time I ask my intelligent assistant two related questions in a row and it behaves as if I’m the schizophrenic in the chat.)

And here’s how I think about it: Read more…

Happy 105th Birthday, Heinz!


Mai and Heinz von Foerster in Pangaro’s 1970 Citroën DS21 in Pescadero, California, in the early 2000s (Photograph: Paul Pangaro)

Heinz von Foerster was born 105 years ago today. He was a major figure in the beginnings of cybernetics from the middle of the 20th century, and through to its flowering as second-order cybernetics. His ideas can be magical and one of his papers is still a favorite and voted the favorite of students in cybernetics + design courses year upon year.  His wife, Mai, also magical in her clarity as well as succinctness (a trait not shared by Heinz), once said to me, “Heinz has a mind like a crystal.” He demonstrates this so well in his “Ethical Imperative”, a cybernetic koan worthy of contemplation and action: Read more…

Anatomy of a Startup #Fail

The NY Times has published a smart and useful article on the anatomy of the failure of a startup. Any product manager, or anyone working in a startup, can learn from the detailed sequence of steps that it took to kill Vine (that link will not work once they take the site down for good).

Vine is/was a well-executed app that was early in the game with video sharing, had clever ideas that suited the market, had good backing, had been acquired by a powerful player—and yet it died an unfair death, at least in startup terms. There were many moments of #fail that occurred, not in product design but in lots of other ways, except bad timing. Think of them as checklist for what to watch out for. The article offers a real example of how tenuous a startup can be, and how a cascade of errors can kill even a healthy tech company.

Lost History of Cybernetics

sidebarnwmp_portraitNorbert Wiener is the centerpoint of a new project to raise awareness about the history of cybernetics.

There are quite a few videos, including a 16-minute trailer about the proposed full-length documentary (full disclosure: I’m advisor to the project and appear on-screen). The site also offers a wonderful talk by Andy Pickering, proposing a new synthesis and New Macy Meetings. (Andy started using the term “antidisciplinarity” in reference to cybernetics, which brought cybernetics to the attention of Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, as described in his piece in the Design + Science Journal.)