Minds and Machines: Experimenting with Design

This module is part of 51675 Experimenting With Design: Methods for Research Innovation (co-taught by Ahmed Ansari and Dan Lockton), Fall 2017.


Experimenting with Design is meant to give students interested in expanding their repertoire of research methods a chance to explore, learn and develop a variety of tools and frameworks to use in conducting innovative forms of design research. We’ll focus on deploying, evolving and designing new and experimental research methods for doing research through design, investigating human behavior across space (in both physical and digital environments) and time (carrying out temporal and process based studies), and research by design, where you’ll explore methods in sensory ethnography, narrative form, idea generation, and making physical prototypes and provotypes.

By the end of the course, you will have grown an understanding of how methods from a number of disciplinary domains such as visual and cognitive anthropology, media studies, psychology, philosophy, and cybernetics can be used to inform different kinds of design research and practice, from speculative and critical design to participatory design, as well as developing the skills and experience necessary to innovate with, and deploy, those methods. Modules 1, 2 and 3 are taught by Ahmed Ansari; Module 4 is taught by Dan Lockton.

Learning Outcomes

At the highest level, by the end of this course, you should walk away with:

  • An understanding of different sets of research methods that designers can employ to study specific
    social, cultural, and technical phenomena, and how they can help facilitate the design process
  • An understanding of how to modify and tailor methods flexibly to fit the requirements of designed
    research experiments
  • The ability to articulate, both through oral and visual presentation, the breadth, depth, and
    advantages and limitations of employing methods

Module 4: Minds and Machines

In this 5-week module, we explore how design research methods can be used to investigate aspects of a growing area of interest to designers, as developments in artificial intelligence bring it into the mainstream, but once which has been present throughout the history of technology development: how minds and machines (or, more widely, the systems and environments around us) interact with each other. The topic, and the methods for investigating it which we will develop and explore together, are relevant for many areas of design, engineering, and HCI practice, from new ways of doing user research, to understanding broader social and cultural systems, to considering how AI could affect our interactions with each other.

Your assignment over the whole of this module, set in week 11, will comprise developing, trying out, and documenting your own method for investigating how ‘others’ (people or machines) think, using a ‘design as enquiry’ methodology. We will also do a mini-project over Thanksgiving break, specifically looking at R.D. Laing’s concept of ‘knots’, and how they relate to design and technology.

Here’s what we’ll cover, week by week—the contents will be expanded, and readings will be on the course Box and added here as we go through the course.

Week 11

Monday, November 6. The problem of other minds, in psychology and AI, and how it relates to design. Setting brief for this module’s assignment.
Wednesday, November 8. Mini-workshop: Theory of mind and design

Week 12

Joint sessions this week with Molly Wright Steenson’s Interaction and Service Design Concepts class — meet in MM 215/216 instead of MM 121.

Monday, November 13. Imaginaries, metaphors, mental imagery, and design.
Wednesday, November 15: Mini-workshop: Mental Landscapes. Using landscapes toolkit developed by Delanie Ricketts and Dan Lockton.

Week 13

Monday, November 20. Knots and second-order thinking. Set New Knots mini-project.

[Thanksgiving break]

Week 14

Monday, November 27. New Knots workshop
Wednesday, November 29. Work session: trying out your methods under development

Week 15

Monday, December 4. Work session: trying out your methods under development
Wednesday, December 6. Presentations of projects

If you have any questions specifically about this module, please email danlockton@cmu.edu