Interaction Design as Mattering

The Syllabus (without assessment tasks) for the Grad Seminar I’m teaching to CMU School of Design Masters degree programs. Less thing-oriented, more relations-between-things this year compared to last.

This course examines philosophies and cultural theories underlying interaction design. Design is understood as the practice of enabling new kinds of human activity through the creation of useful things – and those things include communications and environments. The course begins by asking, why do we have so many things? By mapping networks of things, the course begins to uncover how things afford interaction. How things do what they do is tied closely to why we make things at all, and how we make them. The focus of the course is an examination of the philosophies deployed by Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores in their Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Underlying the course is the development of the habits of being a reflective practitioner, which involve collecting patterns of interaction and evaluating their value and consequences.

learning objectives
Successful completion of all aspects of this course should mean that you have:
1. A practical understanding of a range of philosophies and cultural theories of interaction design, including:

    a. Affordances (Gibson)
    b. Scripts (Latour & Akrich)
    c. Patterns (Alexander)
    d. Loosely-coupled Systems (Maturana & Varela)
    e. Performatives (Austin)
    f. Ready-to-Handedness (Heidegger)
    g. Focal Things (Borgmann)

2. A capacity to map networks of things, including their pasts and futures
3. An ability to articulate what (lifeworlds) a design designs
4. The habit of collecting and critically reflecting on patterns of human-thing interactions

Fernando Flores & Terry Winograd Understanding Computers and Cognition Addison-Wesley, 1987


  • Dvora Yanow & Tsoukas, Haridimos ”What is Reflection-In-Action? A Phenomenological Account” Journal of Management Studies Vol.46, No.8 (2009)
  • Bruce Sterling Shaping Things MIT Press, 2006
  • Kristin Leismann, Martina Schmitt, Holger Rohn & Carolin Baedeker “Collaborative Consumption: Towards a Resource-Saving Consumption Culture”Resources Vol.2 No.3 (2013)
  • Erik Stolterman, Heekyoung Jung, Will Ryan, Martin A. Siegel “Device Landscapes: A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research” Archives of Design Research Vol.26 No.2 (2013)
  • Alan Warde “Consumption and the Theory of Practice” Journal of Consumer Culture Vol.5 No.2 (2005)
  • Peter-Paul Verbeek & Peter Kockelkoren “The Things that Matter” Design Studies v14 n3 (1998)
  • Bruno Latour “Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts” in Weibe Bijker and John Law eds. Shaping Technology/Building Society MIT Press, 1992
  • Brian Bloomfield, Yvonne Latham and Theo Vurdubakis “Bodies, Technologies and Action Possibilities: When is an Affordance?” Sociology Vol.44 No.3 (2010)
  • Bryan Lawson “Schemata, Gambits and Precedent: Some Factors in Design Expertise” Design Studies Vol.25 No.5 (2004)
  • Molly Steenson “Problems before Patterns: a Different Look at Christopher Alexander and Pattern Languages” Interactions Magazine Vol.16 No.2 (2009)
  • Lucy Suchman “Do Categories Have Politics? The language/action perspective reconsidered” Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 13–17 September 1993, Milan, Italy ECSCW ’93


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2 responses to “Interaction Design as Mattering

  1. Lucky kids! But no Derrida!? Even in his “radically atheistic” “in-finitely finite” “speculative materialist” Hagglundian version???? Ah the tears of mourning for the loss of brain bendingly difficult, obtuse, abstract, highbrow theory!! 😉

  2. Without being a smart arse and knowing that only so much can be covered no Lakoff and Johnson? And just because of the nature of the list, you have to include this for the high achievers!….

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