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VII.2 March-April 2000
Page: 20
Digital Citation

Design brief: Carnegie Mellon

Daniel Boyarski, Richard Buchanan

back to top  About the School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon offers a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs in interaction design, with opportunities for interdisciplinary projects and courses throughout a world-class research university where design plays a central role. The focus is on a humanistic approach to interaction design, with a university vision of strong collaboration among the arts and sciences.

back to top  Philosophy of Education and Design

The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon offers a unique array of graduate and undergraduate programs for students who want to explore the new domain of interaction design. For us, interaction design is the synthesis of many traditional and new elements of design thinking, leading to products that provide intelligent and emotionally satisfying experiences serving a wide variety of human needs. Interaction design is about people: how people relate to people, how people relate to products, and how people relate to each other through the mediating influence of products. For this reason, our programs are firmly rooted in a new humanistic approach to design. We recognize that knowledge from many fields is needed for effective interaction design, but we also believe that other fields tend to focus on only one or another part of a product. In contrast, designers are concerned with the total product, a product that is useful in performance, usable in the affordances that it provides to human beings, and desirable in its aesthetic and cultural features. Thus, we seek to educate designers who possess knowledge drawn from many fields but who also possess the creative ability to integrate that knowledge into effective products that will be successful in use. The design school has strong ties to industry, but in the tradition of Carnegie Mellon, we provide a balanced education in theory, practice, and production that gives our graduates a strategic perspective on the emerging field of interaction design.

Our goal is to build the new disciplines that are needed to explore interaction design fully. This means preparing young professional designers who can make products, but it also means planning for the long-term development of the field. For example, our master of design in interaction design places special emphasis on the creative work of the designer in integrating words, images, sound, motion, time, and space into experiences that meet a variety of human needs. This program focuses on the Poetics of interaction design: the systematic construction of effective and expressive products. In turn, our master of design in communication planning and information design, offered as a joint program with the department of English, approaches the same theme, with a special emphasis on the rhetoric of interaction design and the social or cultural context of interactive experiences. Students explore the visualization of information, navigation in complex information spaces, the role of information in narrative and argument, and the expressive power of words and images to influence human behavior.

Our new Ph.D. in design, scheduled to begin in fall 2000, will offer concentrations in these and other newly emerging disciplines of interaction design. The focus will be on design research, often situated in the context of other research programs at Carnegie Mellon, including units such as the Human–Computer Interaction Institute, the School of Computer Science, the Robotics Institute, the college of engineering, and the business school. We believe such collaborations are essential to advancing interaction design and developing the kind of design knowledge that is needed for the future.

back to top  Preparing Students for User Interface Careers

At the graduate level, students take both seminar and studio courses, with other elective and required courses that are suited to personal interest and previous preparation. Many courses are taken within the school of design, but many others are taken in departments of psychology, computer science, English, and business. The curriculum offers a true program, a connected sequence of closely related courses that develop individual design ability and supporting contextual knowledge. The curriculum evolves through changes in individual courses and the addition of new courses, as the faculty judge appropriate. Our programs place great emphasis on design process, but we recognize that the formal arts of interaction design are always personalized by faculty and students. Nonetheless, we emphasize research and planning, visualization, prototyping, and evaluation, with additional concern for the presentation and delivery of the final realized prototype.

If we could recommend only one thing to industry it would be to include interaction designers at the earliest moment in the product development process. It is a great waste of talent and insight to regard interaction designers or designers in general as merely visualization specialists whose task is to make pleasing the work of computer programmers and cognitive psychologists. Well-educated interaction designers have a remarkable ability to facilitate the work of a development team by their insight into the creation of the total product, situated in the context of human action.

back to top  Design Project Example

bullet.gif Visualizing Information Space

The task of the design project illustrated here was to represent visually the information space (content and structure) of the Museum of Modern Art's store catalog. Translating content and structure found in a printed piece with its inherent book conventions and presenting it as a digital piece was the core of the problem. Issues dealt with in the context of this project included form and structure in virtual space, navigation, complexity and clarity, and interactivity (when appropriate).

Each student in this graduate-level studio course was given a different information space to visualize. The example included here (by Soojin Jun, a graduate student in the CMU Interaction Design Program) happened to be a printed piece. Our goal is to challenge the student to move beyond conventional methods of representing structure and to explore more appropriate and expressive ways. A happy unexpected outcome was that the interactivity built into this solution suggested some intriguing e-commerce ideas.

back to top  Authors

Daniel Boyarski
Professor of Design and Director of Graduate Studies

Richard Buchanan
Professor of Design and Head of the School of Design School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1. Graduate level project: A digital representation of the MOMA Design Store catalog.

F2Figure 2. Graduate level project: A digital representation of the MOMA Design Store catalog.

F3Figure 3. Graduate level project: A digital representation of the MOMA Design Store catalog.

F4Figure 4. Graduate level project: A digital representation of the MOMA Design Store catalog.

UF1Figure. Richard Buchanan (left) and Daniel Boyarski

back to top  Sidebar: Departmental Snapshot

Departments/Programs Offering Degrees/Certificates
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Degrees/Certificates Offered
Master of design in interaction design; Master of design in communication planning and design (jointly offered with the department of English), both of which are two-year programs. The two programs started in the fall of 1994. We accept a total of 16 students in the fall semester.

Sample Course Titles
Approaches to Communication Design
Readings in HCI Design
Information in Narrative and Argument
Online Information Design
Research Methods
Thesis Seminar
Visualizing Information in Time and Space
Visual Interface and Interaction Design
Design and Computing
Time, Motion, and Communication
Graduate Typography
Drawing and Communication
Interdisciplinary Project Courses

Sample Career Paths of CMU Graduates
Our graduates are working as interaction designers, information designers, communication designers, HCI specialists, etc., at places such as: Art Technology Group, E-Lab, Fitch, IBM Austin, MetaDesign, Nortel Networks, Oracle, Philips, and Razorfish.

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