Meet Peter Scupelli: Faculty, Researcher, Alumni


Peter Scupelli, an assistant professor in interaction design, joined in the School of Design in 2011. While Scupelli's interests lie mainly in interaction design research, he came to interaction design via architecture. He studied architecture at the University of Genoa in Italy, and for Umberto Riva, a famous Italian architect in Milan. He learned to design exhibits, interiors, building façades, furniture, and exacting details. After work and on weekends, he collaborated with Gruppo A12, an architecture collective he co-founded in architecture school. With A12, Peter collaborated with new media artists such as Phillip Popock, Felix Huber, Udo Noll, and others to co-author installations in art galleries, at the world renown ZKM (Center for Media and Art in Karlsruhe, Germany), the prestigious 7th International Venice Architecture Biennial in Italy, at the MOMA PS1, New York, and the 25th International São Paulo Contemporary Art Biennial.

The collaborations with A12 helped Peter to understand that his passion for interaction design entailed creating user experiences that merged physical places and information technology. To deepen his understanding of integrated physical and digital places he pursued a Masters in Interaction Design at CMU. While defending his masters thesis, he discovered a passion for design research. After graduating in 2002, he spent a year working in Professor Randy Pausch’s Stage 3 laboratory. In 2003 went on to pursue a PhD in human computer interaction.

Professors Sara Kiesler and Susan Fussell advised Peter’s doctoral studies in Human-Computer Interaction. He studied how the physical environment and information technology support coordination in surgical suites in hospitals. Namely, how the configuration of the physical environment––placement of walls, hallways, and furniture––and the placement and formatting of large schedule displays support multi-group coordination between anesthesiologists, nurses, and surgeons. Peter developed design guidelines for the configuration of the physical environment and placement of large schedule displays in surgical suites. To generalize beyond the four surgical suites studied, he conducted a national survey of 135 surgical suite directors across the USA. His findings suggest that the architecture of the physical space, information availability, and practices influence information sharing and coordination outcomes.

Peter’s current research focuses on two areas: (a) understanding how the physical environment, behavior, and information technology support learning environments and (b) behavior change for sustainable futures. Fundamentally, his work is about understanding how behavior is shaped through design.

Peter is studying the physical environment where students learn and online learning environments. Scupelli is working on the role of wall sized displays in classrooms in ongoing research with Professor Anna Fischer, Associate Professor in the Psychology Department, (PI) on a grant entitled, “Classroom Environment, Allocation of Attention, and Learning Outcomes in K-4 Students,” funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Scupelli recently received a three-year National Science Foundation funded research project that investigates making math tutors more engaging and effective through interaction design patterns and educational data mining. This project seeks to develop and validate interaction design patterns, structured definitions of high-quality design solutions that can be applied at scale, that can be used to design more effective and engaging online mathematics problems. This research will be conducted in the context of ASSISTments, free online mathematics software used by middle school students nationwide. This research project includes investigators Ryan Baker at Columbia University Teachers College and Neil Hefferman III at Worchester Polytechnic Institute. Peter believes that interaction design patterns will change the way design studios are taught.

The design research for the new Graduate Studio facilities are a result of his work with Professor Bruce Hanington. When asked about how he got involved in the design research for the project, he jokingly claims “I just couldn't help myself.” It is important to study design studio because there are rapid changes in design studio based education: multidisciplinary design teams, information technology, geographically distributed teams, and new work styles. The research work began by examining what wasn't working in the previous studio space and questioning the student's about how they wanted to use the space. Seeking to improve it, the space was completely renovated reflecting students' need for spaces for collaboration, socializing and individual work. Scupelli and Hanington consider the studio an ongoing research project, however, and continue to interview graduate students about their interaction with the space. Human-centered design is a central pillar of their work —working with users at every step of the process and drawing from previous research on learning spaces.

In the fall of 2011, the redesign of the graduate design studio provided the opportunity to study the design studio as a learning environment with Professor Bruce Hanington. We studied an old single room graduate design studio and the remodeled studio suite with four interconnected multi-use spaces: an area with individual workspaces, collaborative spaces with an enclosed team room, a kitchen and social cafe area, and a classroom with distance learning technology.

Peter’s previous engagement with sustainability was limited to personal choices and small virtues, but was missing from my research and teaching activities. However, his wife’s Kelly first pregnancy and the birth of their son, Felix, instilled in him a fierce urgency to engage sustainability issues more boldly and holistically. He is collaborating as Co-PI with Professor Vivian Loftness (PI) and Senior Researcher Azizan Aziz on energy use information dashboards in office environments. The information dashboard provides office workers with energy use information, energy savings recommendations, social comparisons with others, automation calendars, and online controls. The dashboard motivates energy reduction decisions through individual and group comparisons over time. The research is part of the Energy Efficient Building Hub (EEB Hub) established by the Department of Energy in 2011 with the goal of reducing energy use by 20% by 2020. Peter’s contribution is focused on the behavior change and motivation aspects of the dashboard interface. The project work was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

Peter’s teaching philosophy is based on four values. First, students work on problems that have practical impact in the world. Engaging practical problems shapes the future. Second, students work hard on issues they care about, but have fun with it. Enjoying ones challenges is a recipe for a fulfilling career. Third, students are expected to try new challenges, take pride in their work, and become comfortable with the accelerating rate of change in the world and design practice. Fourth, students learn to work productively with people from different disciplines and perspectives. New perspectives allow students to create innovative solutions and develop new knowledge.

He teaches both undergraduate courses and graduate level courses such as: Dexign the future, Design Ethos and Action, Design Agility Senior Studio, and Graduate Design Studio 2. He believes that interaction design is fundamentally about shaping behavior through designed artifacts, be they communications, products, environments, interfaces, services, or integrated systems. As such, his teaching intent is to show students how to shape human behavior appropriately through design in the medium they are working.

Date Published: 
Monday, November 11, 2013
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