A Q&A With New School of Design Faculty Member Dan Lockton


For the Fall 2016 semester, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design is proud to announce that Dan Lockton will be joining our faculty.

Dan Lockton is a designer, technologist and researcher. He specialises in the links between design, understanding, and human action, particularly with respect to what's become known as “design for behavior change” for social and environmental benefit, drawing on influences from a range of fields including decision sciences, human-computer interaction, pattern languages and cybernetics. Dan is interested in questions of how we interpret, understand and interact with the world—institutions, the environment, cities, infrastructures, technologies and complex systems around us—how they in turn model us, and what the consequences could be for design which seeks to enable human agency as part of transition to more sustainable futures. He is currently writing a practitioner-focused book on these topics, Design with Intent, for O’Reilly.

Between 2013–16, Dan worked at the Royal College of Art, London, as a visiting research tutor in Innovation Design Engineering and for other doctoral programs, and a senior associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. Before that, he was a research fellow in Experiential Engineering at WMG, University of Warwick and a research assistant and lecturer in Environmentally Sensitive Design at Brunel University. Dan has been a researcher or investigator on projects around areas such as sustainability, energy, and community, including: Legible Policy: Mobility & the Megalopolis (2016), with Laboratorio para la Ciudad, Mexico City; SusLabNWE (2013–15), a European ‘living lab’ collaboration led by TU Delft; Media, Community & the Creative Citizen (2013–15), a Research Councils UK Connected Communities project; Empower (2010–12), a UK collaboration with startup CarbonCulture and the Department of Energy & Climate Change; and Creating Sustainable Innovation through Design for Behavior Change (2014). He led the editorial team for Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack: Inspiring Digital Ideas from Community Projects (RCA, 2014), was a co-editor of Living Labs: Design and Assessment of Sustainable Living (Springer, 2016) and a co-author of Drawing Energy: Exploring Perceptions of the Invisible (RCA, 2015).

Dan has a PhD in Design from Brunel University (2013), a Cambridge-MIT Institute Master’s in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge (2005), and a BSc in Industrial Design Engineering from Brunel’s former Runnymede design school (2004). At the RCA, his students’ PhD projects covered topics including: second-order cybernetics, algorithms and the Internet of Things; design for behavior change around product repair; and applications of synaesthesia in design. His own research currently focuses on novel interfaces for energy monitoring and other systems in the home, including sonification and the notion of qualitative interfaces, exploring people’s understanding of systems from the environment to government, and more nuanced approaches to ‘behavior’. Much of his practical work centres on in-context research with people, including the use of products, services and built environments, with a focus on practical prototyping and co-creation. Before returning to academia, Dan worked in industry on a range of product design projects, including R&D for Sir Clive Sinclair (on some unusual folding bikes), and he also wrote a book on the Reliant Motor Company, Rebel Without Applause (Bookmarque, 2003).

Dan regularly speaks and runs workshops at industry events (design, user experience, built environment) and academic conferences, and he has done visiting teaching for a range of institutions, including Rice University (summer program in Engaged Urban Research Methods), Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Kingston University’s MA in Creative Industries, and the University of Cambridge (MPhil Technology Policy). At the RCA, he was a visiting tutor for seminars in Information Experience Design, Textiles, Global Innovation Design, Design Products and Service Design. He is conference experience co-chair for the Design Research Society 2016 conference in Brighton, UK.

Dan brings with him a unique blend of experience and expertise and is a perfect addition to the School of Design’s faculty. We sat down with Dan for a brief Q&A to talk about where they’ve been and what they’re looking forward to the most at the School of Design.

  • What is unique about your approach to design and what you feel you hope to add as a faculty member here?

I was an engineering designer originally, focused mainly on innovative technical solutions, before gradually realizing that understanding people better might make me a better designer. Through various twists and turns I ended up doing research on how the design of things—services, products, software, the built environment—affects the way people behave, and make decisions, and how design might be used intentionally in this way for social or environmental benefit. Practically, lots of those insights have been used on projects around energy use, sustainability and social innovation, and exploring how design affects what people think about what they can do in different situations. This aspect—using design as a way to ‘understand understanding’, as part of a process of designing agency now and to enable better futures—is something I want to develop further at CMU.

I look forward to working with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as other faculty members, to develop some complementary angles on Design for Interactions, bringing my experience together with the diverse range of knowledge and expertise within the School of Design.

  • What are you looking forward to about working at Carnegie Mellon University?

Part of what impressed me about the School of Design at CMU is the ongoing development of Transition Design, and the wider Design for Interactions framework. There are not many design schools brave enough to work out their own philosophy in this way, beyond simply claiming to be ‘the best’ and reacting to industry buzzwords, and I’m intrigued to see how preparing design students to face the world ahead of them—but also to change it—can work in practice. I am also impressed by the people: everyone I have met at CMU, from students to faculty to administrative staff, has been friendly, welcoming and helpful. I’m also very excited by the possibilities of collaboration across campus at CMU: the work of the Design Center, HCI Institute, Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Dept of Social and Decision Sciences, Dept of Engineering and Public Policy, and the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, among others, all has intersections with areas of research and teaching I’m interested in exploring, and it would be great to develop some transdisciplinary opportunities.

  • What will students find when they interact with you as a faculty member?

I hope that I’m a supportive teacher and mentor. My goal is always to help students learn how to learn; I think design is best taught through weaving practical experimentation with both projects and ideas and theory, as far as possible. Whatever we look at together, whether services, products, environments or other systems, we will always be considering people, diversity and everyday experience, and people’s interactions with these complex systems, right from the start of the process. Most of the challenges that designers will be facing in the years ahead will involve people; it’s very important for designers to be endlessly, practically, curious about human existence.

Dan Lockton's Website >>

Date Published: 
Thursday, May 5, 2016
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