Three MDes Students Awarded kynamatrix Research Grants


At the start of the 2021, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design students Jiyoung Ohn (MDes 21’), Stefania La Vattiata (MDes 21’) and Isha Hans (MDes 21’) were awarded kynamatrix Research Network’s "Innovation through Collaboration" grants for projects in design, engineering, and computer science.  The kynamatrix Research Network is a nonprofit network of researchers dedicated to the “understanding and advancement of interactive communication, accelerating innovation in design, engineering, and computer science.” The award is granted yearly and encourages studies in “interactive communication across the academic disciplines of design, engineering, and computer science.”

Jiyoung Ohn’s thesis, “Image of the Digital Spaces,” is about leveraging mental images to aid users’ navigation with complex digitals spaces. From her work, she realized that users often struggle to understand the information structure of digital spaces due to its complexity and expansion of tools. In her work, she hopes to assist users in creating mental images of these digital spaces that can potentially build meaningful models to better understand service structures and navigate through complex digital environments. Through her research, she interviews users to understand these struggles and uses this knowledge to “visualize, test, and re-space mental images to determine their effectiveness in aiding navigation.”

As an interaction designer, Ohn is a visual person who understands and stores information in combinations of lines, shapes, and colors.

“I believe in the power of mental images that can help people organize and understand complex information better,” said Ohn. “I hope this thesis can suggest not only a way to enable users navigate through complex digital spaces, but also becomes an opportunity to help designers understand how users would visualize digital spaces internally.” Ohn was very excited to receive the grant award and thanks Associate Professor Stacie Rohrbach, her advisor, for all the support and help throughout the process. 

Stefania La Vattiata’s thesis, "Exploring the Applications of Artificial Intelligence in Interaction Design," focuses on the many possibilities that AI can bring in design practice, particularly how Machine Learning can transcend everyday interactions. La Vattiata utilizes AI applications and algorithms to assist her on certain tasks and discover patterns in data such as word clouds for interviews and word trees. This helps her prove that AI can reduce the time of certain activities that do not require imaginative effort. She mentions that her research is not meant to replace the entire creative process and, instead, it is meant to assist designers with the menial assignments required to do their work. 

La Vattiata’s thesis emerged from her personal experiences when designing. Time was lost as she was occupied with certain tasks.

“I chose this topic due to the complexity and barriers of computer science applied to other fields. Although AI has been widely applied in everyday interactions, designers are generally not familiar with the technology as they do not get access to it, unlike engineers,” said La Vattiata. “It is mostly due to the lack of understanding of the topics in computer science and statistics. So I find this as an opportunity for designers to explore and amplify their scope to new domains.”

She notes this has been a considerably novel topic and there hasn’t been much research on this yet. She acknowledges and praises her advisor, Assistant Professor Kyuha Shim for his feedback, his knowledge, and his confidence to move forward on this subject. 

Isha Hans’ thesis, “Walking Amongst an Internet of Things” is described as “a research through design to frame principles for using data in urban public spaces.” Advised by Asistant Professor Dina El-Zanfaly, Han's thesis developed from learning that opinions on data privacy can be viewed on a spectrum. On the one side, there were users who avoided the use of digital services and on the other, you could give very small actionable options to an individual user. Hans takes a critical, third stance.

“The use of data is only as good as the intention behind its use, much like a knife,” said Hans. “There's a need for strategies and policy guidelines for what qualify as desirable use cases. Privacy policies and the associated technological understanding is often the purview of experts in respective fields, but design can play a significant role in bridging the gap between the two.”

Hans believes that the future will be deeply intertwined with digital technology and as a result, she wanted to learn a more thoughtful human-centered process for this area of study. She also mentions that CMU’s focus on technology and collaboration has given her the unique opportunity to have conversations across disciplinary domains and has been important for her, since her research topic is interdisciplinary and sits at the intersection of built environment, Design, AI & IoT and Data Privacy.

The kynamatrix Research Network, co-founded by School of Design alumna Alyce Hoggan (MDes ’00), operates collaboratively through two programs: research & grant gifting. These two programs work together to achieve their mission of solving real-world problems.

Learn more about kynamatrix Research Network >>

Learn more about the Master's programs at School of Design >>

Date Published: 
Monday, February 8, 2021
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