Dan Lockton

Dan Lockton

Assistant Professor, Director of Imaginaries Lab, Chair of Design Studies


Dr Dan Lockton is an interaction designer, researcher and Assistant Professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon. His research centers on people's interactions with technology and the designed world, and how that affects the way we think, act, and understand. Dan leads the new Imaginaries Lab and is Chair of Design Studies in the School of Design. Dan is also a Faculty Affiliate of the CMU Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, a visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art, London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Dan is creator of the Design with Intent toolkit (Equifine, 2010), an editor of Living Labs: Design and Assessment of Sustainable Living (Springer, 2016), led the editorial team for Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack: Inspiring Digital Ideas from Community Projects (RCA, 2014), a co-author of Drawing Energy: Exploring Perceptions of the Invisible (RCA, 2015), and author of Rebel Without Applause (Bookmarque, 2003), a history of the Reliant Motor Company. He regularly publishes in international academic journals at at conferences, in design, HCI, and related fields, including co-authoring with students, but also maintains an active engagement with professional interaction design practice through speaking and running workshops at industry events around the world.

Since joining CMU in August 2016, Dan has taught the undergraduate classes Play Lab, Environments Studio IV, Persuasion, Research Methods, the PhD seminar Researching By Design, MDes Seminar III (Advanced Interaction & Service Design Concepts), and a Master's level elective in Experimenting with Design. He currently advises three PhD candidates at CMU (and two at the RCA in London) as well as MDes thesis students and undergraduate and graduate independent study projects.

Office hours / book a meeting ⧉



The Imaginaries Lab uses design methods to explore and support people's imagining—both new ways to understand, and new ways to live, now and in the future. Current areas of research include development of new metaphors for understanding phenomena, public engagement with local government, sonification of energy use, and exploration of qualitative interface design.

In his research career, Dan has specialized in the links between design, understanding, and human action, particularly in relation to social and environmental benefit, drawing on influences from a range of fields including behavioral and decision sciences, human-computer interaction, pattern languages and cybernetics. He is interested in questions of how we interpret, imagine 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: Beyond Behavioral Design.

Dan’s students’ research projects have 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 focuses on exploring people’s understanding of systems from the environment to government, novel interfaces for energy monitoring and other systems in the home, including sonification and the notion of qualitative interfaces, and more nuanced approaches to ‘behavior’. Much 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.

Teaching in the School of Design


51-401 Senior Design Lab: Play Lab, Fall 2016, http://www.cmuplaylab.com

Seniors in Industrial Design and Communication Design creatively explore ambiguity in design and futures through identifying and extrapolating ‘micro-futures’ in the present. Projects represent visions which question the complexity, side-effects and everyday frictions of possible futures, changes in human behavior, and design’s role in them.

51-360 Environments Studio IV, Spring 2017 and Spring 2018, http://environments.imaginari.es

Under the subtitles ‘The Invisible’ (2017) and ‘Intelligence(s) in Environments’ (2018), juniors explore design, behavior, and people’s understanding, in physical, digital, and hybrid environments, through practical projects and workshops focused on investigating, understanding, and materializing phenomena and relationships, through new forms of probe, display, and interface.

51-372 Persuasion, Spring 2017 and Spring 2018, http://persuasion.imaginari.es

Persuasion is an important skill for designers to have—the ability to put across your message, and to get other people to agree with you and to value your work, can be central to your career. Equally, understanding what persuades you and others—how we are influenced by people, by media, by our environment, by design—is a crucial reflective skill to develop in better understanding society. In this required course for all juniors, students explore persuasion from a range of perspectives, both in design specifically, and applying insights from other disciplines, together with interpersonal skills and persuasion in a professional context. Course developed and taught with Michael Arnold Mages (2017), Francis Carter (2018), and Stephen Neely (2017 & 2018).

51-208 Research Methods, Spring 2018, http://researchmethods.imaginari.es

This half-semester course, required for all sophomores, is about research in design, and mostly about research through design—how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, and generate and evaluate ideas. Much of this will be introducing you to how research with people, and contexts, is an important part of the design process, for physical and digital products, communications, services, experiences, and environments. But we’ll also be looking at how to bring knowledge and ideas from outside design, into design. This iteration of course developed and taught with Silvia Mata-Marin.

As Chair of Design Studies, Dan is responsible for overseeing core undergraduate courses—Placing, Systems, Cultures, Research Methods, Futures, How People Work, and Persuasion—and developing the future structure of this part of the curriculum.


51-825 Seminar III: Advanced Interaction and Service Design Concepts, Fall 2017, https://medium.com/advanced-interaction-service-design-concepts

A required course for second-year MDes students, Seminar III aims to help students develop an informed, rounded and reflective stance on   theory, models, themes, and new approaches in interaction and service design, giving strategic strength and confidence in professional practice. We examine the characteristics of designers’ power — its scope to influence the ways people live, but also the constraints of the sociotechnical systems within which designers work — and the wisdom to deal with this responsibly, and aim to give students you a set of theories and approaches whichthey can use practically to structure and communicate their thinking and research. This iteration developed and taught with Ahmed Ansari.

51-675 Experimenting With Design: Methods for Research Innovation, Fall 2017, http://imaginari.es/ewd

An elective aiming to give students (from outside the School of Design) interested in expanding their repertoire of research methods a chance to explore, learn and develop a variety of tools and frameworks to use in conducting innovative forms of design research. The course focuses on deploying, evolving and designing new and experimental research methods for doing research through design, investigating human behavior across space (in both physical and digital environments) and time (carrying out temporal and process based studies), and research by design, including exploring methods in sensory ethnography, narrative form, idea generation, and making physical prototypes and provotypes. Developed and taught with Ahmed Ansari.


51-920 Researching By Designing, Spring 2017

This seminar, required for first-year PhD students, examines approaches to conducting research through the practice of designing. The aim is to help students develop an informed articulation of how they will be doing this in their dissertation work, including the methods used and contributions to knowledge students aim to make. The seminar intends to enable students to situate their research interests and approach within the international academic design discourse and intersecting disciplines, and to be confident in articulating their position.


Between 2013–16, Dan worked at the Royal College of Art, London, first as a senior associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s Work & City and Age & Ability Labs, and then as a research tutor in Innovation Design Engineering and for other doctoral programs, supervising and advising PhD researchers. He was also a guest tutor in the Master's programs in Information Experience Design, Textiles, Global Innovation Design, Design Products and Service Design, and part of the RCA’s External Education projects in Sweden, Qatar and the UK. Dan remains a visiting tutor at the College supervising the PhDs of Chang Hee Lee and Dave Pao. Before the RCA, Dan was a research fellow in Experiential Engineering at WMG, University of Warwick (2011–12) and a research assistant and lecturer in Environmentally Sensitive Design at Brunel University (2010–12). 

Dan has been a researcher or investigator on projects bringing together design with societal, community and environmental challenges, including: Legible Policy (2015–16), with Laboratorio para la Ciudad Mexico City, Superflux and the Future Cities Catapult; SusLabNWE (2013–15), a European Union ‘living lab’ collaboration led by TU Delft; Media, Community & the Creative Citizen (2013–15), a Research Councils UK Connected Communities project; Creating Sustainable Innovation through Design for Behaviour Change (2014), funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council; and Empower (2010–12), a collaboration between Brunel University, University of Warwick, startup CarbonCulture and the Department of Energy & Climate Change, funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board. In 2015 Dan was interim project manager for the RCA's role in GATEway, a driverless vehicle research program.

Dan has a PhD in Design from Brunel University (2013), during which he developed the Design with Intent toolkit; 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). Before returning to academia, Dan worked in industry on a range of product design projects, including R&D for Sir Clive Sinclair (on mobility products and some unusual folding bikes), and also wrote a book on the Reliant Motor Company, Rebel Without Applause (Bookmarque, 2003). He regularly speaks and runs workshops at industry events (design, user experience, built environment) and academic conferences, and has done visiting teaching and lectures for a range of institutions, including Rice University (Copenhagen summer program in Engaged Urban Research Methods, 2015 to date), London College of Communication’s Speculative and Critical Design summer school, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, Kingston University’s MA in Creative Industries, and the University of Cambridge Judge Business School (MPhil Technology Policy).