Syllabus: Spring 2020


Environments Studio IV is about design, behavior, and people’s understanding, in physical, digital, and hybrid environments. The course comprises practical projects investigating, understanding, and materializing invisible and intangible qualitative phenomena, from intelligence to social relationships, through new forms of probe, prototype, speculative design and exhibit.

This syllabus will be updated over the course of the semester. But the basic plan is that we will cover two units, each of which will result in a project:

Weeks 1–7: Jan 14–Feb 26 Unit 1: Autographic Visualization in Environments
(50% of grade).
Weeks 8–16: Feb 19–May 2 Unit 2: Name TBC
(50% of grade).

We will also be aiming to turn room 211 itself into an environment which shows—and shares—your thought processes and can be a demonstration of some of the ideas we’re covering in the course. It’s meant to be an evolving exhibition for Environments, which visitors to the School of Design can experience.

Note that there will be no class on February 20th (Confluence), March 10th & 12th (Spring Break) or April 16th (Spring Carnival). As the projects progress, the class is intended to be studio time for you to work on your projects, which may sometimes mean that you don’t actually have to be present (e.g. if you’re doing field research, using workshops, etc). Please let me know though. There are a few sessions where I may be away at conferences, but I will arrange either for a guest or for a pre-planned activity for these sessions.

Objectives and learning outcomes

The class takes place through studio sessions, which are a mixture of discussion and presentations (particularly near the beginning of each unit) and time for you to work on your projects, with the instructor and occasional guests there to talk with you, see your projects’ progression and provide feedback and suggestions.

By the end of the course:

  • you should be comfortable with observing, investigating, and communicating patterns of phenomena, human, nonhuman, and technological, in the physical and digital environments around us
  • you should be confident in having a critical awareness and ability to discuss questions of design’s relationships with people’s actions and understanding
  • you should have designed a set of projects that probe, display and interface phenomena in environments, that you can demonstrate or exhibit (and have gained experience in presenting your work)

What you’ll do:

  • participate in short seminars on topics, concepts and methods from the instructor and guest speakers
  • carry out small introductory exercises, to set the scene for particular methods or ideas
  • read and watch background material introducing different perspectives and concepts
  • participate in workshops run by guest speakers
  • carry out a series of projects over the semester, probing, displaying and interfacing with phenomena in environments

Why you’re doing it:

  • to explore and expand the boundaries of the emerging field of environments design: you are pioneers in a new space, and your projects will help define that space
  • to build your knowledge of design’s interaction with invisible phenomena, within physical and digital environments, both through understanding existing knowledge, and creating new knowledge through your work
  • to develop a critical ability to recognize, engage with, and challenge, important issues in environments design

Attribution policy

It’s not worth plagiarising anything. In this course, our aims include your development of a professional stance and approach to your work, and so we want you to embody that in everything you do. Very little in the world of design (or academia) is wholly original, but the ways in which you build on and transform others’ ideas in a respectful and appropriate way include attribution, acknowledgement and referencing. It is a marker of your professionalism, and you should treat developing this skill as part of your toolbox as seriously as you do other skills.

If you use an idea, image, or text from somewhere else, acknowledge this: reference where it came from. It makes your work stronger to do this — it shows that you are professional, well-read, and alert to developments in your field. If you are quoting or paraphrasing text, do it properly.

We are going to be strict on attribution, as part of helping you develop a professional approach to your work. During this course, you may be collecting and using lots of images, text and other media from various sources, online and in the real world, as well as taking photos and video yourself. It is essential that you attribute where you get these materials from, if they are not your own creation. And if they are your own creation, tell us, so we know. If you build on or modify others’ work, you need to state this. We want you to get into good habits. Carnegie Mellon’s official plagiarism policy and advice is here:

Communicate with us

If you have questions outside of class please e-mail. We will respond to you as soon as possible. Keep in mind, instructors generally won’t be checking e-mail late in the evenings and during the weekends. The questions and comments we receive from students are often relevant to the entire class. Therefore, we will frequently use e-mail as a means of distributing pertinent project information to all of you. Please check email often so that you are not left out of the loop.

If at any point you’d like additional feedback on your performance please don’t hesitate to request it.

Take care of yourself

Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, taking a sensible attitude to using drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress. All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

  • CaPS: 412-268-2922
  • Re:solve Crisis Network: 888-796-8226
  • If the situation is life threatening, call the police:
  • On campus CMU Police: 412-268-2323
  • Off campus: 911

If you have questions about this or your coursework, please let me know.