Symbiosis and the CUI at Microsoft Design Expo 2016

October 27, 2016

by Lee Cody, Xing Lu and Sayee Wang MDP/Lab ’17

Receiving the award for “Most Thought-Provoking” from Melissa Quintanilha, Michael Kasprow, and Colleen Estrada

Receiving the award for “Most Thought-Provoking” from Melissa Quintanilha, Michael Kasprow, and Colleen Estrada


This past summer, we (MDP students Lee Cody, Sche I Wang, and Xing Lu) presented Trans-Actor: A UX for AI at the Microsoft Design Expo. The project began as general investigation of conversational interfaces in a Lab Projects 2 module led by faculty member Phil van Allen, and then we further developed that initial research over the summer term. Trans-Actor is conversational interface that inverts the identity of artificial intelligence. Instead of imitating humans, the AI can “just be itself”. This new language allows computers to just be computers, and with it we believe users will better understand and use their devices. The judges at Microsoft thought it was important, relevant work, and recognized our team with the award for “Most Thought-Provoking.”

Developing the project further required learning how to balance work on the project with the work from our other responsibilities for summer term, but ultimately it was rewarding to take a smaller-scale MDP project to completion and create a polished presentation. Learning how to translate a research-based, speculative design project into a more digestible project was incredibly beneficial.

We worked closely with Phil to carefully craft a presentation that shows the project exactly how we wanted it to be perceived. Going through this process of presenting the work to a larger audience is incredibly helpful in understanding the time and energy required to create an effective presentation and how to do it well. It was also helpful to understand how it feels presenting to an auditorium. We didn’t anticipate how nervous we would be while on stage. Luckily, we had two practice presentations to get over some of our stage fright.

Microsoft liaisons from Fuse Labs worked with us to help refine our presentation. Our liaisons Colleen Estrada and Shane Landry were incredibly helpful and made us feel at home in Seattle. As part of the Expo, we got a chance to see what ideas the designers at Microsoft are currently tackling—we really got an insider’s perspective. There are so many ideas floating around products that aren’t as apparent when they launch. Overall, it was an incredibly stressful experience, but it was definitely an experience worth having.

Trans-Actor was developed in Phil van Allen’s /lab inquiry, Embedded Interacitons



Lee Cody is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, and programmer working in Los Angeles area. He makes work about exploration, human-computer relationships, and the accessibility of information.

Sche I Wang is a designer currently studying in the Media Design Practices department at ACCD. Her background was in cultural anthropology and graphic design. She loves to explore all kinds of possibilities existing in life.

Xing Lu is a designer with an interdisciplinary background, spanning the fields of architecture, physical prototyping, and user experience design.