Recap: MDP at Interaction 2017

March 10, 2017

By Phil van Allen




For the last ten years, design leaders, professionals, and students have converged in different international cities for IxDA. This February at the Interaction17 Education Summit, New York City, Molly Steenson and I collaborated on a workshop called “Teaching & Learning Disruptive New Mediums – AR, VR, AI, and IoT.” The workshop produced a lively discussion on defining the mediums and exploring how designers can learn and participate in the future directions of new technologies.

Molly, Associate Professor at CMU and former MDP adjunct faculty, and I presented on the history, present, and future of these new mediums. We discussed how design had influenced earlier technologies, and the lessons to be learned from the decades long history of AR/VR, AI and IoT. We then looked at the rapidly growing landscape and heavy investment going on today. And finally, we addressed a range of strategies for design faculty to approach teaching and learning in these challenging fields. This included reflections and examples gleaned from faculty around the country (David Young/Parsons, Axel Roessler/UW, Austin Lee-MDP alum/CMU, and Jenny Rodenhouse-MDP Alum/Art Center)

After the presentation section, we had 40 some participants (which included design faculty, designers, industry representatives and students) form groups and design an AI project in 45 minutes. The project, called Useless AI, was designed to take a critical look at artificial intelligence and serve as a model for how designers can approach a new medium. Rather than fall into cliches of what AI might be, designers are challenged to critically look at the medium and imagine how an interesting idea could go all wrong. In this way, we can develop a deeper understanding of the beneficial and problematic affordances and potentials of a new medium, and ultimately develop more powerful ideas informed by taking risks and understanding the interesting failure points.




As a further way to advance the teaching and learning of disruptive new mediums, the workshop participants agreed to form a new network of designers working in this area. This will create a peer-to-peer group that will share approaches, insights, examples, and coursework to address AI/ML/IoT/AR/VR. In addition, I was able to touch base with several MDP alumni at the conference including Jisu Choi (Intel), John Ryan (Local Projects), Xiangjun (Shixie) Shi Trofimov (IBM) who are all working in these areas. We hope to extend this new network to these and other alumni.

Molly and I will continue this collaboration at an upcoming symposium on Artificial Intelligence called Design the UX of Machine Learning Systems, March 27-29 at Stanford University.


Participants working on the Useless AI Project. Photo by Phil van Allen

Participants working on the Useless AI Project. Photo by Phil van Allen


Phil van Allen is an interaction design consultant, researcher, technologist and educator whose work ranges from the practical to the speculative. He is a core faculty member and Professor in the Media Design Practices MFA program at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. In his research, Phil is developing animistic design as a new approach to AI that builds productive ecosystems for creative work. He is the creator of NTK (, an open source toolkit that makes designing and building working IoT projects simpler and faster. Phil also writes about interaction design and is a consultant for industry with clients such as Razorfish, Acura, USC, GPJ, yU+co, Yoko Ono, The Germs, and U2. In the past, he’s been a recording engineer, software developer, entrepreneur, and researcher. BA, Experimental Psychology/Cognitive Science, University of California, Santa Cruz.