We help students and our partners create more empowering products, services, and experiences for their users. Our Director has been creating hands-on design and innovation courses, workshops, and programs at Harvard University for nearly a decade, and is now building a new joint course for Brown University and RISD.
Past DL Full Semester Courses at Harvard University
[HBS-5240] Leading advanced design projects requires the integration of multiple skill areas and ongoing learning about the best data-driven tools to guide development. This course is structured to provide a comprehensive education in all stages of the new product design process, from idea generation to concept development, detailed design and prototyping, testing and integrating data into design decisions. The emphasis is on the way that design teams must both generate and utilize data to make decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty. A critical feature of modern technical design challenges is that the problem space and solution space are often poorly deﬁned, and/or to a large extent unbounded. The course aims to provide students with rigorous analytical tools to deal with such uncertainties.
Product and Experience Design for Desirability
[SEAS ES22 / GSD SCI 6276] Product and Experience Design for Desirability is a Harvard University course cross-listed in the engineering and design schools, and open to students from all schools. It appeals to those interested in designing products and services that are desirable. In today’s competitive landscape, products and services that connect with human meaning, usability, and emotions are more likely to be successful. Designing for desirability begins with questions of what we mean by ‘desirable’ and ‘for whom’. It can mean irresistible, delightful, meaningful, cool, covetable, viral, easy, and more. The class explores different meanings of desirability in design.
Innovators’ Practice: Finding Building and Leading Good Ideas With Diverse Others
[SEAS ENG-SCI 21 / GSD SCI6271] Innovators’ Practice course was created by Altringer at SEAS in 2011 and has been described as “Harvard’s real-world obstacle course for practicing innovation“. Student teams from the first two years of the class have won awards, including the Dean’s 100K Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and various funded fellowships to continue developing their ideas beyond the classroom. Think of it as a startup obstacle course – You will experience the most common product and team challenges that early stage startups face, learn how researchers analyze these issues, discover how top companies deal with them, and apply these lessons in real time to your own project. The Innovators’ Practice is a hands-on course on idea creation & development based on a deep understanding of human and organizational behavior. The class itself is created as an organization designed to support multiple teams. Students learn to make rapid progress on their projects, as well as to contribute to the success of the broader organization. Limited enrollment for undergraduates (SEAS: ENG-SCI 21) and graduates (GSD: SCI627100).
Human-centered Algorithms Design
HCAD was a one-time course at SEAS that evolved out of our algorithm research group — ai-kitchen. Due to growing demand in 2016, the ai-kitchen discussion group expanded, becoming a course on Human Centered Algorithm Design designed and taught by Altringer at SEAS in Fall 2017. The team later worked with other groups at Harvard, MIT, and beyond that are better-positioned to take the conversation much further, namely, the BKC-MIT AI Initiative.
Past Seminars and Fast-paced Design Sprints
Design seminars kick off design challenges or ‘sprints’. These range from a few days to a few weeks. They are designed to help participants sharpen their design skills and learn new methods. Sprints culminate in prototypes and critique sessions.
How might we find unmet needs and new opportunities in times of great change?
This was a hyper-personalized human-centered design project: deeply study the needs of a specific person in a particular situation and create a solution for them. We created this challenge in response to COVID-19. For this challenge we identified different populations (e.g. foreign students returning home, dance teachers, young people interested in dating, etc.) and explored the different ways they were impacted by COVID-19. We interviewed just one person from each group and designed product concepts specifically for each individual interviewed.
How might we design products that inspire and give meaning?
For this challenge we explored different definitions of awe and how products embody those definitions in different ways. This challenge drew on concepts of vastness, elevation and virtue. Vastness is something physically large (like the grand canyon). Or it can come from being in the presence of someone with immense prestige or being presented with a complex idea. Elevation comes from acts of virtue or moral beauty. It makes us feel lifted up and optimistic about the human family. We then created products with the idea of eliciting these different types of awe.
How might we design products that influence behavior?
For this challenge we wanted to explore new ways to make very specific target behaviors easier to perform.
How might we design products that engage and sustain attention?
For this challenge we again revisited BJ Fogg behavior model. We wanted to explore more deeply ways we could design products not only to capture attention, but to sustain attention for long periods of time. We looked at apps like DuoLingo as our inspiration for how they get users to sustain attention long enough to really learn a new language. We also looks at the way games are able to sustain attention longer, and what lessons we could apply from games to our products that might not typically be seen as ‘fun’ like educational apps, food tracking apps or financial literacy apps.
How might we use data to improve organizational design?
This challenge is about understanding and integrating unfamiliar but potentially valuable research into your design process. For this challenge we used data that could help, but was not collected or designed by us. This data was messy and not easy to understand. We challenged ourselves to make the most of what we have available to us, decide what is valuable, and, equally as important, decide what not to use. We were specifically interested in seeing if we could use this data to make changes to organizational design to improve innovation success. In particular, the designer needed to help their organization in the following ways: a) Reducing relationship conflict on projects, b) Resourcing projects more effectively, c) Adding regular feedback loops, or d) Using ongoing data to be more adaptable in the future.
Designing for anxiety reduction
We began with a review of the academic literature on anxiety and methods to reduce it. The challenge entailed user research & analysis, and designing a product for credible anxiety reduction.
Designing for awesome interactivity
First we researched many different types of games (cards, board games, and digital) to learn and become more comfortable with elements of game design.Then, we created our own interactive games with the specific goal of inspiring awe. We wanted to better understand how ‘awe’, when present in a game, could motivate and engage users. Our ‘awe’ inspiration came from games like Zelda Breath of the Wild, Red Dead Redemption and Alto’s Adventure.
How might we better design the remote worker and ‘relauncher’ experience?
For this challenge we focused on a very specific target population: career ‘relaunchers’ which typically includes new parents, temporary carers returning to the workforce after a temporary leave, and/or ‘second act’ individuals trying to reinvent their careers later in life. We wanted to better understand how we might enable relaunchers to create viable, powerful, semi-autonomous careers inspired by the benefits of digital nomadism (remote, skilled work). We selected different relauncher populations and did fast-paced human centered design fieldwork to learn more about the needs of these populations and redesigned the career relaunch process based on their needs.
How might we design for credibility and persuasion?
Consumers care about credibility. They want to trust the product they are buying is as advertised. This can mean different things like: a long lasting computer, comfortable mattress, fast bike, a well-made jacket, a delicious chocolate bar. What all these things have in common is that they meet or exceed the expectations that the consumer had when they purchased the item. We explored different ways we could embed credibility and persuasion (to buy that product) directly into the product design process. We created pitch decks aimed at convincing other people to make meaningful investments for a number of existing products to practice with these concepts.
How might we use our own data to help to better understand our identity and the ways we express it?
For this challenge we used our own personal data as a way to help us better understand ourselves. We collected a variety of easily available data like instagram posts and likes, the colors of our clothes, our purchase and return habits, our internet bookmark history, etc. We synthesized our data to determine what it says about our identity.
How might we design better for less visible/less Vocal Groups
Less visible and less vocal populations are often under-represented in positions of power, so their voice gets heard less. This also means their preferences get under-represented in product decisions. Not considering the experiences of less vocal/less seen people means we don’t learn the whole story. Designing for under-considered populations requires more cognitive cycles (goes against the norm), and we are asking for greater ability factors to get designers to do this. We selected different less visible / less vocal populations and did fast-paced human centered design fieldwork to learn more about the needs of these populations and design specifically for them.
How might we design for satisficing vs. optimizing?
For this challenge we explored how we might create a roadmap for our lives. The point is a roadmap of who you hope to be, in your own words, with clues to help you measure progress and provide your future self with a feedback loop. In other words, you are trying to define your aspirational you in ways you can use to check in with when you are stuck or lost or at a decision-making crossroads in the future. The goal with this challenge is to reveal our real goals and values.
How might we design for awe?
Our goal for this challenge was to design products that help people feel a positive sense of awe more often; that brings people together through awe. We really wanted creativity to go wild because ‘awe’ is such an abstract concept. Awe can happen in everyday ways – a simple stunning sunset or perfect bagel that makes you stop and notice how extraordinary it is that this came together. Or it can be a massive production for a special event. This design concept was challenging because not only do we have to consider how awe can be designed for, but we also need to consider that users need to have the quality of attention available to notice and appreciate and be moved by it.
How might we design a product to help overcome procrastination?
For this challenge we designed a behavioral change strategy specifically to help overcome procrastination. We researched procrastination and products that have built in motivational systems before we attempted our own prototypes. We really wanted positive motivational systems like rewards rather than punishments to help motivate us to procrastinate less. We used BJ Fogg’s framework to convincingly lead to behavior change.
How might products help us become our better selves?
For this challenge we designed a behavioral change strategy. We defined the ‘starting/default’ behavior and a target population/for whom this is the default behavior and the ‘desired/improved’ behavior (for the same target population). Our goal was to create product concepts and corresponding user journey’s that could help us be better versions of ourselves. We used Bond as our product inspiration. We used BJ Fogg’s framework to convincingly lead to behavior change.
How might we improve on an existing product?
For this challenge we did a fast-paced design sprint to improve on an existing product. We quickly and systematically compared and contrasted available existing products to find underserved areas for design improvements. We talked to industry professionals to get nerdy about understanding the option in a given space. For example, one product we looked at was Converse Chuck Taylor shoes and our hypothesis was the time has come for a new equivalent to the shoe. We did fast fieldwork that looked something like this: 1. Talk to someone at Converse HQ about the history and future of the product. 2. Visit different places that sell Converse. 3. Analyze both the design and it’s presentation to customers. 4. Read reviews. 5. Identify and compare and contrast to their closest competition. 6. Try some on or borrow some for a day. 7. Reach out to people who have them. 8. Review how they have been advertised over time. 9. Review how they’re being shown on Instagram. 10. Review trends in sneakers and sneaker tech. After we did our fieldwork we wrote-up our insights. Our goal was to get detailed enough on each product to identify weak areas.
Headphones that represent a counter culture & accompanying playlist
For this challenge we designed headphone prototypes that embody different countercultures (cultures that counter mainstream culture). We researched different countercultures (e.g. nerd culture, Woodstock and 1960’s, protests movements like BLM) to find out how to create radically personalized headphones for these groups.
How might we create a data-based engagement strategy?
For this challenge designed a test that will validate or disprove a hypothesis for what the CEO of a major fashion company should do next. Our goal is deriving insightful data out of a carefully designed test to rapidly arrive at conclusions, generate insightful information and continue the design process with a higher degree of certainty in every iteration.
How might we create a platform that motivates sustained learning?
In this challenge we explored ways to design a platform that motivates a relevant and continuous learning process, while convincingly fostering measurable behavioral change for the end-user and thus providing tangible value through time.
How might we operationalize and anticipate desirability to help a target population save money?
This challenge focused on ways to ‘operationalize’ a target desirability. In this case the desired behavior is saving money and we explored multiple populations (e.g. first time parents or farmers). We conducted research on ‘desirability’ in the context of savings, how to measure the important behaviors that influence it, and provide convincingly useful behavior change suggestions using BJ Fogg’s FBM.
How might we better understand how algorithms are designed and what gets ‘served up’ to people & why?
This challenge focused on making it easier to understand how algorithms are shaping our lives, and how they could be improved. We reverse-engineered popular algorithms like Tinder and AirBnB, wrote up how they work in plain language so they could be understood by a broader audience.
How might we design for our dual desires?
The heart of this challenge is wrapping your mind around the ‘wall’ that divides groups from one another, and what it might mean to purposefully dissolve that wall in a very different context — an immersive theater experience — specifically aimed at bridging ideological divides. Our inspiration comes embracing the complexity of people as having both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ desires.
How might we overcome gender bias in design for specific products? How might designers design for a different market than themselves?
Design bias is prevalent, extending bias to a functional level and creating a damaging feedback loop. OneWheel, for example, is a product that tends to be biased towards men. We created new user journeys of OneWheel that will appeal to women, while also balancing our own prejudices and assumptions.
How might we design music as anxiety-reducing ‘medicine’?
For this challenge we designed headphones with the aim of reducing anxiety. Students incorporate lessons from hit music, as well as the lessons on music as a medicine, to explore ways to design a listening experience to both relax and appeal to the masses. This involved creating a song that is stress-reducing and elicits positive emotions.
How might we design for ‘cool’?
In this challenge we explored ways to design a product based on a specific concept. In this case we designed sneakers that exemplify ‘cool’. We took a human centered design approach and designed a sneaker that is considered ‘cool’ according to specific target audiences.
How might we make sustainable designs covetable?
This challenge was about thinking of ways to leave a beneficial footprint rather than just minimising our negative one. While sustainable practices have become more commonplace, there will never be mass market change toward this (or any other) moral goal without maintaining the features that people are looking for. Most people are still going to choose what looks good and costs less. Desirability and sustainability have to be synonymous or we will not see a behavior change. We explored ways to design for sustainability, while at the same time making a product that is covetable.
This challenge focuses on human-product interaction. We challenged ourselves to think about the cognitive and emotional associations with food and how this affects our decisions as consumers. This challenge is learning to pay attention to our senses and cognitive experiences with food, not just how something tastes, which is the typical way we think about food.
How might we better understand how our clothing evokes emotion?
We often have emotional reactions to certain designs, but don’t think about what that means. Clothing can invoke a range of emotions from nostalgia from a wool sweater you got on vacation in Ireland to feeling powerful in your favorite blazer. We learned to tap into those emotions and start thinking more deeply about why they like something.
How might we portray important information in a simplistic way so it can be understood by people across many different groups?
Our goal was to design content for a service that will supply news and essential information to new smartphone users who don’t speak English, are semi-literate, and only have access to low-end technology. In addition, the content should be designed in a way that is efficient for slow cellular networks.
How might we design wearable tech that encourages fitness?
For this challenge we were inspired by Under Armour’s ‘Future Girl’. ‘Future Girl’ is a garment that is fully tech integrated to customize workouts for the wearer based on a number of factors like heart rate and schedule. We designed our own wearable tech garment prototypes that inspire fitness.
How might we design durable, modern furniture within financial reach for many?
This is a DIY challenge inspired by Ben Uyeda’s HomeMade Modern designs. HomeMade Modern goals are to show that durable, modern furniture is within financial reach for many. We experimented with concrete as a design material, which has both benefits and drawbacks. We had an experimental mindset about this challenge with the understanding that some of the designs can and will fail and iteration is part of the fun of making things.
How might we design a seamless listening experience that elicits positive emotion?
For this challenge we designed a seamless listening experience that elicits positive emotions. Building on our previous positive emotions challenge, we designed hit songs and headphones that play it on.
How might we design for behavior change?
BJ Fogg’s Behavior Change Model (FBM) asserts that for a target behavior to happen, a person must have sufficient motivation. However, the FBM makes clear that motivation alone–no matter how high–may not get people to perform a behavior if they don’t have the ability. In order for behavior to occur, people must have some non-zero level of both motivation and ability. Behavior and ability are a tradeoff of sorts. For this challenge we used lessons from BJ Fogg’s writings on behavioral change and Fitbit as a product case study to design new prototypes of products that elicit target behaviors.
How might we design a relatable, aspirational TV Show pilot for a TV starring a 70 year old woman?
For this challenge, we designed a relatable, aspirational pilot for a TV show. Inspiration for this challenge comes from Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the world and Jean Claude Van Damme’s Volkswagen commercial. While these cases involve men, we challenged ourselves to think of what these cases say and how they can relate to women. The goal of this challenge is to create a TV pilot, either through a storyboard of gif starring at least one ‘most interesting’ woman over 70 years old.
How might we create an immersive theater experience? (breaking down the 4th wall typically present in most theater-like experiences)
This is an “experience design” challenge built on the idea of designing a competitor to Escape the Room. We prototyped new exclusive immersive experiences in which participants progress through a theatrical storyline by solving challenges. The experiences focused on breaking down the 4th wall that is typically present in most theater-like experiences.
How might we evoke multiple senses in advertising?
Appealing to the senses is central to advertising success, but many advertisements don’t easily appeal directly to any of the senses except sight. However, good advertisements are of such a nature that the multiple senses are appealed to indirectly through imagination. In this challenge we redesigned old Skymall advertisements with the goal of stimulating multiple senses.
How might we tell a story with Harmonious Color Composition?
The main idea for this challenge is emotive storytelling with color. Using Beatrice Santiccioli’s Colouring Consumerism for inspiration, we created a physical (not digital) ‘still-life’ compilation, either 2D or 3D where color is the dominant ‘storyteller’ and conveys emotion. This challenge is intended to be simple with very little pressure to get this ‘right’. The main takeaway from this challenge is color should not be an afterthought, but something that they think about from the beginning of the design process.
How might we design to elicit positive emotions?
In this challenge we designed songs designed to elicit a positive emotion. We draw inspiration from the ‘science’ behind hit songs, and incorporate unique beats based on challenge participant biomarkers. We determined biomarkers took biomarker quizzes to determine biomarker profiles. Then we matched biomarkers with specific beats and incorporated them into songs.
How might we get out of our heads and inside another’s?
This challenge consists of designing fieldwork that will be used to create an app prototype. The goal for this challenge is to use human-centered design fieldwork methods which are designed to help an organization connect better with the people it serves.
How might we improve the desirability of an existing product?
In this challenge we improved the desirability by redesigning existing apps. The improved design focused on making the apps feel human and organic than their current versions.
How might we manipulate a label to embody a particular price point?
This is a graphic design challenge to changes to the current Poland Spring water labels. The goal of this challenge was to alter Poland Spring water bottle label to see if we could embody a particular price point, while still maintaining the brand recognition of a well known bottled water company. We tried different ways to convey both a low-end or high-end label.
How might we communicate interpersonal displays of Status?
This is an open challenge we designed and built a watch prototype intended to communicate status and potentially provoke envy. We explored the concept of status, particularly how design and objects are used to communicate status to others in ways that – conscious or not – prompt envy.
How might we represent dignity and strength in the sunset years?
The goal for this challenge was to recognize the invisibility in the media of the actual lived diversity of experiences of older women in society. We focused on representation in advertising, considered multiple case studies, and the design challenge was to prototype an ad featuring an older woman in a position of strength and dignity.
How might we use immersive theatre to help solve the housing crisis?
The goal for this challenge is not to solve an entire housing crisis, but to come up with one clearly communicated idea that could make a tangible, positive difference. We prototyped immersive theater performances as the platform to deliver our ideas. We used theater as a way to encourage thinking very differently about the problem than has typically been done before.
How might we design a desirable restaurant experience?
This challenge focused on the idea that what consumers really want is an experience. This challenge reflects the new reality for restaurants that good food alone isn’t going to build loyalty and sustain. We explored how different restaurateurs demonstrate what they love about food and deliver a memorable experience.
How might we create an iconic product?
This challenge was Inspired by the stories behind three iconic products: Diane von Furstenburg’s famous wrap dress, Von Dutch’s trendy trucker cap, and Swarovski’s best-selling Slake bracelet. We explored the common themes that make each of these products icons that set the benchmark for future products.
How might we design for radical personalization?
This challenge explored radical personalization as a desirability strategy. Radical personalization is putting individuals at the center of your marketing efforts to increase the average purchase by presenting the most relevant content. We explored this concept by adding a novel, personalized spins on the everyday pen.
How might we design content for a broad audience?
This challenge was based on research on what makes things go viral online (with a focus on blog posts and infographics). From this, a set of examples and a checklist of factors thought to make content go viral was created. We used the checklist as a guide for creating content with the intention of releasing it with the intention of reaching the broadest possible audience.
How might we design for the future of mobility?
Altringer created a design challenge inspired by Zipcar’s mobile app and Zipcar CEO, Scott Griffith’s philosophy about the future of mobility. The goal was to create a concept of a new app and to design an interactive demo for the app. Prototypes needed to identify a problem, to articulate why the problem area mattered, to show how their app solves the problem better than alternatives, and to estimate what it would take to make the app into a viable business. As part of this challenge we hosted an app workshop, in conjunction with Occom Group, to show that it is possible to create interactive demos of well-known mobile apps, like Kayak and AirBnB.
How might we explore a problem by thinking in 3D?
This challenge explored a problem by thinking in 3D, with the objective of producing prototypes that would enable a professional in the field to quickly understand their design concept and give user feedback. This challenge was inspired by IDEO’s prototype for the Diego Powered Dissector System for Gyrus ACMI, ENT Division. IDEO’s work on this product is as well-known amongst designers for its prototyping story as it is for its final design, which received numerous design awards.
How might we make bamboo a more desirable crop?
This challenge was inspired by Swarovski’s partnership with the Design Museum in London for the Digital Crystal exhibit in 2012. This challenge applies lessons from the Swarovski case to design an exhibit showcasing the many uses of Alabama bamboo as a crop in the south. The goal was better branding of bamboo to benefit the Black Belt region of Alabama, a low-income agricultural region shifting to bamboo production as a higher yield crop.
How might we communicate a desirable vision?
In partnership with the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), we explored creative ways to communicate a vision for the future of innovation and entrepreneurship education at Harvard.