Design Lab Heads Downtown to Present New Strategies and Program to Take on Society’s Most Daunting Challenges

Last week, UC San Diego Design Lab Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science Steven Dow and postdoctoral fellow Narges Mahyar spoke at the Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation’s (CDI) Game Changer series to introduce a new strategy and program, “Design San Diego.” Design San Diego is a public engagement initiative that fosters collaboration between citizens and government to address civic challenges such as urban development and climate change. Design San Diego will increase understanding of current issues, collecting and synthesizing points of view, and bring citizens and government together to co-create solutions.

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation is a two-year initiative inside the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s headquarters on B Street that involves workshops where entrepreneurs meet with researchers and scientists to help boost opportunities in science and technology. Dow and Mahyar’s workshop outlined a new program and strategy that will help city leaders take on society’s most daunting challenges. The new program, Design San Diego, relies on a strategy called collective innovation, which combines theories involving design thinking and collective intelligence. With collective innovation, groups jointly explore and refine solutions for complex, multifaceted problems in business and civics. Dow and Mahyar explained that by engaging many diverse stakeholders, communities can solve bigger and messier problems.

“While technology has made it easy to connect people, we need to advance fundamental research on collective innovation, where groups collectively explore and refine solutions for complex, multifaceted problems in business and civics,” says Mahyar.

To further explore collective innovation in society, Dow and Mahyar have put together a research group at the Design Lab and created an online platform that will help San Diego civic, business and government leaders and citizens better understand how to select and build on the most promising ideas. The platform will also address how to engage the general public in the decision-making processes and how to effectively engage in large-scale participatory design thinking by gathering feedback from communities of stakeholders.

To contact Dow and Mahyar or to find out more about the Design San Diego initiative, go to

Autodesk teams up with David Kirsh and the Design Lab on Dreamcatcher, a Next-Generation Design Tool

The Design Lab recently teamed up with Autodesk, a California-based corporation that makes software for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, and entertainment industries. The first step in the partnership includes work by Dr. David Kirsch and his team on an experimental design tool for Autodesk called Dreamcatcher. Many leaders in the design world consider Project Dreamcatcher to be the next generation of computer-aided design or CAD. Dreamcatcher works on the principles of generative design, which enables designers to craft a definition of their design problem through goals and constraints.

What is generative design? According to Autodesk, generative design mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design. Designers or engineers input design goals into generative design software, along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods and cost constraints. Then, using cloud computing, the software explores all the possible permutations of a solution, quickly generating design alternatives. It tests and learns from each iteration what works and what doesn’t. With generative design, there is no single solution; instead, there are potentially thousands of great solutions. You choose the design that best fits your needs.

Kirsh’s team is exploring the way designers think as they begin to solve design problems with Dreamcatcher. This is part of a larger Design Lab project on how tools reshape the way we think. A first experiment will be undertaken in London at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University London, comparing the performance of 15 Masters of Architecture students on a design task. In one condition they will use Dreamcatcher and in another condition they will use Fusion, another new Autodesk design tool that is closer to a 3D modeling tool. Participants will be recorded, eye tracked and interviewed. Their outputs will be judged by a panel of distinguished architects. Following this pilot experiment, Kirsh and his team expect to increase the number of participants on similar problems and later explore and compare Fusion and Dreamcatcher as tools that support collaborative design.

Some major questions his team will research are:

  1. Are there different sorts of exploring and thinking taking place with the different tools, or at different phases?
  2. How does each tool affect the intention of people working with the tools? Intentionality in design is closely related to the understanding a designer has of the design problem he or she faces. As one works with a tool this understanding deepens. Accordingly, after working on a problem a designer should understand that problem in a deeper way, knowing more about the constraints, dangers, challenges of the problem, than just thinking about the problem without a tool at all.
  3. What are the differences in participant understanding that are the result of the two tools – both during the design phase – in terms of what they learn and understand – and also after, once they have consolidated their knowledge?

Adobe Selects Design Lab Student Ailie Fraser as a 2017 Adobe Fellow

UC San Diego Design Lab PhD Student Ailie Fraser has been selected as a 2017 Adobe Research Fellow.  The fellowship recognizes outstanding graduate students anywhere in the world carrying out exceptional research in computer science. This year, Adobe is awarding fellowships to graduate students working in the areas of computer graphics, computer vision, human-computer interaction, machine learning, visualization, audio, natural language processing and programming languages.

Ailie is a third-year Computer Science PhD student at UC San Diego. She works in the Design Lab on research in human-computer interaction and is advised by Scott Klemmer, a Design Lab Co-Director, who specializes in computer science, engineering and cognitive science. Ailie completed her Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto.

The Adobe Research Fellowship consists of a $10,000 award, a Creative Cloud subscription membership for one year, an Adobe Research mentor and an internship at Adobe for the summer. Adobe Research provides cutting-edge research that has helped build the reputation of Adobe Systems Incorporated, an American multinational computer software company. While Adobe has historically focused upon the creation of multimedia and creativity software products such as Photoshop, Acrobat Reader and the Portable Document Format (PDF), Adobe Research is helping to grow the company’s expertise in analytics, machine learning, data mining and other innovative technologies relevant to Adobe software products for consumers, creative professionals, developers, and enterprises.

Steven Dow and his Team Tackle Innovation in Crowdsourcing

As part of the Design Lab’s graduate course work on Crowdsourcing taught by Steven Dow, students explored models —such as paid micro-work, citizen science, crisis informatics, and games with a purpose— to bring large groups of people together to make something greater than any one person could achieve. For their final presentations, students innovated some wonderfully creative research projects: contributing novel methods, inventing new crowd technologies, and answering open questions about crowdsourcing.
Here are some of the projects Steven Dow and his team of students worked on:
  • Self-forming crowd teams: how micro-workers choose teammates (Markus Duecker, Andrew Dennis)
  • How to SOAR with crowds: strategic reading with crowdsourced lit reviews (Amy Rae Fox, Kandarp Khandwala, Tricia Ngoon)

  • Improving the livestream experience of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena events through “audience-sourcing” (Rahul Ramath)
  • Can soft skills be mined from Github? Expert and crowd analysis of open source software project conversations (Ariel Weingarten)

  • Preference matching in recommendation tasks using crowd clustering (Shawn Hyeonsu Kang)
  • Learning the secret of social charm in a game: You rate, we decode (Amanda Song, Shuai Tang, Mohammad Motiei)
  • Cream of the Crop: Recruiting expert crowd workers to disseminate their strategies to subsequent workers (Abhinav Mishra, Agneev Ghosh, Mansi Malik)


Steven is an Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego where he researches human-computer interaction, social computing, and creativity. Steven received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2015 for research on “advancing collective innovation.” He was co-PI on three other National Science Foundation grants, a Google Faculty Grant, Stanford’s Postdoctoral Research Award, and the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Grant. Steven was on the faculty in the HCI Institute at CMU from 2011-2015. He holds an MS and PhD in Human-Centered Computing from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from University of Iowa.

Don Norman speaks on The Future of Design at the New School of Architecture

A crowd gathers as Don Norman prepares to speak on the Future of Design at the New School of Architecture.

At the New School of Architecture in Downtown San Diego, Don Norman, Director of the UC  San Diego Design Lab, spoke to a large crowd about how the field of design is changing and becoming central to education and business. Counter to what most people think, Don emphasized that the field of design is not about making things look attractive. For Don and many others at the Design Lab at UC San Diego, design is a way of thinking.

“One of the important skills a good designer brings to the table is figuring out what the right problem is,” says Don. “Clients say what they want to achieve and the designer comes up with a solution, but they never really address the  problem. If you dig a little deeper for the fundamental issues, your research can lead to innovative solutions, sometimes completely eliminating the original problem.”

Traditional design emphasizes craft skills, but modern design emphasizes thinking skills. This produces two paths for designers: craft skills or thinking skills? Which path should designers take? Don often responds to this question with a famous quote from Yogi Berra. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” he says. At UC San Diego’s Design Lab, Don’s team of researchers and students work to tackle the complex problems in education, healthcare and automation utilizing modern design-thinking skills. They believe design thinking or cognitive design… is the future of design.



Don Norman is Director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego where he is also professor emeritus of psychology, cognitive science, and electrical and computer engineering. He has been a VP of Apple, executive at HP, and Design Prof. at Northwestern and KAIST (Korea). He is co-founder of the Nielsen Norman group, an IDEO Fellow, honorary fellow of the Design Research Society, member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, trustee of IIT’s Institute of Design, and an honorary professor at Tongji University, Shanghai. He has honorary degrees from Delft, Padua, and San Marino, the lifetime achievement award in HCI from CHI, and the President’s lifetime achievement award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. He has published 20 books translated into 20 languages including Emotional Design and Design of Everyday Things.

UCSD Design Lab & the National Cancer Institute organize workshop on Human Systems Integration

All photos provided by Ben Shneiderman

On October 20 and 21, the Design Lab jointly organized a workshop with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at their headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. The workshop focused on Human Systems Integration (HSI), which is a rapidly growing field involving the analysis, design and assessment of human interactions with complex sociotechnical systems and products (e.g., aircraft, spacecraft, mobile devices, web sites). NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is one of 11 agencies that comprise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In Bethesda, the Design Lab had the unique opportunity to help the Healthcare Delivery Research Program (HDRP) at NCI plan for a new set extramural funding opportunities associated with HSI in healthcare. Prior to the meeting, the Design Lab held frequent conference calls with NCI over a period of months to select the participants for the workshop and devise a schedule. In total, the Design Lab brought together approximately 20 cancer researchers, healthcare delivery experts and HSI designers from UC San Diego, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas, University of Maryland, University of Toronto, Georgia Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and other institutions including attendees from the Federal Communications Commission and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The workshop generated considerable interest among health policy makers in Washington, D.C. and follow-up efforts are already underway. In fact, the Design Lab will host a Spring 2017 meeting of West Coast stakeholders in the HSI and cancer research fields.


The UC San Diego Diego Design Lab

This is an exciting time for the field of design. The technologies that the research communities have worked on for the past 25 years have leapt off the pages of academic journals and into the daily lives of billions. What used to be our imagination is now our reality. These have enabled an extremely wide range of innovation in multiple arenas: healthcare and medicine, business, social interaction, entertainment.

But technology only enables: a practical application requires more than the underlying technology. If we build things for people, then knowledge of both people and technology is required. If we are to make them pleasurable, then the creativity and craft skills of artists and traditionally trained industrial and graphic designers are required. If they are to be understandable, then social scientists are required, including experts in writing and exposition. If they are to thrive in the world of business, then schools of management are required. Design aspires to combine these very different vertical threads of knowledge. Design is an all encompassing field that integrates together business and engineering, the social sciences and the arts.

Our goal is to create an exciting, vibrant design community that pervades the campus, cutting across disciplines, developing cross-campus projects, combining practice with theory, and making UC San Diego a world leader in design theory and integrative programs.

We propose a novel mix of practice and theory, of Thinking, Observing, and MakingTOM. We want to produce major works that advance the state of knowledge and leave a lasting heritage. Let TOM define our approach. Thinking and Making, but always for the benefit of people, hence the importance of Observing. The goal of design is to produce products, services, and systems. It is the science and practice of making.

Upcoming Events

D4SD Hackathon Kick-off

Friday, September 22, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. Don’t miss out! The San Diego Union-Tribune just issued our call to action: “Public invited to all-night hackathon to solve San Diego’s commuting nightmare.” It’s all about our Design for San Diego (D4SD) challenges that kickoff this Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Downtown Works. Join us for this incredible opportunity to collaborate and compete with other […]

Design Forward Summit 2017

October 25-27, 2017 Human-centered design has the power and potential to drive economy, industry, civic infrastructure, and quality of life. Design Forward 2017 is the lens to see it happen. Entrepreneurs, technologists, product managers, designers, business and civic leaders are all welcome. Visit the Design Forward website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Studio Session with IBM’s Talent and Design Teams

Friday, June 9, 2017 at 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM UCSD The Design Lab, Atkinson Hall, 1601 UC San Diego students are invited to join us in the Design Lab for lunch and listen to the IBM Teams discuss what differentiates IBM in the tech industry, and how you can get ahead! Come with questions […]

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