MAS 961  ·  Special Topics in Media Technology  ·  Spring 2008

Instructor: Judith Donath
Tuesday 10am - noon  ·  room E15-483a (Reef conference room)
Credits: 0-12-0 (H)
Course secretary: Erin Schenck
TA: Alex Dragulescu

designing sociable media

    This project based course explores new design strategies for social interaction in the computer mediated world. Through weekly readings and design assignments we will examine topics such as:
  • Data-based portraiture
  • Depicting growth, change and the passage of time
  • Visualizing conversations, crowds, and networks
  • Interfaces for the connected city
  • Mobile social technologies

The course emphasizes developing visual and interactive literacy.


    We live in an increasingly virtual world. We interact over email and IM; we meet new people and keep up with friends via their online profiles. We are continuously building a vast record of our various transactions, a personal portrait in clicks, words and video. And our communications are becoming integrated into the walls of our homes and offices, a ubiquitous blanket of connectivity.

This virtual world is wholly synthetic: the design of the underlying system shapes how you appear, what you can see and hear, and who has access to what. As designers, we are responsible for thinking about the impact of our creations: we can envision a future in which technology expands our sociability, making an extraordinarily creative, communicative and cooperative world, but we can also envision a dystopic future where friendship has become a conduit for marketing and awareness of universal surveillance choreographs our every move.


    Requirements include weekly reading and design projects, active class participation and a final project.


Feb 05 Introduction - the design of mediated interaction
  Course overview. Big questions in this field. Fundamental design concepts.
  Assignment (due feb 10) Metaphor and Design: Readings (Hollan & Stornetta; Lakoff & Johnson; Norman; Arnheim) and critique exercise.
Feb 12 Legibility and abstraction
 How to design environments that go beyond copying the everyday physical world, yet remain intuitively comprehensible.
  Assignment (due Feb 25) Design prob 1: Creating an interaction space. Readings (Donath & Viegas; Dondis); real world analysis; pesign problem 1.
Feb 19 no class: Monday schedule (President's Day)
Feb 26 Interaction space design review;
Depicting conversation
  Maps of conversations can show many things: who participated? what was their role? how did the topic evolve? And these maps can themselves be landscapes, the context for future discussions.
  Assignment (due Mar 3) Sketching conversationsReadings on conversation (Bonvillain), visualization (Small), visualizing conversation (Donath). Design sketches.
Mar 04 Visualizing time and history
  The 4th dimension: clocks, calendars and other ways of marking time
  Assignment Reading: History of marking time (Aveni), time across cultures (Hall), time-line projects (e.g. Lifelines); Design problem 2: Personal time-line project
Mar 11 Design 2 review (personal history);
Varieties of portraiture
  Portraits depict appearance, but they have also be made of movements, musical compositions, shopping lists, etc. An introduction to the range and art of portraiture
  Assignment What is a portrait? Readings: Portraiture (Brilliant; West); analysis of portraits examples.
Mar 18 Data portraits / depicting people
  What are the salient features about a person that makes them recognizable, as an individual or as a social type.
  Assignment Design problem 3: concrete and abstract portraits
Mar 25 spring break
April 1 sponsor week
Apr 08 Design 3 review (data portrait)
  Assignment Augmented interaction part 1: cities, art and phones. Readings (Milgram, Ling, Donath) and essay.
Apr 15 Augmented realities: visible projections and invisible annotations
 Lozano-hemmer; Naimark; Oursler; Politics of public space augmentation
  Assignment Proposal for final project
Apr 22 no class: Patriots Day
April 29 Final project proposals
  Discussion of proposals
  Assignment Readings on surveillance, privacy, persuasion.
May 6 Supertraces
 Surveillance and transparency
  Assignment finish final projects
May 13 Final presentations