We use design and behavioral research to help innovators embed desirability into the products, services, and experiences they create.

We help people create more desirable products and services based on behavioral research, and we run studies to improve research, practice, and curriculum for design and engineering. We are methods-agnostic. Human-centered design, lean startup, user experience, large scale behavioral economics trials, and other methods all have strengths and weaknesses. We adjust our methodology based on the problem goals and constraints. We define ‘Desirable Design’ as products and services that:
– Truly help humans by reducing stress and/or adding delight
– Are as inclusive as possible and developed based on quality research
– Feel organic and account for complex attitudes & behaviors, recognizing that someone who cares about the environment may recycle (+), eat a lot of meat (-), and drive often (-)

Current Projects

Teaching Design for Desirability

Check out what we’re up to on our Blog (+ note: new blog coming soon)!

Learn more about Dr. Altringer’s Design Survivor course or read a nice article about the course in Boston Magazine: Harvard Class Teaches the Design of Desirability. For additional info, visit the course website.


How Might Robots Help Augment Human Mobility in High Density Cities?

Check out CNN Money’s article about Piaggio Fast Forward’s robot:

Gita is the human-helping, cargo-carrying robot that our lab director has been leading research and design for since 2015. Altringer was on the founding team along with Harvard colleague and Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) CEO, Professor Jeffrey Schnapp. PFF launched Gita publicly in February 2017 and it has since won several awards (Design Boom Top 10 Robots of 2017, Spark Design Awards, Extreme Tech Awards, MITx “Disruptive Genius: Company”, finalist for the London Design Museum’s Beazley Design of the Year Award, and more) and been featured in TimeCNN, Wired, the Wall Street Journal and others. PFF is a Boston-based lightweight mobility and robotics company funded by the Piaggio Group. Piaggio Group owns Vespa and several well-known lightweight vehicle companies. PFF has a vision of cities where people and goods move around at a human scale, rather than an automobile scale, and where robots are designed to extend human capacity, not replace it. After PFF shifted its focus from research and design to scaling production, in October 2017, Dr. Altringer shifted from the leadership team to an ongoing advisory role and moved on to a new big project. For more about Gita and the current people behind it, visit the PFF website.

How Might We Learn About Technology Through Flavor?

This project continues a long-time interest in how components combine to create delightful emotional experiences by working on an interactive catalogue of multi-sensory pairings in daily life (food, beverage, emotion and more). This began over a decade ago via training for international blind tasting competitions, including an earlier year of this competition. In the summer of 2014, through a design residency in Italy, Altringer explored these concepts further, and produced the Sensory Composition project. In the summer of 2015, she collaborated with Tse-Wei Lin of Journeyman restaurant and Backbar in Somerville, MA to test the first version of software developed from the catalogue. The collaboration helped show that the approach could inspire novel professional culinary designs. It led to ‘Taste Emoji: Delightfully Paired Feelings for Dinner’, an event in which guests explored – through taste – whether food and wine pairing can tell an emotional story. Altringer continues developing the software and expanding the catalogue, and has since collaborated with Chef Tracy Chang of Pagu in Cambridge, and Chef Mike Pagliarini of Giulia and Benedetto restaurants (both in Cambridge). Altringer exhibited in collaboration with Chang at the MIT Museum in July 2017 and with Chang and Pagliarini at the Harvard Food Design event in October 2017. We update the current status of the project regularly on the Flavor Genome Project website.

How Might We Make Understanding Algorithms Easy for Everybody?

AI-kitchen helps make it easy to discuss and critique how algorithms work. We translate algorithmic ‘writing’ into plain language to help people understanding how AI works and how it could be improved. We believe that the basic inputs, assumptions, steps, and outputs of algorithms should be as accessible as sharing and discussing recipes. To do this, our team reverse-engineers popular algorithms like Tinder and AirBnB, writes up how they work in plain language, and hosts regular discussion events. Some of our core themes include: Human Values and How They Relate to AI; Algorithmic Writing and Critique; The Design of AI; Human-Robot Interaction; Human-Computer Interaction, and How to make AI more accessible, representative, and desirable. Ai-kitchen began as a mix of professionals and students from academia and industry gathering *roughly* monthly in Harvard Square. Due to growing demand, the discussion group expanded, becoming a new course, taught by Dr. Altringer, at Harvard SEAS in Fall 2017 (on Human Centered Algorithm Design). We are working with students at Harvard on what comes next. Updates will be announced on the ai-kitchen website.

How Might We Make Design and Innovation Education More Evidence-Based?

This multi-year study involved in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of over 300 projects in top design firms like IDEO. It examined the real-world complexity of innovation projects, which often involve multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-organizational collaboration, searching for patterns associated with more (and less) successful outcomes. This research has been supported by the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. Previous support came from MIT International Design Center and the University of Cambridge. The work was later combined with a longitudinal study on the effectiveness of project-based experiential innovation courses, and, in 2017, Altringer used it to help design a new graduate degree program at Harvard the engineering MBA. Dr. Altringer and her team are working to eventually make this information interactive and available to the public.

How Might Digital Nomadism Become a Viable Future of Work?

After teaching a field course for a group of Harvard students in Indonesia in 2015 on the rise of a global digital nomadic workforce, Dr. Altringer began researching how digital nomads manage their finances. The research makes it clear that this is a growing phenomenon, and that a relatively small percentage of nomads successfully make a lifestyle of working while traveling or living abroad possible. The majority of nomads incur considerable financial risk with this approach to their careers. Read the research findings in this Forbes article: Globetrotting Digital Nomads: The future of work or too good to be true?