Highlighted Projects

Lab Philosophy

Our lab operates under several core tenets. ‘Desirable’ design, to us, is when a product or service:
– feels organic
– truly helps humans
– reduces stress and/or adds delight
– is as inclusive as possible
– is research-based
– accounts for complex attitudes & behaviors, recognizing that someone who cares about the environment may recycle (+), but eats a lot of meat (-) and drives two hours a day (-)

We connect research, practice, and curriculum development:
– We help organizations create more desirable products and services based on behavioral research
– We run studies in the lab and also create case studies of our practical design work
– From combined research and practice, we develop better ways to teach design and engineering
– We run longitudinal studies to test how well our curriculum designs are doing

We are methods-agnostic. Design thinking, 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.

Teaching Design for Desirability – Check out what we’re up to on our Blog

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?

Gita is the human-helping, cargo-carrying robot that our lab director has been leading design research for since 2015, working with Harvard colleague and Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) CEO, Professor Jeffrey Schnapp and the rest of the PFF team. We launched Gita publicly in February 2017. 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. For more about Gita and the people behind it, visit the PFF website.

Multi-Sensory Balance in Everyday Experience

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. In the summer of 2014, through a design residency in Italy, Altringer explored this further with the Sensory Composition project. In the summer of 2015, she collaborated with Study restaurant 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 ‘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. You can find the current status of the project on the Flavor Genome Project website.

Promoting Algorithmic Literacy with ai-kitchen

AI-kitchen helps make understanding how AI works, and how it could be improved, as accessible as sharing and discussing recipes. We reverse-engineer popular algorithms like Tinder and AirBnB, write up how they work in plain language, and host 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, 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, we are preparing content to share beyond our events and expanding in Fall 2017. Visit us at the ai-kitchen website.

Developing an interactive ‘textbook’ to teach research-based approaches to collaborative innovation

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.

Do digital nomads represent the 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?


Dr. Altringer leads the Desirability Lab and is a Lecturer on Innovation and Design at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Graduate School of Design, and Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Visit our team page for more information. Beyond the lab, Altringer also consults with organizations on early-stage innovation projects from a desirability design, emotional design, human-centered design, and/or multi-sensory design perspective. The Desirability Lab’s research on teaching and learning is funded by the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. Altringer also collaborates with the Harvard Innovation Lab and many schools at Harvard and elsewhere through teaching, field courses and mentoring.