Highlighted Projects

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?

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 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.

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. Dr. Altringer and her team are working to make this information interactive and available to the public in 2016.

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.

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