The Desirability Lab applies design, behavioral economics, and psychological research to:
– Help designers embed desirability into the product and service experiences they create, embracing the subjectivity that implies
– Help diverse workers manage the inherent challenges of complex creative collaboration and decision-making
– Help consumers become more aware and in control of their responses to persuasive design
The Desirability Lab was founded by Dr. B. Altringer, faculty on Innovation and Design at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Graduate School of Design, and core faculty of the new joint engineering MBA degree offered by SEAS and Harvard Business School. Our research on teaching and learning is funded by SEAS and the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. In addition to working with industry, we often collaborate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Innovation Lab, other departments, and other institutions on teaching, field courses, and mentoring.
Interested in joining our research team? We regularly accept new researchers. These are usually part-time roles. Register your interest in research positions here and we’ll be in touch.
Interested in joining the teaching staff for the Innovators’ Practice or Design Survivor? We select teaching fellows 1-2 months before each term. These are part-time roles and only available to Harvard-affiliates. Please fill in this short form to let us know. A month or two before term starts, we will get in touch regarding the selection process.
Dr. B. A. Altringer
Founder and Director of the Desirability Lab, full-time Senior (practice-based) Faculty on Innovation and Design at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Graduate School of Design, and core faculty of the new joint engineering MS+MBA degree offered by SEAS and HBS. Altringer is also a practicing designer and entrepreneur. She was on the founding team of Piaggio Fast Forward, where she leads research and design. She also created and leads the Flavor Genome Project that categorizes the human taste experience of flavors. For many years, Altringer studied what makes some designs more desirable than others, as well as the interpersonal factors related to the most (and least) successful projects. Altringer has worked with hundreds of teams across a range of multinational companies and educational institutions, using qualitative and quantitative methods to explore these questions, including: Piaggio Fast Forward, Harvard Innovation Lab, Stanford D-School, MIT, Berkman Center, Artscience Labs, Kering/Gucci Group/Puma, Swarovski, OneLeap, ARG Design/City of Cape Town, 2010 FIFA World Cup and others. During her PhD at Cambridge University, visiting scholarship at Stanford, and postdoctoral work at MIT, Altringer studied teams at IDEO and in WPP across 11 countries spanning six continents, developing a model explaining innovation performance differences that was later implemented at IDEO. Prior to the PhD, she earned a masters in architecture at the University of Cape Town focusing on sustainability, design, and the FIFA 2010 World Cup preparations. This built on her previous research on design and major sporting events during a Fulbright Scholarship in Barcelona. Dr. Altringer is interested in practical ways to support more creative problem solvers to succeed more often – both in higher education and in industry. She creates research-based design curriculum for undergraduate and graduate level courses (e.g., Harvard’s ES22: Design Survivor: Experiential Lessons in Design for Desirability (spring) and ES21: The Innovators’ Practice: Finding, building and leading good ideas with others (fall)). She also often creates winter and summer field courses (e.g., Cultural Entrepreneurship in NYC (winter), Sustainable Design in Italy (summer), and Sustainable Design and the Rise of Digital Nomads in Indonesia (winter)).
Genevieve Ennis HumeResearch Assistant (Fall 2017 – present) – Genevieve Ennis Hume is a designer and educator whose research centers on the cultural, economic and political power structures of technology. She has taught Intercultural Communications at the University of British Columbia and Kaospilot in Denmark, Colombia and South Africa, as well as Design Ethics at the Pratt Institute and the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a former fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Genevieve is also the co-founder of Implikit, a neurotech initiative that fights racial bias, and Hume Atelier, a bespoke luxury jewellery studio that focuses on international mining policy, collaborating with organizations such USAID, the UN, and the OECD on initiatives that address indigenous issues, property rights and the development of peace-based economies in post-conflict regions.
Jacques van Rhyn
Research Assistant(Fall 2016 – present) – Jacques helps us run Ai-Kitchen. He is a recent graduate of the class of 2017 and will begin his full-time job as a Program Manager at Microsoft in the Fall. At Harvard, he studied Applied Math but also dabbled a bit in Computer Science and Chinese. Being from South Africa, Jacques is particularly interested in technologies for the developing world and one day hopes to contribute to that field.
Design Research Assistant (Summer 2017 to present) – Keith Scott graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Design in May 2017, earning a Master of Landscape Architecture. He studied the role of technology in landscape and how technology is changing the way people interact with their environment. This led him to research how interface design influences users. He has become increasingly interested in visual storytelling through different digital media including photography and animation. Keith is current a Research Fellow at the Desirability Lab at Harvard University where he helps the lab with visual design.
Teaching & Research Assistant (Spring 2017 to present) – Laurie became interested in design for desirability through her work as a member of the design research team at Piaggio Fast Forward, a Boston startup focusing on autonomous mobility solutions for people and goods. She recently completed her master’s in political science from Northeastern University, where her research focused on innovative strategies for preventing genocides. In addition to her own research she worked with a Northeastern business professor on emerging markets and entrepreneurship in developing countries. Prior to that, she work in Rome, Italy as a TEFL teacher for members of the Italian military planning to go abroad to work with NATO forces. Having travelled to many countries and taught for many years she is passionate about connecting with people. Laurie is devoted to combining her interests in political science, travel and teaching with finding creative solutions to some of the most pressing problems in the world today.
Teaching & Research Assistant (Fall 2015 – Spring 2017) – Lilian first realized her penchant for design as an undergraduate in Environmental Science. More drawn to the formal and psychological elements of space than the objective ones, she finished up her degree at Cornell University and transitioned into the world of architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She now focuses on the ways in which research can facilitate cross-collaboration in design practice. When not hard at work in the studio or library, she can be found reading investigative nonfiction or exploring Massachusetts by bike.
Neal Adolph Akatsuka
Research Assistant (Summer 2016 – Spring 2017) – Neal Adolph Akatsuka is a graduate student in Digital Media Design at the Harvard Extension School, focusing on user experience research and design. He holds a BA (University of Hawai’i at Manoa, 2010) and MA (Harvard University, 2013) in anthropology. As part of his anthropological training, he traveled to (and lived in) Japan, Australia, and across the US, working on funded ethnographic projects ranging from consumer perceptions of genetically modified crops to a local folk legend about the death of Jesus Christ in Japan. The results of his research were communicated in 2 invited international lectures, 8 national conference presentations, and 3 publications. In 2010, his writing was awarded the (National) William Whit Paper Prize by the Association for the Study of Food and Society. Outside of his studies, he supports the humanities at Harvard as the Coordinator of Publications and Programs at the Mahindra Humanities Center.