Environments is one of three tracks within the School of Design BDes program. From real-world to speculative, from right now to 10 years into the future, our work explores design and user interaction in the world. Not sure exactly what we mean? Hopefully the information below will help. 

All of us go about our days, playing, working, being, relaxing, healing, thinking, learning, in solitary and social places. Some are physical, some are virtual, and they each shape what and how we do things. Designing for environments relates to utilizing physical and digital components to shape these places (e.g. airports, branded retail stores, museums, classrooms, mixed reality tools) to foster particular experiences. 

While people have always designed their environments, the Environments track in the School of Design was developed in recognition that new and emerging technology allows the blending of digital and physical elements to craft experiences. As the possibilities of designing for environments expand, expertise in the design of these complex systems is needed.

As Environments designers in the School of Design, we work in a range of scales, from artifacts or small spaces only one person can experience at a time, to systems and services that impact entire communities. These include retail experiences, interactive exhibits, workplaces, new kinds of mixed reality interactions, intelligence in environments, social systems, and experimental speculative projects. At the core of what we do is a consideration for who we are designing for, the passage of time, physical and digital space, interactions (between people, objects, technology, and space), and how the experience we are designing relates to the world around it.  

We learn and experiment with a wide range of domain-specific knowledge and approaches. We also work to  synthesize multiple theoretical perspectives and apply them practically and critically through our work. The practical skills that we develop include interaction and user experience design, physical and digital prototyping and modeling, physical computing, storytelling and filmmaking, multi-sensory and brand design, virtual and augmented reality, creative use of machine learning, speculative design and design fiction.

Students who studied in the Environments track are now designing physical, digital, and hybrid experiences, new services, exhibits, and exploring the boundaries of new technologies. Graduates are designing interactions and experiences at Apple, Google, AJQA, Capital One, and Duolingo, among others. Environments students have interned with companies and organizations that include Apple, Google, NASA, Microsoft, Samsung, LinkedIn, Facebook, Dubberly Design Office, Deeplocal, frog design, odopod design, and Blast Motion, among others.

  • Discovery Panel in Context
  • Gestures

Discovery Panel

The Discovery Panel is a platform for students to share inspiration, collaborate, and present their work more effectively. This multi-screen display fulfills the absence of a dynamic presentation tool and facilitates helpful critique.

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  • Uploading process notes
  • Group meeting
  • Beginning group call
  • Live collaborative work


Mirror is a solution for collaboration between two students in different places, ie studio and home. It is a glanceable tabletop interface that can be used for live collaboration on Adobe files and other process work.

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Phipps Redesign

Examination of the environment at the Phipps Conservatory for inspiration, and a proposal to improve this environment. Process: http://cperrye.tumblr.com/tagged/A3 Final: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzZCcv3TTaGCWVZSZ0swTV9uOGs/view?usp=sharing Reflection: http://cperrye.tumblr.com/post/135421199787/a3-reflection-phipps

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  • Conflict Kitchen

A3: Environments Experience Design Story

I created a redesign for the Conflict Kitchen environment. I began by analyzing the digital and physical spaces. I then considered what possibilities exist for the space and made a design story to express what I feel should be changed.

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Paper Planes

Most of the ideas generated in the brainstorming process are never used, simply because they do not fit within the scope of a project. In this augmented studio environment, students are able to take the good ideas they have that they won't be using and release them into the ether in the form of floating paper planes. These planes move between studios, and can be opened and read using an augmented reality app.

  • ArtCat Icon
  • Intro to ArtCat
  • ArtCat in Gallery Space


ArtCat helps to create an immersive museum experience for young kids, introducing them to art in a fun and interesting way.

  • Shuffle Projection Model
  • Using Shuffle Mobile App
  • Viewing 2D Space from 3D Perspectives
  • Working on Shuffle Remotely

A4 Designing the Studio of the Future

In this project I collaborated with another student to design a system within our studio space that aided environments designers in their process of combining digital and physical prototyping tools. The final product consisted of a Projection/Application software system called Shuffle that created hybrid environments of physical and digital mapping and prototyping, allowing for a more layered and informed viewing of a space that will aid future design decisions made by the user.

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  • Mirror Interface 1
  • Mirror Interface 2
  • Mirror Interface 3

Environments Studio A4

I proposed to create an interactive mirror display that acts as a looking glass into the studio for users to answer the essential question of whether or not they should go to studio through qualifiers including the amount of people in studio and the amount of work that is assigned. Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/79zYGOuF35k

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Feed the Fish

Projections of fish provide ambient information to initiate sharing food in and across studios.

  • Proposal Slide
  • Brick Diagram/Implementation
  • Effect

Phipps Conservatory ReDesign Concept

An environments proposal in which I implement an engaging, educational element into the current immersive botanical environment. Phipps Conservatory has very subtle hints of manmade factors, and it is important to stay with that trend.

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Green Heat: Studio of The Future

Green Heat is a concept for a smart, sustainable, personalized heating system. A user controls their personal environment with a small fan and heating pad which are powered by a pedal generator underneath their desk. The physical action of pedaling induces a natural increase in temperature and physicalizes the energy a person uses, making electricity a more tangible, valuable resource. My objective was to reduce energy use in a studio setting and eliminate the need for steam radiators.

Studio Learning Environment Redesign

by Lily Kim
Prototyping Learning Environments: Prototype the design studio as a learning environment of the future. Explore online, physical, and hybrid learning environments scenarios. (Partner: Lily Kim) See more: https://carolynyzhou.wordpress.com/a4/

Additional information about the Environments track

The Environments track was launched in 2014 with the School of Design's new curriculum. We recognized that increasingly, we live in hybrid times and designing for our experiences involves larger designed and natural contexts. We simultaneously engage with physical and digital environments in ways that are not covered by Communications and Products. For example, a visit to an urban center may require shifting your attention between the physical environment and mobile devices (e.g., map applications, photos, social media), and is also now involving hybrid augmented reality experiences. The physical and digital are likely to blend even further with smart spaces, internet of things, mixed reality, sensor networks, big data, artificial intelligence, smart cities, and mixed reality interfaces. 

Designer Eliel Saarinen said, "Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan." In the Environments track, we seek to design places that result in meaningful human experiences, and increasingly, delightful experiences that involve the seamless integration of digital and physical systems. 

There are six core classes within the Environments track:

Studio + Prototyping Lab 1: Form and Context (Fall sophomore year)
We learn the fundamentals of designing hybrid physical and digital environments, and the prototyping and storytelling skills needed to develop our ideas and convey them to others.  

Studio + Prototyping Lab 2: Design for Interaction (Spring sophomore year)
We experiment with the effects of time, space, and scale as fundamentals of an environment through storytelling and simulation. We further develop digital and analog prototyping and modeling making skills.

Studio 3: Complex Systems (Fall junior year)
We develop multi-sensory design proposals and explore how form, interaction, and storytelling are integral to interactions and experiences in environments. We develop client-facing presentations and test our assumptions about branded experiences.

Studio 4: Social Systems (Spring junior year)
We explore design, human behavior, and people's understanding, in physical, digital, and hybrid environments. We use technology to develop speculative proposals that are tied to current advances in intelligent environments.

Studio 5: Design Research Studio (Fall senior year)
We use the design research, analytical, conceptual, prototyping, and storytelling skills that have been developed over the past three years to design systems, artifacts, user experiences, and/or hybrid environments that impact the lives of people in the Pittsburgh community.

Studio 6: Capstone (Spring senior year)
Everyone, across all three tracks, come together to work in a collaborative, multidisciplinary setting.

Environments students are encouraged to take electives across campus in IDeATE, Architecture, Music, Drama, Art, Computer Science, HCII, and others that may expand their personal interests in design.