This year, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design students Jeffrey Chou (MA ‘17, MDes ‘19), Gray Crawford (MDes ‘19), and Angela Wang (MDes ‘19) all received kynamatrix Research Network “Innovation Through Collaboration” 2019 Grant Awards for their thesis work. The kynamatrix Research Network is an organization of researchers dedicated to “the understanding and advancement of interactive communication, accelerating innovation in design, engineering, and computer science.” The Network provides grants to 501c3 organizations and universities that advance innovation in their four areas of interest: communication, energy, transportation, and public safety.
Chou’s thesis, “Designing for Sustainable Practices: Using Gameplay as a learning tool that fosters behavior change,” tackles issues of food literacy. He believes that the current generation has little understanding of food from a holistic perspective. This lack of understanding then leads to issues such as higher obesity rates, accelerated climate change, and unhealthy eating.
Chou was inspired by his own interesting cooking and food, particularly as an international student. “When I first came to the U.S., I had a difficult time understanding food culture here,” said Chou. “I was unfamiliar with the food I could get in local stores and couldn’t get used to the food provided by campus dining services.” While this was challenging, it also opened up the opportunity for him to learn and change his eating habits. He hopes that his thesis ultimately helps people understand the impact of their food choices on health, the environment, and the economy, thus empowering people to make informed decisions about what they eat.
Crawford’s thesis, “Internalization and Manipulation of Exotic Spatial Interfaces,” explores spatial interfaces within VR, AR, and other such technologies. It focuses on how novel simulated physics affect the development of intuition with spatial phenomena and the types of affordances that are now able to be designed. Gray was particularly inspired by the technological progress we have made as a society.
“We have cultural millennia and personal decades of experience with spatial interactions within our universe’s physical laws, and a half-century of experience with 2D computer interfaces,” said Crawford. “Now, with VR (etc) we can spatially act within simulated physics systems, and the total domain of available environments/physics is massive and essentially unexplored. Relying only on prior phenomenal expectations to inform the design of new tools and experiences risks failing to fully leverage the possibility space, so it’s important to investigate the frontiers of phenomena and observe how familiarity develops from direct, embodied engagement, which sensitize the user/designer to material applications.”
Wang’s thesis, “Design Tools for Maintaining Policy Intent in Comprehensive Planning Processes,” addresses challenges in applying design to policy making. She is exploring how to best use design in the policy making process, one that often involves diverse stakeholders and traditional collaboration methods. Her thesis inspiration comes from her own experience working as a city planner.
“Well-intentioned creative activities were being rejected by leadership or executed poorly,” said Wang. “This motivated me to pursue grad school in design to understand how and to what level of depth human-centered design can be practiced in city planning.” Angela hopes that her thesis will help identify design tools that will meet the specific needs for comprehensive planning teams to work more effectively.
All three were surprised and grateful to win the grant.
“Design for policy is a very new field and it can be hard to articulate the value proposition at times so I appreciate the support for emerging practices,” continued Wang. “I've also been covering the cost for compensating my participants and traveling to run workshops, and the grant really helps make all of this a bit more sustainable.”
“Seeing many friends and colleagues from previous years also having received it, I feel like I am amidst good company,” added Crawford.
Chou acknowledged that being at CMU has helped him in his thesis research. “My advisor is always supportive in helping me articulate the problem and identify its future direction,” said Chou. “Many students around campus have also provided inspiring suggestions.”
Crawford also pointed out that CMU’s interdisciplinary environment has “provided ample opportunities to collaborate and ideate with some brilliant minds and friends. The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry has been a place of special significance and creative potency for me.”
kynamatrix Research Network, co-founded by School of Design alumna Alyce Hoggan (MDes ’00), not only works towards solving real-world problems through grant gifting, they also actively pursue research in communication, energy, transportation, and public safety.