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Research Projects

The Design Lab’s mission is to make Harvard University a world leader in product design theory, research, and practice.

Beyond Design Thinking Methods: Innovation projects as delicate motivational systems  

Most people think of innovation projects as idea development processes. Our research shows that these projects are also complex individual and social motivational process. The Design Lab studies factors related to systematic innovation performance differences in IDEO and Fortune 500 innovation projects. We developed a motivational model for innovation success and related teaching materials.

Creative Conflict and Diversity: Harnessing the benefits of functional diversity through constructive controversy

Multidisciplinary teamwork is becoming standard in engineering and design professions. Professionals and students are expected to work in teams of people from different specialties. While diversity presents opportunities and has been linked to more successful projects, it also increases the likelihood of relationship conflicts. The Design Lab researches the effects of different types of diversity on innovation educational and professional projects.

Human-product interaction 

Human-product interaction refers to the cognitive and emotional associations we have with various items, and how this affects their decisions as a consumer. Understanding human-product interaction is essential to good design. Designing things – whether buildings or music or TV shows or food etc – for people has always involved trying to guess what people want, and to create things they’ll want and pay for. With the rise in the enthusiasm for user-centered-design, product design researchers are trying to understand the complexity of the relationship between users and products. This requires more thoughtful design and an understanding of psychology. The Design Lab is currently studying patterns and themes from  2,500+ design reviews to better understand how products and services add delight and/or reduce stress, and align with a user’s values. 

Technology that helps us better understand ourselves

The Lab is researching how people develop product ‘fluency’, or the ability to recognize and articulate what they like and dislike about the products and services they use. Our goal is to one day make it easier for people to become more fluent in designing  experiences that add delight or reduce stress in our lives. In this research, we usually study flavor products because of their frequency and accessibility. Learning flavor fluency acts as a metaphor for fluency in other product domains. For example, in the domain of flavor, despite constant consumption, most of us lack the fluency to structure our product experiences in useful ways for ourselves to know and design for our own tastes, much less to describe our experience in meaningful ways to others. Without this basic understanding, we don’t learn to notice the nuances that influence preferences or learn to become active creators of new experiences. Our Flavor Fluency research helped inspire a mobile flavor fluency ‘chef school’ called Chef League, that was the first of its kind in the iOS App Store.

Nested Learning Collective: Improving remote learning during COVID-19

In response to COVID-19, the Director of the Design Lab created a modular approach to active learning pedagogy and launched the Nested Learning Collective. Nested began as a volunteer team of technologists and leading educators at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, and Parsons. Nested is focused on finding creative ways to make it easier for post-secondary educators to adapt to a remote fall semester. Our team of volunteers find, test, and recommend ready-to-incorporate, inexpensive, home-appropriate activities, projects, and tools. We help post-secondary educators save time and energy in their remote teaching and make it easier for educators to focus on what matters most – the individual learning needs of students, whether on campus or at home. Learn more: Nested Learning Website

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This section is for students enrolled in the Fall 2020 ES285 course at Harvard University