About the course

51-372 · Persuasion · Spring 2018 · Carnegie Mellon School of Design
Dan Lockton, Francis Carter, Stephen Neely
9 units ·  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8.30–9.50AM

Tuesdays (until Spring Break): Skibo Small Gym, 8.30–9.10AM; then MM103 9.15–9.50AM
Tuesdays (after Spring Break): MM103 8.30–9.50AM
Thursdays (all semester): MM103 8.30–9.50AM

Contact details: danlockton@cmu.edu, fcarter@andrew.cmu.edu, neely@cmu.edu
Office hours: by appointment. For Dan: book via Calendly; for Francis and Stephen, please email.


Persuasion is an important skill for designers to have—both in design practice itself, and in professional situations. Your ability to put across your message, to get other people to agree with you, to value your work, and to want to work with you, will be central to your career, both inside and outside of design. Equally, understanding what persuades you and others—how we are influenced by other people, by media, by our environment, by design—is a crucial reflective skill to develop in better understanding yourself, those around you, and more widely, society.

In this course, running for the second time in spring 2018, we will explore persuasion from a range of perspectives, some focused on design specifically, and some looking at insights from other disciplines and applying them within a design context. We will also examine interpersonal skills and persuasion in a professional context. This is a huge subject, and we will be introducing you to a variety of ideas and methods which form a broad body of knowledge rather than a deep dive into a single subject. The classes will be a mixture of practical activities, lectures and exercises, taught in different ways appropriate to the subject. Some exercises will be challenging and will probably, initially at least, put you out of your comfort zone, but overall the aim that they are enjoyable and rewarding. You will do a series of projects, one over the whole semester building to a final piece, and others at particular points during the semester integrating material covered so far. The projects will enable you to apply the skills you are developing through your specializations in Products, Communications or Environments, and other knowledge and skills you bring.


The course is arranged into seven modules, or sections. They will be somewhat interleaved, rather than in a neat sequence, partly because there is no specific hierarchy, and partly because of the availability of guest speakers.

Introduction to Persuasion

The first few classes will introduce the idea of persuasion, its relation to design, and related topics such as propaganda, media literacy (Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, Reeves & Nass) and advertising literacy. We will look at some historical and current examples around both commercial advertising and social marketing.

Fundamentals of Experience

The Fundamentals of Experience module is an introduction to some of the base variables that make up an experience recognized at the soma-tier. The expectation is that as the designers develop skills in soma literacy, they will be able to use this new perspective to recognize and manipulate (design) the given variables. The work is presented acknowledging that while one cannot guarantee a reaction to a given arrangement of variables, a designer can certainly nudge an actor toward a desired sensuous state or goal.

Fundamentals of Experience is presented on Tuesday mornings, in the Skibo Small Gym, over the first 8-weeks of the course. Taking inspiration from the somaesthetics of Shusterman, performance as practice of Schwiebert and Jaques-Dalcroze, pragmatic philosophy of Wittgenstein, James, and Dewey, we present an investigation of the body (soma) as the experiential core of perception and action.

In these 8 short sessions we will present fundamental concepts of experience such as tempo, cadence, beat, meter, range, crusis, phrase, rhythm, agogics, tension and release, rhythm, flow and interruption, ease and efficiency. The concepts are presented as participatory, extra-linguistic, kinesthetic and enkinesthetic (social) experiences before any cognitive reflection is invited.

Design with Intent

In Design with Intent, we will take a journey through different ‘lenses’ or perspectives on how design can be used to persuade or influence people, based around the Design with Intent toolkit and subsequent development. We’ll use drafts of chapters from a book currently being written, and you’ll have the challenge of finding some of these principles ‘in the wild’.

Persuasion in our Environment

The built environment and our interaction with it shapes our everyday experiences.  In Persuasion in our Environment we will explore how daily behaviors manifest in response to visible and invisible forces found within everyday experiences.  We will look at the politics of physical environments and how designers play a role in scripting experiences for users through combinations of artifacts, media & services.  Through this module you will begin to better understand the impact designers play in developing social technical relationships within physical environments.

Metaphors, Imaginaries, and the Mind

Here we’ll look at some of the ways in which language, imagery, and cognition work together to persuade.

Yourself as a Persuader

We want you to develop confidence in professional situations such as facilitation, working well in teams, and influencing within the organizations you’ll work for, including, in a sense, teaching and persuading others what value you can bring. Jon Kolko notes that “Our role as designers is increasingly that of facilitator—of bringing both users and clients along for the creative ride, and helping them see the benefits and value of various forms of design methodology. It’s not enough to do great design work and come unveil it to an audience. Instead, our role is to teach other stakeholders about what it is we do and why we do it.” In this part of the course, we and a range of guest speakers will explore some of the ways that you can be a persuader, and some skills for doing it.

Ethics and influence

(description to follow)

Objectives and learning outcomes

By the end of the course…

  • you should be comfortable with observing patterns of persuasion in the world, in conversation, in multiple forms of media, and in design, and be able to identify and discuss critically the principles being used
  • you should have compiled and synthesized your own collection of principles and examples of persuasion
  • You should be confident in applying principles of persuasion and other skills learned during the course within the context of design, and professional situations such as facilitation

What you’ll do:

  • practical exercises including work around persuasion and the body, workshops, and an ongoing task collecting and organizing persuasion examples ‘in the wild’
  • lectures, readings and discussions, individually and in groups, covering a range of topics
  • a series of projects, one over the whole semester, and others at particular points during the semester integrating material covered so far

Why you’re doing it:

  • to develop persuasion abilities within professional situations
  • to develop ability to apply persuasion principles within design
  • to develop ability to recognize persuasive techniques being used on you and others
  • to develop an understanding of, and literacy with, persuasion in media, design, society and interpersonal situations
  • to develop a critical ability to recognize, engage with and challenge persuasive techniques