51-372 · Persuasion · Spring 2020 · Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Dan Lockton, Silvana Juri
9 units ·  Wednesdays, 12.00–2.50PM, MM 107

Contact details: danlockton@cmu.edu, sjuri@andrew.cmu.edu
Office hours: by appointment. For Dan: book via Calendly; for Silvana: . Email to book a virtual meeting (Hours: Thursdays 1-4pm EST)


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 third time in spring 2019, 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. You will do a series of projects which 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 three broad modules, or sections:

  • How You Are Persuaded
  • You As A Persuader
  • A persuasive library

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 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

Why you’re doing it:

Attendance and engagement policy

We only have sixteen sessions together. Absences of any kind are strongly discouraged as your learning and work will be adversely affected by the information and activities you miss. Please be punctual, arriving just before the class start time, so we can begin the session promptly. If you are five minutes late or leave class early, you will be marked as absent. Two absences may cause your final grade to drop a letter. Three absences may earn you a failing grade for the course.

Please schedule doctor’s appointments, interviews, etc. for times other than class sessions. In the event that you encounter a health or life issue that requires you to miss class (such as a physician providing you with instructions that necessitate your quarantine) please notify me as soon as possible to provide an idea of the severity of your illness/issue and the length of time needed for recovery. Keep in mind, you are responsible for information you miss through absences or lateness. (Note: If your illness/issue requires recovery time that exceeds the absence policy for a passing grade, a leave of absence may need to be considered. If this becomes the case consultation with university resources on how best to support you may be necessary.)

Please bring academic timing conflicts to our attention as soon as possible and do not make travel plans before verifying the date of the event with us. While we encourage and support professional development through conferences and your search for internships and careers beyond the degree, it is also our expectation that you will balance these opportunities with the commitment you have made to your education here. You are responsible for any and all missed classes and assigned work, including team work. Please give Silvana or Dan plenty of notice and discuss your plans with them carefully. This is particularly critical when additional days are taken for international travel. Instructors are not required to make allowances for your absences nor adjust the course schedule, so once syllabi are issued and calendars set, it is your responsibility to negotiate your absences. For team projects, it is also critical that you make these same negotiations with your fellow students, for fair completion of work according to assigned schedules and due dates. Before making travel arrangements for the end of the semester, check with Silvana or Dan to confirm final dates for presentations, critiques and coursework submissions.

(This text is lightly modified from a new School of Design policy for Fall 2018)

Attribution policy

It’s not worth plagiarising anything. In this course, our aims include your development of a professional stance and approach to your work, and so we want you to embody that in everything you do. Very little in the world of design (or academia) is wholly original, but the ways in which you build on and transform others’ ideas in a respectful and appropriate way include attribution, acknowledgement and referencing. It is a marker of your professionalism, and you should treat developing this skill as part of your toolbox as seriously as you do other skills.

If you use an idea, image, or text from somewhere else, acknowledge this: reference where it came from. It makes your work stronger to do this — it shows that you are professional, well-read, and alert to developments in your field. If you are quoting or paraphrasing text, do it properly.

We are going to be strict on attribution, as part of helping you develop a professional approach to your work. During this course, you will be collecting and using lots of images, text and other media from various sources, online and in the real world, as well as taking photos and video yourself. It is essential that you attribute where you get these materials from, if they are not your own creation. And if they are your own creation, tell us, so we know. If you build on or modify others’ work, you need to state this. We want you to get into good habits, and missing attribution will count against you in grading. Carnegie Mellon’s official plagiarism policy and advice is here: https://www.cmu.edu/academic-integrity/plagiarism/index.html

Communicate with us

If you have questions outside of class please e-mail. We will respond to you as soon as possible. Keep in mind, instructors generally won’t be checking e-mail late in the evenings and during the weekends. The questions and comments we receive from students are often relevant to the entire class. Therefore, we will frequently use e-mail as a means of distributing pertinent project information to all of you. Please check email often so that you are not left out of the loop.

If at any point you’d like additional feedback on your performance please don’t hesitate to request it.

Take care of yourself

This class is meant to be interesting, and exploratory, but as a student you are under lots of pressure from different directions. If you can maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester, it will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress. All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help (this is actually a really useful skill to develop anyway, even in less stressful situations). Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412–268–2922 and visit their website http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/.
Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

CaPS: 412–268–2922; Re:solve Crisis Network: 888–796–8226

If the situation is life threatening, call the police:
On campus: CMU Police: 412–268–2323
Off campus: 911

If you have questions about this or your work, please let Francis, Eugenia, or Dan know.

(This text is lightly modified from that provided by now-President Farnam Jahanian, based on the work of the Task Force on the CMU Experience)