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“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

– Steve Jobs

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Research Statement

The convergence of Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Extended Reality requires new modes of interaction that move beyond conventional approaches such as human-centered design. Instead we need rich conversational ecosystems that foster exchange and knowledge building across the milieu. My approach is called Animistic Design, which uses a fictional sense of life, personality, and intention to create teams of smart, understandable and interesting collaborators, not servants.

I’m especially interested in how the designed behavior of things (objects and spaces, physical and virtual) can evoke exploration, imagination and meaning for people. In particular, I’m interested in productive affordances that enable:

  • knowledge creation, dissemination, and exploration
  • evocative and poetic interactions
  • fostering of imagination, divergent thinking and creative making

What’s especially power is ecologies of smart things, composed of embodied and tangible artifacts in combination with virtual, pliable media in all its forms. As part of this, I’m interested in the relationships between the tangible and the virtual, the embodied thing and the media thing.


Reimagining the Goals and Methods of UX for ML/AI

AAAI Spring Symposium Series, Designing the User Experience of Machine Learning Systems, Stanford


Three Clues for an Apple AR Ecosystem / Medium

Design foresight piece on the potentials for an iPhone based AR system

Medium article:

Rethink IxD

Article that challenges human centered design and other conventions of interaction design.

Medium article:

Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman

Article in the Journal Digital Creativity that extends the ideas of animism. In collaboration with Dr. Betti Marenko.


Animism in Design: Creating an Internet of (Quirky) Things

interview: Animism in Design: Creating an Internet of (Quirky) Things

AniThings: Animism and Heterogeneous Multiplicity

SIGCHI paper that proposes a new methodology for Interaction Design that uses animism as a metaphor for creating an ecology of interactive objects, each with it’s own personality.

pdf: ACM DL Author-ize serviceAniThings: animism and heterogeneous multiplicity

Philip van Allen, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Brooklyn Brown, Hye Mi Kim, Daniel Lara
CHI EA ’13 CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2013

blog post:

Imagine Change

An essay for Art Center’s DOT magazine that explores ideas for how art and design education could evolve using a range of digital tools, including tablets.


Slabs, Sofducts, and Bespoke Objects

This essay explores the emerging landscape for designers as influenced by post-PC devices, cheap sensors and electronics, and pervasive networks and the consequential shift towards ubiquitous computing, tangible interaction, and cloud services.


The New Ecology of Things

A transmedia publication that explores design and education issues in ubiquitous, networked objects & spaces. This publication includes a book, poster, mobile phone content and a website that themselves are a kind of new ecology of things with essays, images, vidoe, reader feedback, and interactive experiences. (2007-2008)

book: The New Ecology of Things (NET)

Productive Interaction

An essay that proposes a new design paradigm for interactive design called productive interaction. This approach views the user as an active participant in the creation of new meaning for themselves through their interactions. Productive Interaction is an alternative to  “experience design,” which this essay characterizes as valuable but flawed because it puts the designer in the position of designing the experience rather than the user. (2004)

PDF of essay: Productive Interaction

Thinking About Interaction Design for Online News Delivery

An article that applies the ideas of Productive Interaction to the news publications. (USC Annenberg – Online Journalism Review 2004)


Designing the future: writing, design and research on NOT-linear interaction

How can designers make more meaningful, rich and user enabling interactive systems? What are the best principles, affordances and techniques of interactive design, what are some examples, and how should designers approach this challenge?”


ACM DL Author-ize serviceDesigning the future: writing, design and research on NOT-linear interaction

Philip van Allen, Scott Nazarian, Jen Tarara, David Keady
DIS ’04 Proceedings of the 5th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques, 2004

Dimensional Story Space

An article I wrote in 1992 for a group called Interactive Expression. Several of us in the Los Angeles area working at Philips and other “multimedia” companies in the early days got together to discuss the potentials for this new medium. This article outlines the limitations and potentials for interactive stories.



Research Topics

Animistic Design – Exploring the natural human tendency to think that objects and spaces have an inner life that is expressed through behaviors. I think it’s possible to use a poetic version of animism to make our complex digital stuff more understandable and transparent, paradoxically by wrapping the behavior of these systems in imaginative fictions of personality, memory and narrative. The use of multiple animistic systems allows people to work with AI in a more conversational, propositional manner where they create a dialog that builds new meanings in a shared milieu. Animistic Design as a new approach to AI that builds productive ecosystems for creative work.

The New Ecology of Things – The design of interactive systems that embed computing and networking capability in everyday objects and spaces, creating new, embodied interactions for people. These systems sense and act in the world and involve human scale interfaces, activating spaces with kinetic behavior, embedding dynamic images, video, text and audio in spaces, and creating ecologies of networked devices that communicate and work collaboratively with each other and with people.

Productive Interaction – Designing new systems of interaction that empower the user to create their own sets of meanings.

Tools for Designers – As part of my teaching practice, I explore new ways to engage and inspire designers with tools that include informational websites and tutorials, software/hardware toolkits that simplify sketching in technology, and animate systems that support the problem setting and divergent thinking at the core of design. In particular, the NETLab Toolkit is a widely used open-source system for tangible interaction.

Interactive Music & Sound – Designing systems that enable people to dynamically interact with sound to create new experiences. These systems are smart and understand how to automatically remix and recombine music and sound, providing the user with simple handles for complex behaviors.