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Northwestern University

Three Faculty Members Join Design Research Cluster

Jessica Hullman, Noshir Contractor, and Nick Diakopoulos lead research efforts focused on design problems

This year, three faculty members have joined the Design Research Cluster: Jessica Hullman, Noshir Contractor, and Nicholas Diakopoulos.

Design researchers create practical solutions and theory through a design process of focusing, understanding, defining, conceiving, building, and testing. Co-sponsored by the Segal Design Institute, Northwestern Engineering, and The Graduate School, the Design Research Cluster brings together interdisciplinary faculty and PhD students from across Northwestern to advance research in three core areas: human-centered design, computational thinking and design, and design skills and methods.  Researchers seek to understand and design the relationships between technology and society - leading research efforts focused on high-impact complex problems including information access, personalized health and well-being, income inequality, online privacy and security, and life-long learning. 

Meet the newest members of the Design Research Cluster:


Jessica HullmanJessica Hullman

Jessica Hullman is the Allen K. and Johnnie Cordell Breed Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at Northwestern University, where she directs the MU Collective, a lab devoted to information visualization and uncertainty cognition.

Q: Why are you excited to be a part of the Design Research Council?

JH: Computer science is always the result of human design processes, whether its interfaces, algorithms, or systems. The Design Research Council is a great way to remain aware of this and to exchange ideas with other researchers. Liz [Gerber]'s vision brings the sort of cutting edge perspectives on design that can be transformative for how one thinks about one's own research.

Q: Tell us about your current work with Design Research fellows.

JH: I'm working with Cindy Xiong, who is leading a project aimed at understanding how different visual representations of correlated data may contribute to people inferring causal relationships. Through controlled experiments on different representations, we are hoping to better understand how to design visualizations of multivariate data in ways that prevent people from jumping to false conclusions.

Q: How do you see your own scholarship intersecting with design?

JH: My research concerns data visualization, in particular representations and interactive interfaces for supporting reasoning about error and uncertainty. I see understanding the design process as critical to any work aimed at improving how data is presented. For example, to build tools that improve how people present data requires understanding how designers and other visualization creators think about their users' knowledge, needs and abilities related to uncertainty information, and what incentives them to show versus hide error information.


Noshir ContractorNoshir Contractor

Noshir Contractor is the Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science, the School of Communication and the Kellogg School of Management. He is also the Director of the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) Research Group at Northwestern.

Q: Why are you excited to be a part of the Design Research Council?

NC: This is an unprecedented initiative to bring together diverse disciplinary perspectives on design. The word design, like model, is widely used across disciplines but, while being richly evocative, is also strategically ambiguous. Liz’s leadership in bringing together thought leaders about design across disciplines at NU is very timely and potentially fruitful.

Q: Tell us about your current work with Design Research fellows.

NC: I am working with Diego Gomez-Zara who is a Ph.D. student in the interdisciplinary Technology and Social Behavior (TSB) program. He has been passionate about how the design of technologies to assemble dream teams informs and is in turn informed by, the social science research on designing dream teams

Q: How do you see your own scholarship intersecting with design?

NC: My scholarship has largely been informed by drawing insights about social phenomena from a networks perspective. Network Science is in large part focused on understanding the emergence of networks (i.e. how they form) and the outcomes resulting from these networks (i.e. how they perform). This understanding is critically important to the design of social networks optimized in a wide variety of contexts ranging from addressing global health challenges, managing "Mission to Mars,” or anticipating the impact of automobile features on car purchasing decisions. 


Nick DiakopoulosNicholas (Nick) Diakopoulos

Nick Diakopoulos is an Assistant Professor in Communication Studies and Computer Science (by courtesy) at Northwestern University where he is Director of the Computational Journalism Lab.

Q: Why are you excited to be a part of the Design Research Council?

ND: I'm thrilled for the opportunity to engage with the amazing design community we have on campus at Northwestern, including both a range of interdisciplinary faculty and students. I'm hoping to bring some of the ideas discussed at our meetings back into the classroom and into my research in developing tools and services to enable computational journalism.

Q: How do you see your own scholarship intersecting with design?

ND: My primary research area is in computational journalism -- the production of news information with, by, and about algorithms. I believe that we can design a better more sustainable and resilient future for journalism by applying design processes and techniques for prototyping, evaluating, and streamlining various new products and services that harness the power of computing in new ways for the journalistic enterprise.

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