Paul Pangaro

I want an intersection of design, humanities, and theory to generate richer human interactions, with technology and without. I have sought, studied, and contributed explanatory models of interaction that aid understanding of human-to-human and human-with-machine conversation. These models have proved valuable for teaching design, writing code, evolving organizations, and proposing new methods for the design process itself. Framing situations as systems that are animated by social actors leads unavoidably to ethics. I am committed to defining minimal axioms for design that bound ethical and humane interactions.

My career spans teaching, research, startups, and consulting. See for papers, presentations, and other materials in each of these areas. Here is an overview of each:

Teaching: I have taught systems and cybernetics to designers — specifically, how to model interaction and conversation to aid the design of products and services. This began for Terry Winograd in his Human-Computer Interaction program at Stanford University from 2001 through 2007 and then from 2010 through 2014 at School of Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design program in New York City. In 2015 I was recruited to chair the MFA Interaction Design program at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where I was charged with defining a curriculum for 21st-century interaction design careers and raising the program’s quality and visibility. In January of 2019 I joined the Human-Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science here at CMU.

Research: My research interests center on how conversation can be facilitated — between a human and a machine but also for an organization or team, and even internal to an individual wanting to learn, collaborate, and act with clear, if evolving, intentions. “Design for conversation” is the over-arching goal for these research interests, because creating conditions for conversation for others is the most enabling and therefore the most ethical outcome of any design process. Methods to advance the design process itself are also founded in understanding and facilitating conversation, for the core of modern design involves systems of systems and hence teams. Therefore, 21st-century design is a set of conversations, resulting in the research twin to “design for conversation”, that is, “design as conversation.”

Startups: My most recent startup was General Cybernetics, Inc., in New York City, dedicated to new ways of reading and writing in digital media. This and other startups I have co-founded were focused on “conversation with content” for online learning, decision-making, and knowledge creation. I have also contributed to startups on the East Coast and in Silicon Valley (plus a year at Idealab in Pasadena, California) in roles of CTO, product lead, and / or engineering manager. I am currently advisor to Xandra, Inc., a conversation design studio working at the intersection of creativity and technology with conversational AI.

Consulting: Project engagements have included organizational design (Du Pont, Ogilvy & Mather), future-casting (Nokia Design Group London, Samsung, Instituto Itaú Cultural São Paulo, Intellectual Ventures, Alcatel-Lucent Paris, Lotus Development Corp), and interaction design (Citigroup,, Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation).


My interest in the intersection of design, humanities, and theory may be explained by my education background, which began with a B.S. in Humanities/Computer Science from MIT with a concentration in Drama and an undergraduate thesis in film criticism. On graduating I wrote simulation models of information processing in axon trees with Jerry Lettvin as a member of the Research Staff of the MIT Research Lab of Electronics. I was then hired by Nicholas Negroponte onto the Research Staff of the MIT Architecture Machine Group (which later morphed into the MIT Media Lab). Though starting in the Ph.D. program there, I completed my Ph.D. in cybernetics with Gordon Pask at Brunel University (UK), with a dissertation on Pask’s conversation theory and the application of its knowledge representation scheme to adaptive training based on an individual user’s learning strategy. This work seeded my first startup, where under government contracts to the US Army and UK Admiralty we developed cybernetic decision-support systems implemented in AI workstations, later extending these systems to training of nuclear power plant operators.

My grounding in conversation theory has informed the design and implementation of interactive software and learning organizations from the beginning of my career to the present day.