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People  •  Art + Design, Center for Design  •  Assistant Professor, Interim Director

Michael Arnold Mages

My research interests include developing a rich understanding of the ways that service design, technology and the material environment facilitate human conversation. I am especially interested in creating work that supports participants’ understanding of their own intersectional identity as a component of a conversation, and creating work that can support conversations that are difficult, or high-stakes, or where one or more participants are in a leveraged position.

During the past 3 years I have formed research partnerships and conducted projects with The City of Pittsburgh, The Heinz Endowments, The Environmental Charter School, The Office of Veterans Affairs (MyVA Communities), and the Obama White House initiative My Brother’s Keeper for Southwestern Pennsylvania. I have worked as a researcher for Carnegie Mellon’s Program for Deliberative Democracy, and the Metro 21: Smart Cities Initiative.

Formerly, I ran a design consultancy specializing in strategically oriented design practice: research, communications analysis and planning, as well as UI design and development for web, mobile and web-based applications. Our clients included mid-sized regionally-oriented businesses, startups, universities, and Fortune 100 companies. I have taught research-informed design practice to students in business, computer science and fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, and the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, and now at Northeastern University. Past course projects have included consulting for identity system and branding for Case Logic, business process audit and redesign for the Denver Regional Transportation District, and an extensive experience audit and redesign of all customer-facing business processes for the Denver District Attorney’s office. Other clients have included Oracle, Seagate, The Denver Art Museum, The Denver Botanic Gardens, Celestial Seasonings.

Research/Publications Highlights

  • Surfacing Values in Difficult Conversations: game-based training to lower the stakes on difficult topics, chapter in peer-reviewed book, Playing with the Rules: The Ethics of Playing, Researching, and Teaching Games in the Writing Classroom, Palgrave Macmillan, Jan 2021
  • Attuning Contraception Choice and Patient Values, Arnold Mages, Michael; Lin, Janice; Xu, Anni. paper published in the proceedings of the Design Research Society: DRS2020: Synergy, Griffith University, Brisbane, AU, August 11–14, 2020
  • Facilitating collaboration and trust on cross-cultural teams: Designing conversations through evocative objects, Ciliotta Chehade, Estefania; Arnold Mages, Michael. workshop presentation, Design Research Society: DRS2020: Synergy, Griffith University, Brisbane, AU, August 11–14, 2020
  • Supporting Neighborhood Resilience with Civic Conversations, in SCORAI – Sustainable Consumption and Social Justice in an Urbanizing World, June 11, 2020
  • Designing Difficult Conversations for Multiple Stakeholders, in RSD8, the Symposium of the Systemic Design Association, 2019
  • Researching Transition Design, article with Dimeji Onafuwa, in Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios en Diseno y Comunicacion, Universidad de Palermo, Buenos Aires, special issue on Transition Design, 2018
  • Designing for Civic Conversations presentation at: Relating Systems Thinking and Design 6, Oslo, Norway, October 18-20, 2017
  • Redesigning the Town Hall: Deliberative Community Forums presentation at: National League of Cities City Summit, Pittsburgh, PA, November 16-19, 2016
  • Uber and Language/Action Theory paper presented at: DRS2016: Design + Research + Society – Future-Focused Thinking, Brighton, UK, June 27-30, 2016


Art + Design, Center for Design


  • PhD, Design, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Master of Arts, Digital Media Studies, University of Denver
  • Bachelor of Music, Composition, University of Arizona

Past Clients

  • Oracle Systems
  • DocuSign
  • The Heinz Endowments
  • The City of Pittsburgh
  • The Denver Art Museum
  • PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)
  • The Remaking Cities Institute

Research Focus

  • Decision Making
  • Systems Thinking
  • Design thinking
  • Visual Design
  • Public Policy
  • Ethnographic Methods and Ethics
  • • Conversation Design
  • • Participatory Design
  • Health Design
  • Transition Design

Courses Taught

  • Thesis Seminar for Design (Graduate)
  • Research Methods for Design (Graduate)
  • Notational Systems for Experience Design (Graduate)
  • Interaction Team Project 1 & 2 (Senior Capstone)
  • Design Degree Project (Senior Capstone)
  • Interactive Design 2 (upper-division, required)
  • Designing Civic Conversations (Masters-level, elective)
  • Senior Studio: SpeakLab (upper-division, required)
  • Information Design (IDEATE, interdisciplinary)
  • Design Thinking (Masters-level, required)
  • Design Studio 4 (Senior Thesis)
  • Practices of Design (upper-division, required)
  • Interactive Design 2 (upper-division, required)
  • Design for Behavior & Experience (Graduate)

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