Alexander R.
Wilcox Cheek

ألكسندر ر. ولكوكس تشيك

Assistant Teaching Professor in Information Systems, Carnegie Mellon University

Co-Founder & Chief Design Officer, Macromicro LLC

Founder & Local Leader, Interaction Design Association (IxDA) Doha

Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue SMC 1070 Qatar
Pittsburgh, PA 15289-1070

alexcheek [at]

twitter | linkedin | fb | flickr | pinterest

I'm an assistant professor in information systems at Carnegie Mellon University, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, with a prior appointment at the School of Design. I work in the overlapping space of design, technology, and the humanities. Since 2009 I have been based in Doha, Qatar and spent 2013–14 in Cambridge, MA with Macromicro, a data visualization company which I co-founded in 2011. In 2013, Macromicro was nominated by HR Tech Europe as one of Europe's most innovative new tech startups.

As a transdisciplinary designer and researcher I study the broad reach of design and how it influences communication, interactions, organizations, and human ecologies. I believe that design innovation comes from a rhetorical foundation and the unique disposition and perspective that designers bring to situations, making them particularly great agents of change and shapers of the human experience.

Current and past clients and projects include Microsoft, Motorola, UPMC, Highmark BCBS, Nokia, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aspen Institute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Her Highness Sheikha Moza, Fitwits, and more. I was the co-founder of Classroom Salon, an interactive media platform supported by grants from the Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and Innovation Works.

Undergraduate study in design (BFA) at the RIT School of Design; Graduate study (M.Des.) at Carnegie Mellon University Department of English and School of Design.

(Attempted) Layperson's Version

I teach design and lead research initiatives towards the betterment of society (or at least I try). Designers shape many things: the built world of information, objects, architecture, cities, and environments, as well as intangible things like experiences people have with digital platforms, patient experiences in a hospital, or ways in which organizations are structured. All together, design, to a large extent, manifests itself as culture and reflects the values of a society through designed forms.

Good designers make the things that directly affect people's lives while being mindful of their impact on broader global systems. Sometimes, designers even try to shape these systems directly. The best forms of design are holistic and in balance with their time and place. “What happens to this product after it's used?” “How can we strengthen the social fabric of this neighborhood by visualizing multivariate data?” “What's the value of this technology and how can we make it more human? More useful? More contextually aware?”

Designers can work inside traditional disciplines, but the most effective ones work across boundaries, harnessing the best ideas from the humanities, sciences, business, policy and government. The designer of the 21st century is emerging as a facilitator for advancement, working to bring about positive change in some of the most intractable circumstances. Designers are great at making connections, challenging conventions, and leading collective action. Designers are advocates for people and the planet.

Four orders of design, based on the work of Richard Buchanan:


everything connects.

— Charles Eames

Areas of Practice

Third and fourth order design, primarily focusing on the research and design of interactions, services, and experiences in the present, and organizations and systems for the future.

Scholarly Interests

Design and Architectural Theory; Rhetorical Foundations of Design; the Disposition of the Designer; Design for Interaction and Services in Technology, Healthcare, Public Sector; Wicked / Ill-Structured / Intractable Problems; Design at a Systems Level; Historical Lineage of Design Practice and Inquiry; Human-Centered Design Pedagogy & Curriculum Design.

Extracurricular Interests

Travel; Photography; International Development and Foreign Service; Middle East and Arab Affairs; Progressive Politics; Journalism and News Media; Buddhism; New York; life, people, i'm interested in pretty much everything.

Talks, Panels, Workshops

• Tepper Executive Education | Design for Management & Organizational Change
• PechaKucha | What Diversity Means in Design
• Ibtikar Qatar | Human-Centered Design for a Complex World
• CMU Qatar Undergraduate Forum | Design Research Introduction
• Cambridge Center for Adult Education | The Designed World in Four Parts
• RIT School of Design | Design for Interaction + Systemic Change
• Boston Service Jam | Healthcare Service Design
• CMU DCH&SS | Information Revolution and Development in the Arabian Gulf
• Washington University St. Louis | “Eventually, Everything Connects”
• Tepper School of Business | Product & Service Design in Business
• mathaf arab museum of modern art | Maps, Narrative, and Design

Courses & Curriculum Design

Between 2009 and 2013 at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, a campus that supports about 300 students, I developed an integrated design studies curriculum to support the major in information systems, and other programs in computer science, business, and biological sciences. The design courses were founded on rhetorical and dialectic approaches while applying design in practical ways. The curriculum was scaffolded up through the four orders of design, culminating in self-defined, intractable problem projects. In 2014, the courses became embedded in the information systems program with specific study in technology, global systems, and environments.

51-261 Fundamentals I
Shaping Interactions + Experiences

Introductory course in interaction design, user experience, and the process of designing for people and technologies. Introduces students to basic human-centered design research and concept development in the development of digital, service, and user experiences. Students also develop component skills in simple user interface design. Coursework promotes design thinking and practice for application in tech fields.

67-359 Fundamentals II
Shaping Data + Information

Introductory course in communication design, visual hierarchy and organization, the development of messaging and production. Students develop skills in the organization and visualization of qualitative and quantitative data, and the structure of information for strategic purposes. Projects hone component skills in production and presentation for screen using grid systems, color, and typography. Incorporates basic multi-lingual production.

Design and the Human Experience

A seminar course based on rhetorical inquiry into the nature of the designed world, how to analyze it, how it’s built, and the values that shape it. Surveying design across its many forms, this reading- and writing-intensive course develops critical thinking on how we design information, products, physical spaces, technologies, services, public policies, as well as inquiry into emergent human ecologies and whole earth systems. Supporting texts include John Dewey, Richard Buchanan, Alice Rawsthorn, Warren Weaver, George Nelson, Don Norman, Bill Moggridge, Fritjof Capra, Horst Rittel, Spiro Kostof, Buckminster Fuller, Aristotle, and others.

Technologies in Service Design

A studio course that introduces design research methods, the creation of services with a human-centered focus, and how a designer can scaffold meaningful experiences within broader systems. This course brings an added emphasis to the role of technology products in services including ambient devices, mobile applications, wearables, embedded technologies, or connected devices along user pathways.

Human-Centered Design Research

In this studio course, students employ ethnographic and design methods to frame systemic issues with multiple constituencies. Using the lens of Human-Centered Design on human ecologies and urban fabrics, projects seek to positively affect a variety of issues: housing, healthcare, transportation, consular and embassy services, and the role of technology in serving constituent stakeholders.


Design for People & Planet
Industrial Design Fundamentals
Designing for Service (Research Methods)
Design Thinking for Business
Communication Design for HCI, MAPW
Information Design (Studio IV)

Executive Education
Design for Management & Organizational Change

Developed for organizational leaders who deal with intractable problems and with authority to drive change, this eight hour course helps participants frame and define organizational challenges, then advance solutions through practical frameworks. Participants are trained in thinking tools and visualization methods that can be used to shape innovative organizational strategy. From framing organizations as a complex, interconnected systems, participants then transfer this new knowledge to a vision of the future, clarifying high-level organizational values and designing actionable frameworks for change. This two day workshop is co-taught with Professor Ludmila Hyman, Ph.D.

© Copyright 2014 Alexander R. Wilcox Cheek.