Alexander R. Wilcox Cheek

Alexander R.
Wilcox Cheek

Assistant Teaching Professor,
Design & 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, Pennsylvania 15213

alexcheek [at]

Projects and Research:
Classroom Salon
The Interactive News
Design + English Learning Alignment Study
The Design Disposition

I am a faculty member in information systems at Carnegie Mellon University, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, based, since 2009, in Doha, Qatar. I work in the overlapping space of design, technology, and the humanities, and previously held an appointment in the School of Design. I 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 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, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Fitwits, and more. With David Kaufer, Ananda Gunawardena, and Joanna Wolfe, I co-founded Classroom Salon, an interactive media and annotation platform for humanities and STEM classrooms. Since 2007, funding for Classroom Salon has been provided by Google, The National Science Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates 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. My thesis involved a study of the New York Times in their transition to digital journalism.

(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?” “Should we even be doing this at all?”

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. Good 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 user experience in the present, and organizations and systems for the future.

Scholarly Interests

Design Theory; Rhetorical Foundations of Design; the Disposition of the Designer; Design for Interaction and Services in Technology, Healthcare, Public Sector; Information Design, Data Visualization, and Digital Media; Wicked / Ill-Structured / Intractable Problems; Ecological and Whole Earth Systems; Historical Lineage of Design Practice and Inquiry; Human-Centered Design Pedagogy & Curriculum Development.

Extracurricular Interests

Travel; Photography; the Middle East; Progressive Politics; Journalism and News Media; Buddhism; New York; life, people, i'm interested in pretty much everything.

Talks, Panels, Workshops

• IxDA Interaction 16 Education Summit | Teaching Design to Future Technologists
• RasGas | Managing Change and Designing the Future
• University of Minnesota | Methodology of Interpretation in Design
• CMU School of Architecture | Maps, Narrative, and Storytelling
• Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar | Ethics in Design
• ITU Telecom World | Ideation and Design Thinking Workshop
• PechaKucha | Diversity in Design: Placemaking, Discipline, Holistic Systems
• Ibtikar Qatar | Human-Centered Design for a Complex World
• CMU-Q 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 '14 | Healthcare Service Design
• CMU Undergrad Research Forum | Information Revolution and Development in the Arabian Gulf
• Washington University St. Louis | “Eventually, Everything Connects”
• CMU Tepper School of Business | Product & Service Design in Business
• mathaf arab museum of modern art | Maps, Narrative, and Design

Design Curriculum

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, as well as 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 has been scaffolded up from visual communication and form building into interaction design and user experience, culminating in projects that directly address systems and intractable problems. In 2014, the courses became embedded in the information systems program with specific study in the relationships of human ecologies, technology, and global systems. All courses are driven by design research and develop a disposition of human-centeredness and systems thinking.

67-265 Design Fundamentals I
Shaping Interactions + Experiences

Offered Fall Semester

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. [Formerly CDF]

67-359 Design Fundamentals II
Shaping Data + Information

Offered Spring Semester

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, mapping, data graphics, and typography. [Formerly Studio 4]

The Designed World

Offered Fall Semester

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, technology, physical space, services, public policy, 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. [Formerly Design and the Human Experience]

Technologies in Service Design

Offered Spring Semester, Odd Years

Designing for Service introduces design research methods, the creation of services with a human-centered focus, and how a designer can scaffold meaningful and efficient 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. Design teams work directly with clients who have included mathaf: arab museum of modern art, the Embassy of India in Qatar, and the Embassy of Japan in Qatar.

Design for Behavioral Change

Offered Spring Semester, Even Years

Our behaviors are influenced in large part by the built world around us. Information, devices, physical environments and architectures all contribute to our decisions from what we consume to how we participate as citizens. Designers and technologists have a more direct hand in how our world takes shape and subsequently on people's actions. In this studio we employ a variety of human-centered design methods to shape to information, products, interactions, and environments, then test and iterate those ideas in a variety of contexts. We will practice a few of the ways designers act as agents of positive change for individuals, communities, and the environment.


Industrial Design Fundamentals
Communication Design for MHCI, MAPW
Design for People & Planet
Design Thinking for Business
Information Design

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.