4D Design Department

Future vision for medicine delivery through printed electronics created with Smart Interaction Lab for PARC, a Xerox company.

4D Design Department Philosophy

Cranbrook 4D Design, the Academy’s newest department, is an open, inquisitive laboratory for contemporary design practice that is focused on creative applications of emerging technology. It explores the myriad ways that the physical world around us has become infused with an undercurrent of flowing data, turning everyday experiences into connected, feedback-driven interactions that are transforming every aspect of culture and society.

While the 4D design program encompasses tools and methodologies like those used in the fields of Experience Design (UxD) or Interaction Design (IxD), our approach is holistic in nature, seeking a long- term view and questioning the status quo, while eschewing the industry’s tendency to approach solutions with a myopic focus. Cranbrook 4D offers the opportunity to explore thornier questions and consider both utopic and dystopic scenarios.

We build on Cranbrook’s historic legacy of experimental design activities–just think of the Eames’ endless tinkering to produce new forms from experimental materials–while redefining craft to encompass a broad range of outcomes including interactive objects, projected images, embedded electronics, applied robotics, computer-controlled machining, 3D printing and mixed reality environments. We know that future solutions can only be understood through real time, physical, interactive experiences and value the importance of hands-on making to push ideas forward through iterative, prototyped experiences. Our practice spans a variety of scales, both in its presence as well as its production, morphing easily from a handheld device to a room-sized installation to a digitally-distributed, locally manufactured product. We are designers, activists, artists, authors and entrepreneurs.

Though relatively new as a field, the impact of 4D Design is profound. While we can confidently say that the future is here in terms of technological advances, it will take a new generation of well-educated and sophisticated designers to weave that technology into the world that we want for ourselves and future generations. Cranbrook 4D students will be perfectly positioned to lead the way through thoughtful, responsible and compassionate design exploration.

Interactive virtual object created for the Dora Maar House in Menerbes, France.


4D Design Program

Cranbrook’s 4D Design program centers around a communal studio environment where exceptional designers and artists will explore the intersection of the physical and the digital to create prototypes, products, and provocations in the form of interactive objects, dynamic displays, and mixed reality environments. Work produced in the program grows from each individual’s pursuit of a line of inquiry that incites passion and reflects personal values.

The program welcomes applicants with a foundation in engineering and/or computer science knowledge who want to be immersed in a rigorous culture of creative practice and critical thinking, as well as those with significant design, art, or architecture experience who wish to focus their work on technological implications to pursue a higher level of discourse. Each cohort will be comprised of a carefully curated mix of individuals whose viewpoints and skill sets complement one another, encouraging a rich dynamic of rapid and continuous knowledge sharing.

THE LICKESTRA by Carla Diana + Emilie Baltz from Carla Diana on Vimeo.

The 4D studio culture is defined by hacking, making, coding, and obsessive tinkering. Students will advance their knowledge through passionate research, active prototype creation and iteration and strategic alliances with experts and sources of inspiration. As with the other disciplines in the Academy, the core program activity centers around studio-based projects with an emphasis on developing an individual body of work. Students delve deeply into a personal area of interest while engaging with other members of their cohort to collectively fuel knowledge through ongoing dialogue and regularly scheduled critique. In addition to the program-specific critiques, students will participate in Academy-wide reviews. 4D designers will also serve as disciplinary ambassadors by welcoming alliances that can benefit ambitious projects while matching their own educational goals.

Each student will work directly with the program head to customize an individual pedagogical approach to their own experiential learning by setting milestones, establishing project deliverables and identifying resources that serve their unique goals and interests. Additionally, internationally-renowned visiting artists, designers, and theoreticians contribute to the pedagogy through inspirational lectures, small group critiques, intensive charrette challenges, and hands-on workshops.

Students are expected to maintain an awareness of current academic research and design practice and strive to add significant creative and intellectual contributions by participating in conferences, exhibitions, symposia and similar areas of public discourse. In order to develop a strong and significant voice, students in the program will seek opportunities to develop work that is of high quality and communicated with strong verbal and visual vocabularies. They will be particularly focused on critical discourse on the implications of technology on society. A high level of maturity, the ability to articulate creative goals and the ability to exhibit critical thinking through strong reading and writing skills are required.

4D Design students will become well versed in open source, community supported tools, adopting methods and techniques on an as-needed basis to pursue creations that build upon the following areas of exploration:

  • Dynamic product behaviors
  • Software development
  • Expressive coding
  • Systems visualization
  • Embedded electronics and applied robotics
  • Connected devices and product ecosystems
  • Augmented, virtual and mixed reality
  • Voice control and conversational interfaces Artificial intelligence systems
  • 3D printing and material creation
  • Biometrics, prosthetics, and augmentation
  • Telepresence and avatars


LoSai Clever Coat Rack
Pine, PLA plastic, LED matrix display, electronic sensors and processor board.

While the work produced by the program will have an impact on all aspects of daily life, there are some specific areas where 4D Design investigation can address pressing and immediate needs, contributing both locally and globally.  We are interested in the application of robotics in the home, healthcare, workplace, and public spaces. We will explore the semantics of dynamic behaviors with light, sound, and motion. We will consider the nature of identity in an increasingly virtual world, and the balance between customization and personal privacy. We will embrace desires to responsibly use body augmentations and enhanced sensing. We will test the limits of immersive storytelling. And we’ll look at how technology can be used to bridge natural and human-created ecosystems.

The program’s investigations will take particular interest in those areas that benefit from our location in southeastern Michigan, namely the redefinition of work, the future of connected transportation systems and the reshaping of cities such as Detroit through community-oriented, networked services–three areas that have seen seismic shifts in traditional business models, key opportunities and core experiences


DIY workshop kit for programming expressive robot behavior. Launched during the Sonar+D festival in Barcelona.

XAVIbot Building Behavior Through Movement