I’m Dr. Molly Wright Steenson.
I’m a writer, professor, historian, designer, and leader — and I’m excited to announce that in July 2023, I will be the President and CEO of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis! It’s a 93 year-old museum, castle-like mansion, cultural center, cafe, educational hub and more, celebrating stories of migration and ties to Sweden.
Currently, I’m the Vice Provost for Faculty of the university and a tenured Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. From 2018–21, I was Senior Associate Dean for Research in the College of Fine Arts. I hold a PhD in Architecture from Princeton University and a Master’s in Environmental Design from the Yale School of Architecture.
Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, I live in Pittsburgh with my husband, Simon and our small dog, Emoji. We’ll be moving to the Twin Cities this summer.
I write about the past, present, and future of AI, design, and architecture…
I’m the author of Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape (MIT Press, 2017), a history of AI and architecture. My book is a deep dive into the work of Christopher Alexander, Cedric Price, the MIT Architecture Machine Group and Nicholas Negroponte, Richard Saul Wurman, and the ways they harnessed early AI, cybernetics, and information architecture, inspiring programming languages and cutting edge technology to the present day. It’s been translated into Simplified Chinese.
If the Bauhaus were around today, what would keep it up at night? For the 100th birthday of the Bauhaus, I co-edited of Bauhaus Futures (MIT Press, 2019) with Laura Forlano & Mike Ananny. The contributions include race, gender, social justice, emerging technology, speculative design, design education, and more.
technology & ethics…
AI ethics has exploded in the last several years. But what are we really talking about when we talk about ethics? Turns out that it’s often not ethics at all, which matters when we want to design and build technologies with consequence. I hold the inaugural K&L Gates Associate Professorship in Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon and lead the investigation of these questions with researchers across the university.
and pneumatic tubes.
Starting in the 19th century, there used to be pneumatic tube systems connecting post offices in more than 60 cities, on every continent except Antarctica. Paris claimed the largest network, 450 km by 1945, and operated the Poste pneumatique till 1984. Old infrastructures and interfaces like pneumatic tubes and reveal much about how we communicate today. I’ve given talks about pneumatic tubes that went viral, and have written academic papers and beautiful essays on them. With Jesse Chandler, who records as Pneumatic Tubes, we are creating a live lecture performance with music about the history of pneumatic tubes.
I speak to audiences all over the world.
Speaking to audiences is one of my favorite things. I’ve given hundreds of talks worldwide, including keynotes and talks for large audiences. I also advise & organize conferences. I was on the Advisory Board for SXSW Interactive from 1999–2015 and was the co-chair of the IxDA Interaction Awards from 2016–18.
I connect people and ideas, helping people do big things they don’t know how to do.
Education is transformation. I work with students and faculty both to envision big, exciting projects, and then mentor them in carrying them out. I’ve advised 40+ master’s theses and a dozen PhD students. My teaching ranges from seminars to studios to 400-student lecture classes. And I work with faculty to get them to envision the research and creative practice they want to carry out, and find the resources to make it possible. In short, I help people to dream up and succeed at the biggest things they can imagine.
I was one of the earliest user experience (UX) designers.
I cut my teeth on the World Wide Web in 1994. Since then, I’ve worked as a UX designer and strategist, design researcher, and writer, and have taught design since 2003. I built the first news-delivering website at Reuters in 1995, managed the second most-hit page on the Internet—the Netscape Search page—in 1996, worked on some of the first web-based online communities, was an online community pioneer, and co-founded a groundbreaking pop culture feminist webzine, Maxi in 1999.
I was one of the very first content strategists and user experience designers, building complex digital platforms at companies like Scient and Razorfish in the late 90s. At the groundbreaking Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Ivrea, Italy, I was Associate Professor of Connected Communities in the early 2000s.
The name of this site, Girlwonder.com, is a vestige from my early web days. It has been online since 1995 and as Girlwonder.com since 1997.