Call for PhD Applications

The Unstable Design Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder is currently looking to hire a funded PhD student who would be interested in the ongoing development and advancement of computational design tools to support (smart) textiles production. The position is being created specifically to address the goals outlined in this grant and would largely focus on the development of AdaCAD

The ideal candidate should be passionate about textile craft, electronics, open-source community development, and collaborating with artists. Experience working in weaving, web-based software applications, and/or contributing to open-source programming projects is helpful, but not required. Nevertheless, the candidate must be interested in learning about and developing skills as a programmer and weaver.

The lab is associated with several PhD programs at CU Boulder and applicants to this position must submit their application through one of the programs listed below:   

We hope to find candidates that are eager to grow and contribute as a member of both the lab, as well as their selected academic unit. As a lab, we value critical thinking and making that question relationships between design and society, tools and equity in computing, and placing equal value in art, craft, and engineering. 

If you are interested in this opportunity, we encourage you to reach out to us via email, as that will help us get familiar with your name and look for it in the applications list. Interested applicants should contact the lab via email ( with any links or information that would help us to get to know you better. Please include a short note about which program you might want to apply through and what, in particular, you find interesting about this opportunity. This email is NOT your application, just a way for us to get to know you better so we can look out for your application if/when it comes in.


Why do people get PhD’s, what good are they?

Great question! – PhD’s are one of many career paths and are better/worse suited to get you where you want to go, depending on your ambitions. PhD programs also vary from program to program, so what I write here is not universal to all PhDs programs — but specific to the programs we work within. PhD’s though this program emphasize preparation for careers in research (as well as teaching, but typically with a higher emphasis on research than teaching preparation). They are set up to prepare students to pursue a set of questions or ideas that capture their imagination and are guided to produce work that contributes knowledge to a given community. The program is designed to be completed in four years, but most people tend to complete their PhD in 4-6 years. That community, and kind of work, depend on the program that you apply through (see below). People who get PhD’s often times pursue an academic career and a higher-ed institution, or research-based company.

What does it mean to apply into a lab vs. a program?

In our university structure, the “lab” you work in is often related to the person who serves as your primary advisor (in this case, that would be Laura Devendorf). Yet, some students who work in my lab are not primarily advised by me, and people I advise can choose to participate in other labs. When you apply to a PhD program, it is often recommended to specify who, of the research faculty, you would want to advise you and you may want to list a few names if you see resonance between your interests and what faculty do. In our programs, that advisor (with guidance from broader groups) is responsible for cultivating your research practice, making sure you progressing adequately, and, most importantly, with paying for your tuition, stipend, and fees. When selecting an advisor, its useful to consider both professional and interpersonal dynamics–is this a person who you want to learn from and that shares or aligns with your values as a human. When an advisor is looking for a student, they are usually trying to match students to projects where they need support (and have money to pay), as well as how their interests and potentials complement the direction and other members of the lab.

What is the difference between the three programs?

The Unstable Design Lab, the physical space and resources, are housed within the ATLAS Institute, which is an academic program focused on interdisciplinary collaboration. Thus, every professor working in the ATLAS Institute has affiliations with other campus departments and has the ability to serve as the primary advisor to PhD students. As a tip, when writing you application, be sure to focus on arguing your interest in the program you are applying to first, and your interest in the lab as a secondary comment. This is because you will be part of the program as much as you will be part of the lab.

ATLAS Institute
The ATLAS program, which is part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, is designed for students whose expertise does not fall into a traditional discipline. The program emphasizes “creative technology and design” and most of the students in the program follow an engineering-style PhD, creating research prototypes and products and publishing them in academic research venues. Students in this program develop their own curriculum from across the campus offerings.

Please review the ATLAS Institute website for a broader understanding of the program and requirements and to get a sense of the work underway by students and faculty.

Information Science
The Dept. of Information Science, which is part of the College of Communication, Media, and Information, is designed for students interested in the intersection of technology and society. The program is more structured than ATLAS and introduces all students to a common set of methods for qualitative and quantitative analysis, and over time, invites them to develop and publish original research products.

Please review the website Department of Information Science for a broader understanding of the program and requirements and to get a sense of the work underway by students and faculty.

Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance
The Dept. of Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance, which is part of the College of Communication, Media, and Information, and is a practice-led PhD program that prioritizes the production and dissemination of creative work.

Please review the website Intermedia Arts Writing and Performance Program for a broader understanding of the program and requirements and to get a sense of the work underway by students and faculty.

How will my application be reviewed?

The primary question that I think application processes focus upon is (1) whether the program you apply towards can adequately help you meet your goals and (2) whether your goals align with the particular interests and funding options for a given faculty member.

The process beings with an interested student submitting an application to the program that most suits them, and listing their interest in working with a lab or particular advisor within their statement of intent. When reviewing the applications, each program will make collective decisions on the fit of the student to their program. Adding the name of a potential advisor to your statement of intent often means that the person you name will have a say in determining if you are accepted. Emailing us ahead of time to let us know who you are and what you are interested in allows us to recognize your name as the applications come in.

How do PhD Students Make a Living?

Students in a PhD program are given funding letters that explicitly outline the stipend (pay) they will receive on a monthly basis. This typically covers only 9 months our of a year, but there are opportunities for summer funds based on programs and in the form of paid research internships. Sometimes this funding is tied to work as a Teaching Assistant (e.g. running class sections and grading work) or as a Research Assistant (e.g. performing work on a funded project). The stipend varies by program and is not luxurious, especially by Boulder standards, but can provide relief on monthly expenses. Some students supplement income with grants, side projects and or more lucrative summer research internships. For the most honest perspectives on funding, I would encourage students to reach out to existing PhD students in their program of interest. This topic is also covered in detail at orientation events for accepted students.

Do I have to enroll in one of the programs to be part of the lab?

Currently, yes, though we will continue to host our experimental weaving residency for those interested in temporary visits and/or affiliations.

Announcements News

Speculative Robotics Workshop: May 16 @ BMoCA

We’re hosting a workshop in conjunction with MediaLive and Boulder Startup Week at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday, May 16 from 6:30-8:30 to bring caregivers and technologists together to imagine what exoskeletons for caregiving might look like. We’re looking to juxtapose ideas of self-realization and military power with the feminized labor of caregiving, particularly as it relates to young children. If we were to imagine what exoskeletons for caregivers might look like, how might it open up new ways of talking about, designing for, and recognizing the everyday struggles of caring for others.   The workshop is open to the public and you can register here.


Announcements News

The Unstable Design Lab is getting a TC2 Digital Jacquard Loom

In the Fall of 2017, we coordinated a workshop exploring the future of smart textiles – what new forms of computation and support are needed for these systems and how do we foster production collaborations between artists and engineers? A semester later, Laura Devendorf and Allison Anderson (Aerospace) teamed up to apply for a seed grant from the Multi-Functional Materials research group at CU Boulder to support the purchase of a TC2 digital jacquard loom. The seed grant was awarded and the loom will arrive mid-summer. The first projects in the pipeline include custom fitting textiles, distributed force sensing, and explorations in “un”-weaving. We look forward to community wide collaborations and (hopefully) hosting a summer art residency who will broaden perspectives on our work.

Announcements News

Devendorf to Co-organize a Workshop on Fluxus Inspired Prototyping

The goal of this one-day workshop is to open space for disruptive techniques and strategies to be used in the making, prototyping, and conceptualizations of the artifacts and systems developed and imagined within human-computer interaction (HCI). Specifically, this workshop draws on strategies from art, speculative design, and activism, as we aim to productively “trouble” the design processes behind HCI. We frame these explorations as “disruptive improvisations” — tactics artists and designers use to make the familiar strange or creatively problematize in order to foster new insights. The workshop invites participants to inquire through making and take up key themes as starting points to develop disruptive improvisations for design. These include modesty, scarcity, uselessness, no-technology, and failure. The workshop will produce a zine workbook or pamphlet to be distributed during the conference to bring visibility to the role these tactics of making in a creative design practices.More information:

Announcements News

Reflecting on the Weaving Disciplines Workshop

In an effort to foster more productive collaborations between artists and engineers,  Laura Devendorf and Daniela Rosner convened a workshop titled “Weaving Disciplines: Fostering Productive Collaborations between Artists and Engineers” at the ATLAS Institute on Oct 8, 2017. We had a very special guest, Pamela Liou, who came from New York to talk about her explorations creating a desktop digital jacquard loom and other adventures in textile experimentation.  Attendees were associated with Art, Aerospace Engineering, and Computer Science at CU Boulder; SparkFun Electronics; The Boulder Public Library; and the Schacht Spindle Company. The event was sponsored by the ATLAS Institute and Research and Innovation Office at CU Boulder. Topics for discussion included the state of the art in spacesuit design, ideas for addressable, self-healing, and temperature regulating fabrics, smart textiles community events, collaborating with ghosts, and the pleasure of working side-by-side when weaving with others.

Announcements News

Textile Animations Exhibited at Intersections: A Conference on Collaboration in Textile Design Research

Emilia Louisa Pucci, and independent artist and designer, worked in the lab this summer exploring textile-based display. We created this circular weave using wool dyed with thermochromic pigments and embroidered heating wire. When current is supplied to the heating wire, the wire heats up and the yarns next to the wire change colors. We arranged the heating wire into several distinct spirals that become visible the longer the viewer is present. What was most interesting about this display is the slowness and the idea that the display will likely never repeat the same pattern. The heat created by the yarns varies based on environmental factors and creates a slightly different abstract pattern each use.

Another interesting discovery from this project is that, since wool is a great insulator, the heating wire running along the backside of the fabric is not visible on the surface. This allowed us to create an animation on the surface of the fabric and a different “negative space” animation that was only visible on the back side of the fabric.

Emilia presented the piece at Intersections, a conference on collaborations in textile design research in the UK. She equipped the final installation with a proximity sensor that would trigger the animation upon the viewers approach. The installation runs off an Arduino, motor driver (to give the heating yarns the current they require), and 12V power supply.