Anijo Mathew is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Design. His research evaluates new semantic appropriations of urban spaces as enabled by technology and media convergence. He also works with different academic units at Illinois Tech to build a multidisciplinary approach to design and innovation. He is also the founder and chief experience officer of Vamonde, a Chicago startup and storytelling app. The company was named by Built in Chicago as one of six Chicago startups shaping the future of virtual reality.

Mathew has a proven record of innovation and entrepreneurship through multidisciplinary collaborations. Prior to Illinois Tech, he was a tenure-track faculty member at College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State University, where he helped prototype smart technologies for rural populations in collaborative projects with the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Since moving to Chicago, he has worked with several city organizations to prototype new local urban/placemaking technologies. Mathew has led research teams on projects with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Tribune, Accenture, Choose Chicago, and Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA). He was invited to help design urban interventions for the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012. He has taught at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business through the D4Lab initiative at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Widely published, Mathew regularly consults on innovation projects with organizations around the world. With companies such as Godrej & Boyce in India and the Far Eastern Group in Taiwan, he helps leadership teams identify and execute strategic innovation projects. He helped design and implement Global Immersion programs at the Institute of Design, where student teams become embedded with executives in companies to work on projects of strategic value to the organization. These programs have been running since 2011 within companies in India, Brazil, and Taiwan. He has also consulted with Accenture, Hyatt, Motorola Mobility, the Hong Kong Design Centre, Urban Redevelopment Authority [Singapore]/Singapore River One, Gensler, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Artists Coalition, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. His projects have been exhibited at the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago City Hall, and the Chicago Cultural Center. Mathew currently serves on an executive committee for Choose Chicago and on a CAF advisory board. He was previously on the CLA Board of Directors.

A native of India, Mathew holds a Ph.D. in computing from The Open University in the United Kingdom, a Master in Design Studies from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a professional Bachelor of Architecture from Birla Institute of Technology Mesra in Ranchi, India.


Interactive Placemaking

“Placemaking” is a process that fosters the creation of vital public destinations: the kind of places where people feel a strong stake in their communities and a commitment to making things better. As communities become more socially connected through technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc., these connections become the key element by which placemaking can happen. Interactive Placemaking redefines placemaking in the context of this new social connectivity. At the IIT Institute of Design, we are experimenting with experiential placemaking which serve as “constantly on” participatory environments for citizens to share, view, and collectively build on each other’s ideas. These installations are playful, interactive, and have a portable component, they allow a diverse population to easily engage with information and participate in building place.


Art Loop Open, with the Chicago Loop Alliance, installed at Block37
Type of Project: Research Project
Graduate Research Assistants: Raphael D’ Amico, David Kodinsky, Joseph Fleischhacker, Lawrence Abrahmson
Year: 2010

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Art Loop Open (ALO) is an innovative city‐wide art exhibition designed with the intention of mobilizing the general public to engage with art, artists and each other. With 200 unique pieces of art juried and exhibited across 13 different, the primary motivation behind ALO was to integrate businesses in the Loop with art. Thus, the historic Loop district became an urban art experience, bringing art into the open to communities who might not otherwise go to the art. The Chicago Loop Alliance worked closely with IIT Institute of Design to craft an innovative placemaking experience using technology as a mediating layer.
ZeroZero, for the Chicago Loop Alliance, installed at the Sullivan Center
Type of Project: Class Project
Students: Joseph Shields, Eugene Limb, Sally Wong, Elise Metzger, Brian Strawn
Year: 2010


The intersection of State and Madison is the center of the addressing scheme for the city of Chicago and has been so since 1909 when this new system was implemented. With its iconic architecture and urban significance, State and Madison is a prime placemaking opportunity. State and Madison at one time used to be the busiest intersection in the world and even today has a large pedestrian traffic. Chicago Loop Alliance worked with IIT Institute of Design to design a unique placemaking experience for ZeroZeo.

Urban Research Machines

User engagement has always played a key role in shaping an organization’s future. Traditional forms of user engagement take the form of surveys, focus groups, town hall meetings, discussion, and participatory design forums. However the modern user is a sophisticated and connected individual, for whom traditional models of outreach may no longer be the only relevant form of user engagement. We have seen significant changes in people’s sensibilities and expectations because new tools of social media are helping to change the balance of participation and spectatorship among younger and more technologically savvy citizens. Urban Research Machines re‐imagine user engagement in the context of this connected urban audience. They are designed to serve as “constantly on” participatory environments for users to share, view, and collectively build on each other’s ideas. The interactions allow the urban audience “play” with information, and through such play share information, cooperate with one another, and to take collective action about the topic at hand.


Urban Forest, for the Chicago Loop Alliance, installed at Block37
Type of Project: Class Project
Students: Helen Tong, Diana Cheng, Na Rae Kim, Pinxia Ye, Farid Talhame
Year: 2010


Urban Forest 37 embeds the concept of a social family tree into two windows of a large urban shopping mall called Block37. The installation asks passers‐by to answer one of two questions – Thin Crust or Deep Dish? Sox or Cubs? O’Hare or Midway? The questions were designed to change out every 72 hours. The interaction model is simple – as you walk down the street you tap on the question you associate with. The tap is visualized as a leaf on a digital tree that grows with every answer. As more people answer the tree grows larger and larger – and the visualization allows passers‐by to see which question is getting more responses from people on the street. The “forest” constructed over time representing the collective preferences of a city represented the demographic profile of the population which frequents State Street (and the Loop).

The City Listens, for the City of Chicago, installed at the Old Town School of Folk Music
Type of Project: Class Project
Students:  Leticia Baiao, Jorge Angarita, Paul Keck, Jennifer Gzesh
Year: 2012


In 2012, the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) launched an initiative to develop a 2012 cultural plan for Chicago. The 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan provides insights on how to elevate the City as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts. Over the course of the Spring/Summer (January‐May) 2012, DCASE engaged three IIT Institute of Design student teams to conduct user research, design, and deploy interactive urban research machines in cultural hubs around selected neighborhoods. The City Listens project was located at the historic Old Town School of Folk Music in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Playing off the air of performance and collaboration at the Old Town School of Folk Music, the installation allowed visitors to “talk” to the City by recording words, playing music, or otherwise expressing themselves through sound.