David M. Sykes

Recent Faculty:

David Sykes


With a background in music, sociology and cognitive science, Sykes began his career working with Walter Gropius’ firm TAC in Cambridge (projects in the middle east & healthcare). He then joined TAC-co-founder Ben Thompson to work on design research projects exploring the boundaries between behavioral economics and market theory (e.g., Faneuil Hall, Design Research). During this period he re-visited a childhood passion for product design (furniture, housewares, apparel, travelware, man-machine interfaces). After a brief interlude at Harvard Business School, he launched a company manufacturing his own products that scaled quickly enabling him to sell the company. Offered a professorship at Boston University, he organized a research center called PIRI to investigate cognitive issues related to information technology. The group coined two terms that have become generic: “cognitive ergonomics” and “information architecture.” During this period, Sykes worked with Steve Jobs and Apple Computer to create the “desktop publishing” market. He also linked PIRI to Congress and built a research partnership to consider the social impacts of the information revolution. This work became a book from MIT Press and a software company that was then sold to a large public company. This transaction drew Sykes back to San Francisco to run a division of the acquirer. Following a major earthquake that destroyed his house, he returned to Cambridge and worked with MIT-based, venture-backed early-stage companies in the software, environmental technologies and new media industries. A meeting with national medal of science winner Leo Beranek and other MIT luminaries at the architectural acoustics firm, Bolt Beranek and Newman and WorldWideWeb founder Tim Berners-Lee led to several patents and the funding of an entrepreneurial venture that pioneered the architectural acoustics field of “speech privacy.” While working on speech privacy, Sykes reengaged with members of Congress to develop public policy related to privacy laws in healthcare and financial services. This led to the founding of the Acoustics Research Council, a public interest group focused on policy issues related to the funding of research and development in acoustical science and to the development of design guidelines for the healthcare industry subsequently adopted by the US Green Building Council and the International Code Council. Following his contribution to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America” Sykes and his partners launched the “Towards a Quieter America” project. Sykes has appeared on CNBC and has been profiled in and/or quoted by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fortune, Christian Science Monitor and other media.


2012 Fall

  • ARCH6810 – Research Design Seminar

2012 Spring

  • ARCH6830 – Graduate Thesis Seminar: Acoustics

2011 Fall

  • ARCH6840 – Engineering Acoustics

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Evan Douglis, Professor


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