Before coming to the GSD, Ed Bayes (MDE ’22) studied law and anthropology and worked in law and public policy in the UK, where he advised the Treasury and the mayor of London on tech, business, and climate policy. Projects included designing the regulatory framework for driverless cars, setting up a “Culture at Risk” office to support grassroots venues at risk of closure, and establishing multibillion-dollar programs to protect the economy from climate and cyber risks. Throughout, Bayes moonlighted as a designer and musician on projects ranging from bands to social enterprises. “I should really have gone to art school,” he jokes.
Bayes’s interest in “the intersection between design, engineering, and policy,” as well as a desire to pursue his creative interests full-time, led him to the GSD, where he was supported by a Fulbright scholarship. Once there, Bayes explored how AI could tackle public policy issues, taking graduate seminars in machine learning at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and in climate tech at MIT. The relationships he built with other students were crucial. “It’s rare, even in universities, to bring people with such diverse experiences together to experiment, to fail, to think about ideas that you wouldn’t be able to do in the workplace,” he says.
I wasn’t a traditional designer . . . but as I worked through the [MDE] program, my idea of what a designer is really expanded.
For his capstone thesis project, he collaborated with Sarah Kovar (MDE ’21) on Yonder, a digital credit union that won the 2021 Outstanding Independent Design Engineering Project (IDEP) award. It’s “a response to a whole bunch of financial exclusion issues I saw [while] working in housing law in London,” Bayes says. “I worked with lots of people struggling to get by, and their banks, who should have been helping them, made things worse through fees and high interest rates.”
While Bayes intended to return to the UK and work on Yonder full-time, another collaborative project, from his first semester at the GSD, pushed him in a different direction. In fall 2019, Bayes took Nano Micro Micro, a joint class with the GSD and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Bayes worked with Nick Collins (MDE ’21), Anirban Ghosh (MDE ’21), and Milan Wilborn (PhD candidate in materials science & mechanical engineering) to develop applications for an emerging technology that came out of Harvard’s research labs.
The result was Foresight, which uses soft robotics to develop “a wearable navigation device for people who are blind and visually impaired.” Bayes’s grandmother is legally blind, and he and his collaborators thought there was an opportunity to augment existing navigation aids. “We spoke to my grandmother, as well as organizations around Massachusetts, led by people who are blind and visually impaired, to understand whether we could develop something in the area,” Bayes explains. Foresight uses soft robotics and computer vision to provide haptic feedback for users. “Traditional navigation devices like canes are fantastic but don’t let you know if a branch is overhead or a car drives past. Foresight helps you feel the world around you. If a car goes past, Foresight lets you feel it go past. It’s meant to complement, not replace, the cane,” he says. Foresight won the 2020 Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge and sharpened Bayes’s interest in robotics. He later interned at Everyday Robots, a project born from Google’s “moonshot factory,” known as X.
Bayes is now returning to the company as head of policy, where he will use his policy, design, and engineering background to consider questions ranging from trust and safety concerns to the future of work. He is intent on fostering an interdisciplinary, collaborative environment—values core to the GSD experience as well. “Powerful technologies like AI and robotics have great potential to improve humanity, but it requires a considered approach,” Bayes says. Everyday Robots’s approach includes working with artists-in-residence to choreograph human–robot interactions, as well as philosophers and others. “How can we bring designers, policy makers, union leaders, and philosophers into the product development process from the get-go, rather than as an afterthought?” The goal, according to Bayes, is to “shape technology to pursue positive outcomes.”
Bayes’s experiences have given him a unique perspective. He says, “I’ve worked across a lot of disciplines. I’ve studied law, anthropology, design, and engineering; and worked in policy, tech, and the arts.” When he first came to the GSD, Bayes adds, “I wasn’t a traditional designer . . . but as I worked through the program, my idea of what a designer is really expanded.” For Bayes, “Design is a methodology . . . for imagining a desired future state and helping devise [ways] to get there.”
Read more profiles from the GSD Class of 2022.