Process and pedagogy

There’s a conference happening at the moment a few blocks away from me at the Barbican. It’s bringing together all of the biggest names in graphic design – Paula Scher, Kenya Hara, Tony Brook – for a couple days, to spark dialogue. The idea is that instead of designers pontificating at the audience, they will be interviewed and debate amongst themselves as the crowd watches in glee.

My job title a few years ago was graphic designer. I find it fascinating that my new job title is interaction designer as I’ve fully integrated myself in the web world with skills on either side of graphic design – user research and (some light) coding. 

In my perspective everyone in the web world has an understanding of every discipline, from content strategy to native app development, but a deep knowledge well in their particular field. That field for me is graphic design.

Design for the web is soooooo different but there’s still no pedagogy, no intellectual foundation. Industrial design, yes, but that’s quite different from what I do. The human-computer interaction programs are looking at future technologies as 3-dimensional products, not necessarily screen design. Or if so, interface design is last priority. Maybe as it should be. The concept and interaction needs to be strong and bulletproof before a visual interface is designed. 

Even graphic design is lacking depth of intellectual pillars. We were grasping at straws in my MFA – relying on Michael Rock, Tibor Kalman and Andrew Blauvelt – great thinkers but designers from recent generations, not historical ones. And most of my inspiration comes from other disciplines like architecture and industrial design anyways. 

My experience before the masters degree was a branding, consumery-based approach. I knew I wanted something deeper and wanted to move away from the marketing perspective of design. I thought graphic design training would provide me with that foundation. 

It did. My design education got me going on a unique path. My thesis began my life-long preoccupation with the relationship of humans to their environment, which grew entirely out of my fascination with psychogeography. Add a technology layer to that and that’s where I am right now. 

I suppose everyone needs their own personal project. What is your work/life preoccupation? This is the lens from which you base all of your work and interests, discussions and writing.

What a contrasting way of life from places I’ve worked in the past. Large agencies where I’ve worked on a tiny superficial slice of a giant project, or where we’ve been more concerned about hours than actually creating a strong design solution. The agency model doesn’t empower designers. We are at the bottom of the chain of command. And often, I have not been expected to think about the work I’m doing at all.

Jenny Lam talks at length about this in her creative mornings presentation. She encourages designers to break free from the existing context where designers are near the bottom of the decision ladder.

 She also touches upon how the field of user experience is still in it’s infancy. She explains, “User experience is bleeding edge, and those curriculums are only beginning to be developed.” I would love to be one of those teachers creating the UX curriculum.

I participated in a conference yesterday that seemed to be a remnant from when “mobile” actually referred to the device. It seems and I hope that they are getting away from thinking of mobile as a noun and instead focusing the conference around the idea of mobile as an adjective. 

I didn’t get a strong theme from the conference except that we were organized into workshops based on one of seven user modes: augment, explore, create, consume, control and communicate.

The workshop guided by Lennart Anderson of Veryday, based on the user mode of co-creation, was my favorite part. It was really nice how Lennart gently guided us and allowed space for lateral thinking. Some people in the group seemed frustrated but it reminded me of the teaching style of one of my favorite professors, Alex Leibergesell. He had a very strong spirit of experimentation and thought of each class as a design project in itself. Everything was wrapped up into a larger abstract concept, which provided meaning and direction to our work.

To become more sincere and thoughtful, the tech world needs to pry itself loose from the latest/best syndrome. We need to encourage inquiry from everyone involved – what are we really accomplishing here? I hope that as designers we are always thinking of the big picture. So clearly something needs to change in the halls of power and I think it is, but might take some time. 

I’ve worked hard in the past 3 months to get experience in the startup world, and also to brush up on my coding skills. I’ve experienced what an agile workflow looks like, I’ve experienced the startup process firsthand and given value to the business with UX research, an identity and style guide. (The beta launch of expected in a few weeks)

As designers we have the perspective of craftspeople with specialized skills that we can offer as a service to clients. But I would encourage us to recognize the tremendous value we are offering the agencies and businesses we service.

Admittedly it’s super hard to think about the big picture when you’re faced with a mountain of design or code to work through. Maybe that’s the dilemma – in the need to make a living and how easy it is to get bogged down in detail. 

This reminds me of this debate du jour over whether designers should code – talk about getting bogged down in detail. Loads of people are talking about it – like here and here and here. To me the point is not whether designers should code or not – it’s whether designers should think… Think about the platforms where our work lives, how it is developed and how it is deployed. And the answer to that couldn’t be more obvious.






Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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