I am a designer in nearly everything I do. I view the world through design colored glasses. I engage with almost every new experience and endeavor foremost as a designer. I believe in human-centered, goal-directed design. I’m not convinced (as many designers are) that design is best framed as a kind of “problem solving.” I think that we need to shift towards thinking of design as “goal framing.” We create products or services with the intent that those designs will help or affect specific humans in a particular context. The intent of our design is to help those humans achieve well defined objectives and as an extended result experience desired outcomes. As designers these objectives and outcomes become the goals that direct our design. Often it is less about solving a problem and more about posing questions or focusing on the projected outcomes of our designs.
As a designer I am a believer in systems thinking. As technology has evolved so have the systems that we design and the systems that we design in/for/through. We are shifting from a model that was product oriented to a model that is service oriented. Some believe that in the near future our evolution in design will lead us to a participatory model. While I believe that there is some truth to this I also believe that how we define that participatory model is still unresolved. The systems that we design as well as the in/for/through of our design processes are increasingly focused on interaction and experience. Less and less of our design work culminates in static artifacts. We are facing a future where our designs are far more kenetic. We are facing a future where our designs surround and incorporate the people that we design for — making humans an integral and interactive part of the very systems that we create.
Faced with this future I believe that we need to understand that our design past was largely based on a “mechanical-ethos.” Design was viewed as incremental and modular — is was a clockwork view of design. With an evolving systems view of design, that clockwork model can (and likely will) shift towards an organic systems ethos where design might more productively be thought of as a sort of biological eco-system. Such a system must be designed for and with an understanding that the designs that we create will become part of an evolving system. In such a system it is important as designers to understand that the very designs that we create will evolve beyond the thing that we create and launch out into the world.
The spaces that we design for and the systems that we design are rapidly accelerating in depth and complexity. This is important to understand as there are two concerns that arise because of it. The first is that our old notions of forcibly simplifying our designs is increasingly an undesirable design strategy. Instead I believe in embracing complexity and designing with an eye toward bring clarity to that complexity. The second concern is the old model of the “genius designer.” The genius designer meets with the client, retreats to the solitude of their studio and emerges with a design solution. With the rapidly accelerating complexity of the spaces and systems that we design we must shape our design process to be human-centered and collaborative. Designers must find their way to working as an integral part of multi-disciplinary teams and with the people that we are designing for. The evolving complexity of our world requires that, if we want to be the designer, we must work with other experts as part of a team. Perhaps most importantly it also means that we must step out into the world and spend time participating with and observing the people that we are designing for. We must strive to empathize with them, gain a deeper understanding of them, their goals and the contexts in which they will engage with our design.
I believe deeply in the importance of design process. While the potential forms of our designs are rapidly evolving, our methods and processes evolve at a much slower rate. I don’t see enormous problems with that, but I do see potential problems. It’s possible to look back and see that even decades ago we were designing types of user-experience and interaction. But, we cannot be complacent. If we want to be a part of developing forward looking products and services we must be ever evolving as designers.
In all that I do I am a designer. While my roots are as a practitioner in the world of visual design, I have spent the last eight years focused on user-experience design, interaction design, human-centered design and design thinking. My research has been extremely rewarding but perhaps a little unusual for faculty of graphic design. So, I feel it is important to write a little bit about it here. I am a designer and as such I am a form-maker. My research is sometimes expressed through form-making but I feel very strongly that it must more importantly extend to the written word. The result of this is that rather than gallery showings that highlight my research through form-making, my research more often culminates in papers or articles that are sometimes also manifested in workshops and presentations.
I believe that both form-making and writing need to play a central role in visual design research if we are to move forward more affectively as a discipline. Research in our field becomes “black-boxed” when we generate work that is purely visual in nature. A significant written component to our research is a crucial element in sharing insights gained from our form-making. How we define design research of this type seems to still be a work in progress. However, I believe that definition will only be resolved as we dedicate ourselves to establishing sound practices based primarily on our own strengths as designers and secondarily upon research practices as defined by other fields. I believe that a balance of these two that favors our designerly ways of thinking and working will be key to our establishing a future course of research that will be both compelling and useful to those we hope to affect.
My research interests lie primarily in two areas. The first — evolutionary models for design thinking, ideation and the creative leap with an emphasis on mutation — has been a fascination of mine for a very long time. I am interested in how design ideas, process and methods are formed and evolve over time as they are spread from person to person through the processes that we use and the forms that we create. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to work with Erik Stolterman at Indiana University on a research project that focused on some of these ideas (see our unpublished paper in the papers section).
My second area of interest is to explore ethnographic methods and how they might be adapted both within the design process and as a means of better understanding design related processes. I am particularly interested in visual ethnographic methods. Currently I am experimenting with ethnographic video as a research tool as well as a research outcome. I am hoping to use this and other visual, ethnographic methods as I continue to study designers and how they develop and spread methods, and ideas through the artifacts that they create.
I have been teaching design related courses off and on since 2005 and my teaching philosophy seems to be constantly evolving. The notion of constant evolution has become central to my teaching philosophy. I view every course and every semester as a small experiment — a mutation that may or may not survive a future round of selection. Leveraging experiences from past courses and semesters I try something a little different every semester. This is done in an attempt to improve or to innovate with an eye towards the future of design, the future of my students, my future as a design educator and the future of design education. But there are some core beliefs that run through my past and point towards my future as a deign educator. Like a hand full of genetic traits that continue to survive, these beliefs form the genome of my design teaching philosophy.
I feel very strongly in teaching a process oriented, goal directed approach to visual design. Students of visual design face a future of ever changing forms — constantly shifting and rapidly accelerating in complexity. Faced with such a future, students need a firm foundation of processes that are human-centered, and oriented towards user-experience, systems thinking and applicable theory. It is my intent that the processes I teach today will (at their core) remain relevant in disparate contexts for many years to come. It is true that there is no formula for good design. But, having a tool box full of familiar, forward-looking methods and process provides student with laboratory for experimentation and success in the rapidly evolving world of form-making.
It is my belief that the future of visual design lies heavily in team based research and team oriented design. The rapidly accelerating complexity of the spaces that we design for requires that a designer be able to work with teams comprised of colleagues from many disciplines. While this is not always possible in the classroom, in my experience it is still very beneficial to have students work in teams. I consistently use student teams in the classroom as a means for students to conduct visually oriented research and as a tool for brainstorming. When possible I have collaborated with instructors from other disciplines to provide my students with multi-disciplinary design experiences.
I believe that as the instructor I am instrumental in establishing the “culture” of the classes that I lead. “I am a cheerleader in the class room” — just a few years ago I would have recoiled with distaste at such a statement. But, I’m no longer certain that such a statement is entirely inappropriate. What I do believe is that the level of enthusiasm, interest and empathy that I bring with me into the classroom directly shapes the culture of the class.
I believe in establishing a “studio culture.” To me this means creating an environment that encourages open discussion and the sharing of ideas without fear of rejection. Somewhat in contrast, I also believe in establishing a “critique culture” in the classroom. This means productive feedback for students work. Sometimes this means “rigorous honesty” offered in the spirit of a student’s personal progress.
I try to approach teaching as a design activity. As such I try to focusing on context, creating human-centered experiences and using a goal-directed process. These are central to my ideas about teaching. I believe that a teaching philosophy should mutate and evolve according to each unique teaching opportunity with an eye towards the ever shifting target of the future.
My mission as a design educator is to prepare students to be research oriented designers who are adept at thinking through form-making. I aspire to provide experiences that will put students on a path to become individuals capable of acting as central collaborators in multi-disciplinary teams and to be goal-directed designers who think in terms of systems, contexts and cultures.
Object(ive) Oriented Teaching
As with design, I believe that teaching should be a goal-directed process. While these goals or objectives should be weighted differently depending on individual courses and students experience levels I feel it is important that these objectives be addressed to some degree within every course that I teach. My objectives as an instructor include the following:
- Students should demonstrate the ability to use visual methods for research, analysis, problem framing, solution iteration and implementation.
- Students should be able to create visual representations of complex systems in ways that reveal clarity within context specific experiences.
- Students should be able to identify precedents, articulate principles and demonstrate thoughtful skill in the use of visual form.
- Students should be able to clearly articulate, both verbally and visually, their design reasoning and processes.
Outcome Oriented Teaching
Moving beyond objectives I believe in teaching with an eye toward well-defined outcomes. I try to create curricular experiences for students that will:
- Instill in students an enduring passion for exploration and learning within design and related disciplines
- Help students develop desires, strategies and abilities for empathizing and working with diverse collaborators in form-making
- Develop in students their understanding and ability to affectively use visual methodologies for human-center research, design and outcomes
- Assist students in building a working understanding of issues related to designing in, for, and with, communities, cultures, and contexts.
- Encourage students to anticipate technology not just as an instrument of design and but as an evolving platform for co-design and designed experiences
I believe that as a teacher I should maintain a carefully crafted but ever evolving platform with an explicit mission, objectives and outcomes that inform my efforts. It is my hope to be actively involved a program that is pursuing similar ideals. My intent is to always be learning and growing. I hope the ideas that I have discussed in this statement of teaching will grow and evolve with me. It is my greatest hope that I can be part of an academic community where I can continue to evolve as a designer, design educator and researcher.