Uncovering the Possibility

Cross-posted at the IDP08 Blue Blog. This is in response to Marty’s post.

This semester has, without a doubt, changed me.  At the beginning, I was worried about the structure, or apparent lack thereof. I came from an engineering background and was scared of the more creative freedom that this program boasted. A number of us came from technical backgrounds, and were surprised, to say the least, about the lack of emphasis on technical feasibility (re: Ben, Cheng, and others’ comments on Marty’s post).

I think I might be the only one who relished this change. As much as I “like” to program, and know that I’m good at it, I specifically came to this program because I felt it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want computing for computing’s sake. This is not to discount the work I’ve done before. I am proud of the fact that I survived a computer engineering program, and don’t like this rumor that’s going around about designers not having to worry about technical feasibility.

Before I get too carried away, I should probably respond to Marty’s post explicitly…

  1. Design definitions. When I came here, I was the definition of a naïve designer. In the summer, I was telling people that I would be learning interface design, with stuff about users and interaction thrown in. And the more I talked about that, the less thrilled I became about coming here. The fact is, I can learn how to make an interface from a book. I cannot, however, learn how to care about the human element of my system from a book. I am completely in love with the idea that a system is more than just a computer and the user working with it. I want to impact the human element the way I want to impact my readers: emotionally, experientially, intellectually. Can I push the human element, while imparting joy?
  2. Best solution. There have been multiple times this semester where I thought my concept was good, and worth pursuing for the team… but then I’d see Robert’s concepts, or Heiko’s concepts, and see parts that I really liked and wanted to incorporate with mine. I feel very thankful that my team was good at putting the “team design” first, rather than arguing for individual designs.
  3. Technology-centered vs. human-centered. I was more than ready to give up the technology-centered ideal…that’s why I came here. I don’t know how well I’m doing this, but I hope that my designs are human-centered, and that they address some need, whether spoken or not.
  4. Me and we. See #2. My team was awesome.
  5. User research. This may be a carry-over from my historical fiction roots, but I love learning about people. It’s different for me to switch this sort of research from informing my writing to informing a design, and it’s still something I need to work on (our personas for project 4 were kind of slapped together).
  6. Algorithm / design paradox. I think a part of me will always want some sort of algorithm, thanks to computer engineering. At the same time, goodness, how I hated computer algorithms. So while my analytical side wants dearly to have some sort of structure to 1. finding the problem and 2. finding a proper solution, I’m also open to other methods.
  7. IT domination. I don’t know how well I’m doing this, either. Actually, I’m now more concerned that I’m only thinking about the experience and emotion, and leaving the efficiency, effectiveness, and scalability behind. It’s difficult to find a happy balance.
  8. Idea loyalty. This is where I reference my sketchbook. I’ve come up with some ridiculous ideas, with the help of others, and I’m loving it. My biggest problem right now is that I have a hard time picking just one…why is this concept better than this other concept? Because I like it? Because it addresses the user’s need? Why does it do this? I second-guess a lot, which can slow me down.
  9. Critique culture. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t worry about grades in graduate school. After five years of being a slave to grades, no more. I’m dedicated to learning and doing my best, and that will have to be enough.
  10. Notebook. I’m glad I got into this program. It reignited my love of drawing and sketching, and most importantly, made it all right for me to spend time on these activities. I’ve started taking sketch notes, which is both challenging and fun…it’s difficult to take notes quickly while making sure they mean something visually, as well.
  11. Role. I’m not entirely sure I understand this one. I feel like I’m still learning what to do and how to do it. I’m absorbing as much as I can, so does this mean I’m learning a skill set, or a way of designing?
  12. Research and philosophy. I’m certain I don’t do this very well yet. I’m not sure I even reference the HCI literature, let alone philosophical foundations of design. If I do, it’s a subconscious thing right now.
  13. Reflective designer. I only recently learned to do this with my writing… I’m trying to pull that reflectiveness over to design.
  14. Omnipresence. This is a little abstract for me, and something I need to continue to think about before I respond to it. I think it’s the potentiality of everything that makes this point interesting. What is a system? How do we limit the system, and why did we limit it that way? Why does the design affect the system, and is this a positive or negative affect?
  15. External / internal. I have no idea if I’m designing based on external objects or internal inspiration. I suppose you’d have to ask my team members… I do know that my designs were usually the more fanciful ones, because it seems to me that fanciful artifacts have a certain level of ensoulment involved.

So in terms of where I am… I think I’d have to say transitional, at best. I have a lot of questions, and not many answers. For the first time in years, I’m okay with that. Which speaks volumes, but in a way that only means something to me, I suppose.

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