“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

On completing my 1st term in education

For some reason I’m feeling pensive about the first part of this year. It is not quie half way over yet, but for me the entire year feels done. OH! I’m now in education. (I always avoid the use of the term academia, b/c that is not what I do. I teach for a living.)

My year started with a bang in Savannah. I was thrown in front of some of the most passionate group of designers I couldn’t have even hoped to be teaching. They were/are for the most part a brilliant bunch. They were energized, eager, critical, passionate, creative, and professional. The energy they gave me, I only hope I was able to give them back.

The year also started very awkward–new city, new job, new craft, new peers. I was so off-balance and in many ways part of my pensiveness is because I still feel pretty wobbly coming off the recent end of my spring quarter.

After just a month into this crazy year, I went off to Vancouver energized by students (did it show?) and ready to show them off, and show of some of my recent thinking about IxD pedogogy. It was fun to be at Interaction 09 | Vancouver but also hard.

IxDA is my baby. While it seems arrogant to say this out loud through 2003-2008 no single individual put more energy into the nurturing of IxDA than I did. So I feel justified in feeling a tad clingy about the organization and well somewhat annoyingly controlling. Thank G-d! the current president and I get to spend time on the beach chatting about stuff from time to time. But seriously, Interaction 09 was hard because it opitimized for me the growing rift in our discipline and possibly the soon to be future demise of our practice as anything valuably distinguishable.

The rift(s) that exist in our community seem to be those that are culturally trained in “The Valley” and those that are not. Now that culture has much more infuence than the geographic label might express. It is really about the analytical vs. the visceral sides of our communities. But it is also about those who see their task as firmly focused on a single medium and those who see their craft as being informed or nurtured within that medium, but estensible to a fairly wide range of problem areas and communication mediums.

I believe deeply in the discipline of interaction design. Robert Fabricant put it best that “behavior is our medium” and not “computing technology” but our practices are say so complex that no one can see the discipline from the practice any longer. I know I struggle in my semanicly aware mind my ability to maintain a separation between IxD as practice vs. IxD discipline, but I believe strongly whereas our practice needs to dissolve into our chosen mediums of practice, our discipline requires even more scrutiny, growth, and distinction than ever.

Yes, I truly believe that the form-giving practices truly own interaction design. Our role as mediary between the system and the “designer” is fading and over the next 5-10 years, I feel titles like IxD, UX, IA, etc. except for some proud specialists or educators is just going to fade. Interactive Design, Industrial/Product Design, Visual/Graphic Design, & Architecture all own too large of a piece of the design of behaviors already & historically and can easily learn how to augment their current practices with IxD.

My undergraduate students who minor in IxD are doing the right thing. They first and foremost engage in learning the craft of Industrial Design, and hen second the methods of medium independent design, or just plain problem solving. The great ones who take the minor seriously are best prepared to be the designers tha all organizationd need today: deep analytical thinking, problem solving and high stamina creativity across a bredth of design discplines–usually ID, GD and IxD.

Therefore, I am growingly believing that a graduate degre in interaction design that is “vocational” in its goal is missing the point. There really shouldn’t be “interaction designers”. there should just be designers who get interaction design. Graduate education then should be focused on exploring the limits, philosophy, ideals and aesthetis that is interaction design. I lean further and further away from programs like CMU and closer to programs like CIID and RCA. You should come to the masters degree already with the ability of holding down and promoting your way through your career. You should leave the masters program only after contributing to the dicourse of a great and grand discipline, and doing so with beautiful craft in at least one form-giving design discpline–e.g. ID, GD, Interactive/Software.

Well, that’s where I’m landing right now. I know many might not agree, but for my sense, this is the big enchilada.

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  • http://designaday.tumblr.com/ Jack Moffett


    You are insinuating that CMU is missing something. Please elaborate, as from my perspective, they are doing exactly as you suggest: “…exploring the limits, philosophy, ideals and aesthetics that is interaction design.”

  • dave

    I was comparing the portfolios and shows that I’ve seen from the schools. I’m not sure that CMU has done anything quite like RCA (Dunne/Raby) has done, nor their students. And I see a very strong coupling between the IxD program and the HCI program at CMU just in faculty sharing. That has a big effect.

    Don’t get me wrong CMU is the best program in the US right now and IF that is the ixD you want go for it, but CMU leans towards CMU’s academic institution roots. The same is true of its ID program (as more of a tradition “industrial engineering” program compared to say RCA or Pratt or Cranberry (I know I got that last one wrong), which are obviously hard core art institutions that have solid design programs (leaning heavily on aesthetic expressionism).

    There are many boundaries to push even within the analytical and all pushes are necessary. if there is any value statement that I’m presenting is that at this time, I’m promoting a swing of the pendulum along this continuum towards aesthetic expressionism. I’m bored, what can I say?

    — dave

  • http://www.udanium.com Uday Gajendar

    It’s important to note that of the schools mentioned CMU’s School of Design functions within a broader university context, thus its inclinations towards “academic tradition”, as well as multiplicity of collaborative opportunities with other schools/colleges on campus (like HCI, thanks to folks like Jodi Forlizzi, etc.). And of course the Dick Buchanan-inspired philosophical basis of rhetorical humanism is part of that DNA, whose intellectual lineage traces back to John Dewey himself (via Dick’s mentor Richard McKeon).

    However, under the newly appointed head Terry Irwin (and with recent retiring profs like Bob Swinehart) who knows how CMU’s design school will evolve and in what direction. Time will tell. I do expect them to continue to push the limits of aesthetics, philosophy, methods, etc.

    I hope CMU d-school does maintain its unique posture apart from RCA/Pratt/Cranbrook types because the field demands a richness of discourse and plurality of views. (i’m a multilateralist ;-) CMU faculty know that their students’ portfolios simply don’t rate with “art schools” but instead their genius projected in other ways, towards a path of strategic leadership roles, etc. And master’s graduates do typically trend towards the 3rd/4th order end of interaction design (as a liberal art not just confined to software/UI design), but I suspect an uplift in visual/formal craft & expressionism (even prototyping/scripting!) will resurge for the benefit of all. The pendulum does swing…

    BTW, Dave I’d encourage you to somehow get a hold of MDes theses (or summaries) at CMU’s library and read through them. I think you’d find many to be “contributing to the discourse of a great and grand discipline” as expected of a master’s student. (my own thesis on Beauty was the basis of my recent talks about aesthetics in IxD) Admittedly the projects tend to be different, again more “service-design” and “strategic” as policies, experience maps, videos or some mix of them. Some do interactive demos/software too of course :-)



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