What I Learned: Semester One

What I Learned: Semester One

Semester one's lessons from anthropology, history of communication design and delving into teaching.

My first semester of study at the University of North Texas pursuing an MFA in Design was full of discovered perspectives, aha moments, and a renewal of my passion for learning. While this all came at a cost (tuition, sleep and gas) there’s no reason to make you, dear reader, pay the same fee. In the interest of sharing knowledge, here’s what I learned in Fall 2010:

History of Communication Design

Michael Gibson

When I was an undergrad at Texas Tech, they didn’t offer History of Communication Design and because of that, I now know that I was done a great disservice. The study of design history is an invaluable exercise. By exploring the roots of our practice, I better understand why I design the way I do and am far more aware of the design decisions of those before me, helping me to make more well-rounded decisions in planning my work. “Filling the tank” with images of design work from around the world and exploring the problem solving processes that went into the creation of those artifacts reminds me why I love being a designer. The class left me aware, energized, and humbled. Simultaneously.

Aha!

How to correctly say Jan Tschichold and László Moholy-Nagy (not “Tish-hold” or “Nagg-ee”).

Teaching Internship

Typography II with Alex Egner

I chomped at the bit to get started with my teaching internship experience. I’ve had a passion for being an educator for as long as I can remember and this was my chance to play with “live ammo.” The first thing I learned was, with as much enthusiasm as I may have had, I was worn out at the end of each class after helping conduct 19 critiques over two hours, three times a week, never having time to stop or to slow down. I also discovered the difference between good critique and art direction. While I’m used to looking over designers’ work to offer comments on what needs to be changed or to direct a color change, viewing student work and then offering critique that allows the student to use their own decision making skills to improve the piece is not the same. Inside, you know what should be done, but you can’t say it. You must remain an educator, allowing the student to find the best solution, only using your comments to help them find it. The “behind the scenes” experience forever altered my perception of design education.

Aha!

Even when students themselves aren’t thinking of their futures, the faculty is actively discussing what kind of success they’ll have (and in every case, pulling for every student to excel).

Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods

Dr. Lisa Henry

My interdisciplinary focus area is anthropology and this course was my first work in the department. The experience was enlightening. In design, we are taught to consider the end user, to ask questions in better understanding who they are in an effort to produce a relevant product. Informal study of culture is very helpful, but ethnographic methods of interviewing, observing, and recording go way beyond what I learned in undergrad design. By practicing the methods used by social scientists, I understand the value of being an effective observer and question-asker in completely understanding the people I’m studying, and in discovering the solutions for the problems that affect those people. Anthropology has it right: thorough investigation of those being studied renders a great amount of knowledge that then can be translated into successful design solutions.

Aha!

When conducting your study you must see through the eyes of a child, assume nothing.

Design Anthropology

Dr. Susan Squires

Doubling up on my Anthropology study, I also took a specific class on Design Anthropology. This class was a combination of designer and anthropologists, which made for a unique mix of expertise and attitudes. Here, we used the techniques of interviewing and observation to gather information for a project whose solution would require a design component. The exercise was an enlightening look at how designers and anthropologists work together (or are one in the same) in solving problems with solutions that are more relevant and successful because of the research time spent. I discovered Don Norman’s writings in this class and was challenged how design education must raise its awareness of the importance of usability and of the end user. While we may be experts at creating design artifacts, we must be more effective information gatherers on the front end to inform the creation of those designs.

Aha!

Anthropologists would do well to move their research more quickly in the interest of uncovering a solution. Designers would do well to spend more time studying the culture and not moving ahead to solving the problem right away.

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