Design Ignites Change

Design Ignites Change hosts the annual Student Innovation Awards, and my students have four projects entered.

Design Ignites Change supports creative professionals, as well as high school and college students, who use design thinking – the combination of unleashed creativity and executable actions – to improve the lives of individuals and communities.

They will be granting two awards of $1,000 and four awards of $500 for projects with the potential to ignite positive social change. The deadline was February 28th, and the winners will be announced later this month.

Your Place, Your Space: Know Your Rights is a concept for a web service that will help students find quality off-campus housing. My students identified several issues with the current housing situation. Many landlords take advantage of the fact that a lot of students don’t know the West Virginia Landlord Code. They envisioned a website that would not only serve as an educational resource, but would provide tools for ranking landlords. Not just for students, landlords who follow the code would benefit from good ratings and publicity on the site.

WVU recently implemented a tobacco-free campus policy. Unfortunately, the rules are vague and poorly communicated. To make matters worse, the university campus is integrated with the city in such a way as to make it difficult to tell what is or isn’t considered to be campus property. My students designed iSmoke, a straightforward mobile app that immediately indicates whether or not the user is within campus bounds. It also provides shaded maps of the campus, information about the policy, and resources for people who want to quit smoking.

Parking Pal addresses a third issue facing WVU students. Parking around campus is scarce, and towing companies aggressively go after illegally parked vehicles. Students don’t understand laws, so towers take advantage of them. The iPhone app communicates with a GPS device placed in the car and alerts the owner if the car starts moving while they aren’t in it. The app also provides maps to assist in finding parking and information on towing laws.

All three of these projects were the result of the class I taught last semester. We did a unit on social change towards the end of the semester. The fourth project, College Compare Fair, is from the thesis work of one of my graduate students who is trying to combat poverty in the state.

Are You In?

Something strange and wonderful happened today. Jared Spool and Leslie Jensen-Inman launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund… wait for it… a curriculum! For a new UX school! That’s crazy. This isn’t something that the backers will be able to play, watch, or listen to when all is said and done. This is going to be a two-year program. The backer rewards are just notebooks and t-shirts. Crazy.

And yet, they reached their goal of $21,700 in a matter of hours. With 29 days to go, they are already at $37,132 from 318 backers. There is nothing  on the page about stretch goals. There are just a lot of UX professionals chucking money at this thing because we strongly believe it is necessary, and we respect the people that are trying to make it a reality.

Oh, I’m in. I am in.

Design for Doha

I’ve met a lot of fascinating people at the Interaction conferences, the next of which is coming up the first week of February. Alex Cheek is one of those people, whom I admire as a teacher, intellectual wit, and a guy with real chutzpah.

They told me at my last graduation that design had changed their worldviews. What I didn’t say back was that they changed me. I never would have guessed it when I first landed on Mars. I never expected to become so captivated by Middle East and South Asian cultures in ways beyond just karak and shisha addiction. I never expected such a positive embrace from technology and business students. I never expected that desert to be such a stimulating place.

He has a story to tell, so instead of writing my own post today, I’d like to forward you along to an article on the CMU School of Design’s website: Reflections on Doha: Four Years of Design at CMU Qatar.

The Right Skills

The Digital Life is a great podcast created by Jon Follett and Erik Dahl. I dare say it is one of the best podcasts currently being produced about Interaction Design and User Experience. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend giving it a try, and the latest episode, number 56, is an excellent one to taste test. Titled “Design Education and Building Teams with the Right Skills”, it deals with topics near and dear to my own design practice, teaching, and general mindset. Here’s their episode summary:

User experience is an amalgam of information architecture, visual design, interaction design, user research, prototyping, coding, and a host of other skill sets. Combine this complexity with the rapid rate of change in technology and techniques, and it’s no wonder that there’s a gap between the skills required by the industry of UX designers and those taught by design programs in colleges and universities. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the state of design education and how to build teams with the right skills to ship digital products with Jared Spool, Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering.

The program begins with an insightful overview of the current situation from Dirk Knemeyer. It’s a very relevant, historic perspective. The interview with Jared Spool about his new Unicorn Institute is fantastic. As usual, Jared has the research to back up the approach he and Leslie Jenson Inman are taking, and he paints a picture of design education serving the needs of the companies that will be hiring the graduates. Check it out.

Unicorn Quest - Part 4

In my last post, I began analyzing Dave Malouf’s article, Thoughts on code, programming, design, production, development, technology and Oh! Design. I started to write the post that would have followed on Thursday, but I had to prepare a haunted house to open Friday night and just couldn’t finish it.

Continuing where I left off, Dave Malouf gives us a dose of reality.

So for all intents and purposes, the point is just plain moot. Because as Jr. and Mid-level designers become Sr. and director level designers, their tech chops will just be assumed as they move up the ladder. Our whole frame of reference will be completely changed (is changing) in the next 3-5 years.

Dave thinks all junior to mid-level designers need to at least learn how to prototype using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery. He claims it’s “an economic reality of employability.” He may be right. That’s not to say that a designer who can’t won’t be able to find a job, but they’ll have a lot more opportunities available if they can. The real problem here is that design schools are already stretched thin trying to cover everything students need to make it.

But what of more experienced designers? Are we grandfathered in? Do we get a free ride, delegating the implementation to the junior staff? Even Dave admits he lost out on positions because he couldn’t code at an appropriate level. I have always been one to teach myself new software and new technologies when I needed them to accomplish something. I taught myself to edit video in Premiere, create 3-D animations in Infini-D, and create interactive multimedia in Director in the course of a year while I was a senior in college. I experimented with numerous software packages for animation and web design in grad school. I had less opportunity to do this after becoming employed, but I’ve kept my HTML and CSS skills up-to-date and taught myself enough jQuery to use it on a project. I’m confident enough in my prototyping and implementation skills that I’m not concerned about a hotshot designer fresh out of school beating me out of a position.

Dave believes that designers must sacrifice depth in UX practice to add breadth in visual design and coding. If you’ve been following along, you already know that this is one point on which Dave and I don’t see eye-to-eye. As I’ve mentioned before, UX practitioners should develop some amount of depth in their specialty before putting the crossbar on their T, but a career is a long time. I’m not going to claim I know everything there is to know about Interaction Design, but I certainly know enough to branch out into some other areas.

That covers what Dave sees as the problems. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the good side.

All the World’s a Stage

Last week, I had my students reading articles about defining “design”. Some of them were specifically dealing with the struggle of finding a definition (or multiple definitions) for what we do, while others were about what it means to be a designer. We had a good discussion in class last night, but I wish I would have learned of Cameron Norman’s post on his blog Censemaking a few days sooner. It would have been perfect for inclusion.

It’s been suggested that anyone who shapes the world intentionally is a designer, however those who train and practice as professional designers question whether such definition obscures the skill, craft, and ethics that come from formal disciplinary affiliation. Further complicating things is the notion that design thinking can be taught and that the practice of design can be applied far beyond its original traditional bounds. Who is right and what does it mean to define the new designer?

Titled Defining the New Designer, Cameron’s article examines definitions and descriptions of designers and what they do. He ties in discussion of Design Thinking and cites several people that were contributors to the articles I used in class, such as Sir George Cox, John Thackara, and Bruce Nussbaum. I don’t find any conclusive answers, but it raises a lot of interesting questions that are worth thinking about and discussing.

If I could pin down a result from the discussion that occurred in my class, it would be this: The field of Design continues to grow and diversify, and thus settling on any singular definition of Design is fruitless. We must prepare today’s students to think about Design not as a WHAT, but as a HOW. We must position them with the skills necessary to act as facilitators and bridge makers in interdisciplinary teams. We don’t know where they will be applying design thinking/process/methods in the future. As Dan Roam stated in NextD Journal’s special issue Beautiful Diversion, “A whole new breed of designer is waiting in the wings, and we can’t even imagine the tools, the voice, and the stage she will have.”

This is another kinetic type piece from my graduate course. The assignment was to communicate the meaning of rhythm using only the word itself. As a percussionist, I interpreted each letter as a physical, percussion instrument and then composed a cadence utilizing them. I actually wrote the piece out in notation and then translated it to the animation in Director’s score.

I was just going back and opening some old files to make sure they were still accessible. I’m especially concerned about my Director files from graduate school. I was able to rescue this gem from Dan Boyarski’s class, Time, Motion, & Communication.

A Well-Designed Life

Eve Faulkes was my undergraduate Graphic Design professor. She’s also the one that invited me to teach, inflaming a passion that is still burning strong some eight years later. She is driven to do work that matters, and she invests herself fully—mind, body, heart, and soul. She has been a mentor and an inspiration. Eve is featured in the latest edition of West Virginia University Magazine, and I’m proud to give her a shout-out here.

Pillage the Village

In the world of dragons and knights, you are the villain of the story. It is your duty as a dragon to feed your greed by destroying and raiding as many villages as possible to create a treasure cave King Arthur himself would envy. But be wary of the black and white knights, for they hinder your ability to collect and pillage.

Of the three games resulting from last semester, Pillage the Village was the most successful design. It should have been, as it was the largest team. As the other two teams, they did a great job theming the game through the artwork and game pieces. What set them apart was that their game was the only one of the three that provided enough complexity for emergent behaviors.

Each player takes the role of a dragon: gold, red, black, blue, green, or white. Each dragon starts at its own, color-coded cave in one of the corners of the board. On their turn, a player will roll the die and move that number of grid squares in any horizontal and vertical combination. The darker squares represent villages. Villages in the outer ring are smaller, and thus have less potential for wealth. The village in the center of the board always has the most treasure. To pillage a village, a dragon must traverse every square of the village. Markers are placed on each square that has already been devastated, but treasure only goes to the dragon that pillages the last square of the village. When that happens, the player draws a card to see their spoils.

The dragon must carry the treasure with them as they continue to move around the board, but they are at risk of being attacked. Their are several knights on the board as well, some white and some black. White knights only move diagonally and will take half of the gold a dragon is carrying if they land on the same space. Black knights move as dragons do. They will take all of the gold a dragon is carrying and send the dragon back to its cave with its tail between its legs. Every turn, after moving their dragon, a player also moves one of the knights. Any gold retrieved by a knight is placed in the village at the center of the board.

Dragons can also attack each other by landing on the same space. Both players roll, and the player with the higher number takes the other player’s treasure. A player’s goal, then is to get the treasure they have pillaged back to their cave, from which it may no longer be stolen. The player must find a balance between pillaging villages and making the trip home to secure their hoard.

Each dragon has a that it may use once a game. For example, Licinius, the gold dragon, is capable of stealing double gold due to his gluttony and overly large hands, while Terra, the green dragon, has the ability to restore a previously pillaged village due to its natural healing qualities.

The game ends when all villages have been pillaged. The player with the most treasure in their cave wins. As you can see, the players have many choices to make. Should I try to hit the smaller, outlying villages or go for the center? How long should I take my chances before returning my stolen gold to my cave? Black Knight or White Knight? Move knights away from me or attack someone else? Head for a village or take a chance attacking another player? When can I use my special power to greatest effect? Because their are so many decisions to be made, there is a lot of room for different strategies to emerge, and that is a strong signifier of a good game.