Browse Category: Design

Teaching as Design

TFA frames teaching as leadership. That’s the name of the framework we’re following, TAL – Teaching as Leadership. Throughout the recruitment, this is a point they head home – this is leadership training, our students need strong leaders, and diversity, equity, and inclusivity is the center of our leadership. As a student leader, this was appealing to me, but they could have sent a message that would have hit my heart in an entirely different way.

Teaching as design.

Teaching is an undeniably creative process, and to me, it’s design thinking. Specifically, it’s human centered design – you are constantly iterating and trying new things with real, small humans. In design, you start out with a problem, or a goal; making a thinner iPhone. In teaching, that goal might be getting your students to understand two digit addition with regrouping. You’re getting feedback, constantly, and you modify your work to respond to that feedback.

In teaching, the feedback you get is often loud and unruly and sometimes children stick their middle finger up at you if they have a problem with what you’re doing. Sometimes the feedback looks like data – test scores, exit tickets, STAR planning reports.

In design, the feedback is focus groups, user testing, A/B testing.

Either way, the feedback informs the way you proceed, it informs the changes that you make to your practice. With both design and teaching, it is a practice, and your practice is going to change and evolve over time – my classroom is going to be different next year from the way it’s been this year, in so many ways.

My students took the TFA math summative, and I spent hours grading and entering data for every student, for every question. It’s a sixteen page test, and I have 18 students, so this was tedious, to say the least, and it’s a rigorous test – my students were showing mastery on the tests I’ve been giving all year, but when the summative happened, we didn’t do nearly as well, as shown on the above spreadsheets. Look at 1.OA.6, 1.OA.1, and 1.NBT.5 – I can look at the feedback and get results that will inform what I’m doing next year. You bet we’re going to devote more time to those standards, from the beginning of the school year, and I’m going to be integrating more rigorous content into the curriculum that the district provides.

To me, this is design thinking – iterating and testing out ideas, and creative problem solving is at the heart of it all.

Where we are vs. where we thought we would be

Photo on 9-7-11 at 2.29 AM

Photo on 9-11-11 at 3.52 PM

The Photobooth pictures above show me, freshman year of college, working on a project for design school, and a drawing I did for class. Tonight, as I snapped another Photobooth picture of myself, my mind went straight to those.

In my freshman year of college, I had no idea I would end up here, in Mississippi, teaching. I expected to live in west Michigan, or in High Point, NC, and design furniture. It’s funny, the places life takes us.

Tonight, I put together some new charts about number words and expanded numbers. My class will work on this later in the week, writing numbers in expanded form, and writing numbers using words. We’re working on number sense, building an understanding of what even and odd numbers are, and how we can represent the same number in different ways. It’s fun for me because it’s this sort of abstract idea – numbers are just on a paper, but they’re also in blocks, and we can pair them up to see if they’re even or odd, and they’re also groups of hundreds and tens and ones.

My students have a mixed understanding right now – some of them seem to be getting it, and some of them are still working on it.

Photo on 8-22-16 at 6.40 PM

Photo on 8-22-16 at 6.56 PM

Materials and Form

I saw this project today, and I was fascinated by it. It’s called Not Granola, by Aaron Rappaport.

It’s a Panton Chair. But it’s made out of grass and clay. Does that fundamentally change the nature of the chair? I know that there are physical differences between clay and plastic, and the way they feel and move and function, but how else does it change the chair as an object? The Panton Chair was designed in the 1960’s, and it looks and feels like something from that era – something that abandoned traditional notions of how a chair should be, and it looks very fresh and exciting because of that.
With mud, straw, sand, and clay, that’s all different. It no longer comes off as refreshingly modern, but it feels like this strange, natural approach to modern design.

Design/Educate/Connect at the GRAM

Design/Educate/Connect partners with the GRAM to showcase local entrepreneurs who bridge the gap between design and business.  On Friday night, the third annual D/E/C event featured seven business owners.
One defining characteristic of D/E/C is the fact that the interviewees are interviewed by people who they know well – often colleagues, friends, or partners.  The organizers decided to do this because they wanted to get past basic questions and gain a unique insight to their motivations and business goals.
The first interview was with Cliff Wegner, interviewed by Tom Crimp. Wegner is the owner of Mighty in the Midwest, a web and mobile development company. One topic the interview touched on was mobile-first design.  “We don’t do any work nowadays that isn’t responsive, and that isn’t built for varying devices,” said Wegner. “That mobile adherence is in all the work that we do.”  Mobile-first is a priority for Mighty in the Midwest because “It’s not necessarily mobile-first, it’s future-first.”  They went on to discuss the future of social media, and Grand Rapids as a hotbed for tech businesses.
The second interviewee was Jill DeVries, a local photographer, interviewed by Marissa Kulha.  DeVries became interested in photography around the time when she was finishing high school and beginning college, and has been doing photography full-time for three years.  Many photographers avoid wedding photography, but weddings make up a majority of DeVries’ work. “For me, they are absolutely my favorite thing,” said DeVries. “Part of that is because relationships are the most important part of my life…weddings, if nothing else, are a celebration of that.” 
Another topic that came up was Grand Rapids, and what’s keeping DeVries in this city when she could be working from anywhere. “I love traveling, I love every time I get to go somewhere new, but coming home to Grand Rapids is always the best feeling.  I love this city.” She said. “I think there’s just something in the air here, these people who are, everyone is doing something creative.”
The third interview was with Tyler Way, interviewed by Adrienne Rehm. Way made a business of customizing shoes, and now works as a shoe designer for Wolverine. For ArtPrize 2012, he was a part of Fashion Has Heart in collaboration with Threadless, which was in the top five venues of ArtPrize.  Fashion Has Heart pairs wounded veterans with artists to help veterans tell their stories through t-shirts and military-style boots. Now he’s working on another iteration of the project, with five more wounded veterans, looking for five more artists to help.
Next up was Derek Coppess, interviewed by Monica Clark. Coppess is the developer who is working on 616 Lofts.  Despite the seeming disconnect between development and design, the two are quite connected. “From a design standpoint, I feel like we go from a very human start, with the structuring of deals.” Coppess said. “Then going to an actual design concept with architects to take a space and start to program what’s going to happen there.”  When Clark asked about what drives Coppess, he said. “Creation, for me, is what does it.  It’s what I get in trouble with.” That ideal, that focus on creation is what drives everyone who was at D/E/C.
The penultimate interview was with Laura Caprara, interviewed by Eric Kuhn. Caprara was trained as a graphic designer, worked at an ad agency for several years, then freelanced as a graphic designer.  When Facebook rolled around, she became interested in it, and started a social media and PR company, Stellafly.  With Stellafly, and it’s precursor, Grand Rapids Social Diary, Caprara has become a major player in the world of marketing and PR in Grand Rapids.
The final interview deviated from the earlier ones, in that it was going in both directions – Christian Saylor and Joe Johnson, both from Universal Mind, a user experience design firm. They discussed how they both became interested in user experience design. As a child “I loved to watch people kind of interact with things. I was really intrigued by how they interacted with each other and also with digital things.” Said Johnson.  For him, design is about empathy and making people feel a certain way. Saylor, on the other hand was attracted by the storytelling aspect of design, inspired by the stories his father told him when he was young. With the rest of the team at Universal Mind, they make projects like One Second Epic and Horseplay, bridging play with design and storytelling to make winning products.
D/E/C erred on the business side of the connection between it and design, but it serves its purpose well – designing, educating, and connecting within our community.

Design Ethics

Photo by Ernst Brooks, from National Library of Scotland

Is good design a moral obligation?  How do ethics apply to design?
I’m taking a journalism class right now, and ethics is a huge part of journalism, but ethics isn’t emphasized much in design education.  In Mike Monteiro’s book, Design is a Job he makes the point that everyone is responsible for what they put into the world.  If you’re a designer, and you choose to do work for an organization that does terrible things, then you’re saying that you agree, at least a little bit.  Monteiro writes about a designer who he interviewed, who had work that he did for a tobacco company in his portfolio.  He asked the designer why he did that work, and the designer didn’t have an answer, other than the fact that the company asked him to.  This designer didn’t see any issue with doing work for the company.  If a designer really needs work, then it’s understandable to take on a project that they don’t agree with, but otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.  Lisa Congdon touches on the issue in this interview as well.  Her philosophy is a little different, it’s more about choosing projects that you support and feel aligned with.  She talks about it at 35:24, but the rest of the interview is well worth a watch.  Congdon is pretty fantastic and has an admirable career.

What do you think?  If a project seemed intriguing, but involved an organization that you disagree with, would you take it?  What sort of responsibility do you feel like designers have to the world?