It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Risk, opportunity, and major life changes

Carnegie Mellon is launching a new graduate program, a Masters in Tangible Interaction Design. I’ve been offered a slot in the first cohort starting this fall, and I’ve accepted.

This is a huge opportunity, and I’m taking a huge leap of faith and signing on. This is also going to be a major change in my life — I’m not just cramming 2-3 classes into my spare waking hours after I get done with work, this is a full-on commitment to focus on nothing but school for two semesters. I’m taking an unpaid leave from work and will have effectively no income for almost a year (and paying for COBRA for health insurance).. I’ve been putting money back for this most of the year and filing for student loans, but I’m still going to be living very cheaply for the next year or so.

However, this is a huge, huge opportunity and I’d be an idiot to pass it up. A year to focus on embedded computing, interaction design and bleeding-edge fabrication and rapid-prototyping is probably the wet dream of more than one geek out there.

I’ve always been a believer in the advice found in the opening of the Butthole Surfers, “Sweat Loaf”:

“A funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret something you have done than than to regret something you haven’t done.”

But Dr. Randy Pausch’s commencement speech at CMU is when it really hit me:

“It is not the things in do in life that we regret on our deathbed, it is the things we do not.”

It’s not a matter of, “wow, how can I take such a huge risk?”. It’s a matter of “wow, how could I not take advantage of such a huge opportunity.”

Stay tuned for the blow-by-blow, classes start in a few weeks.

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posted by jet at 14:37  

Sunday, February 24, 2008

You Will Not Speak During Your Crit

I know I’m not breaking any new ground in design theory here, just noting something that’s been on my mind for the past year or two and I feel the need to say something about it.

Ages ago when I got my first degree, one of my photography instructors laid down a hard and fast rule before the first critique:

You will not speak when your work is being discussed in a critique. You will keep your mouth shut. You cannot respond, cannot make faces, cannot argue, cannot communicate. You are there to listen to what others have to day, not to argue with them, or in any way explain or discuss your work.

From day one we were forced to live with the rule that your work must stand on its own. Once it’s out there, you will not be present to explain it, justify it, or otherwise interpret it for an observer. In other words, if your work needs explaining, then it’s not ready. Granted, this was a fine arts photography class and the focus was on making work to be displayed in public, but being forced to sit and listen really changed how I received and thought about feedback.

So here I am, part-time design student, and in crits people are responding to comments about their work and even arguing with what other people are saying during a crit. Many of the crits I’ve been in have been completely unstructured, leading to one person getting a huge amount of feedback on their work while others don’t receive any feedback at all. To be honest, I’m not sure how productive it is to challenge or argue with the feedback being given to you during a crit. Asking for clarification, counter-examples, or to take a line of reasoning further seems like a legitimate response to feedback in a crit, but going so far as to tel the other person that they’re wrong?

I haven’t personally seen anyone break down in tears or get into a yelling match, but it seems I’m the exception. I’ve heard stories of it getting to the point of tearing up drawings, destroying models, yelling matches, and so on. These aren’t third-hand stories, these are, “Yeah, like last semester when Mary’s model got thrown out the window” or “was that the crit where Bob just started crying and ran out of the room?” If you’re running a crit and people are having breakdowns, destroying work, or getting into yelling matches, what are the students actually learning?

To be clear, I’m not talking about situations of the sort where the instructor declares the work sub-par across the board and bails on the crit. I think “you as a whole didn’t work very hard and this would be a waste of everyone’s time” is a reasonable response, as long as it’s delivered in a factual manner, and not an angry rant.

Maybe it’s the “art vs. design” mentality or maybe it’s just differences between schools, but it’s something I apparently need to get used to if I’m going to continue my studies in this area. Personally, I just can’t get worked up enough about some of these things to actually be angry. If my work is bad, then I need to go work on it more, if yours is bad, you need to go back and work on it more. However, if someone yells at me during a crit or destroys my work, I think I’ll just get up and leave the room. In my opinion, there’s really no point in trying to constructively engage someone throwing a temper tantrum or being violent, especially in what should be a constructive environment.

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posted by jet at 22:05  

Friday, February 8, 2008

Back in the saddle, sort of…

… so time to start catching up on blog stuff.

The PRK went well, I’m working on a nice write-up of the entire procedure and my recovery experiences. Doc says I’m 20/20, possibly 20/15 in the right light, I have no halos or other visual artifacts. I’m still a little light sensitive, so low-light situations feel very high-constrast to me, but I’m completely fine to drive at night, etc.

I cut way back on classes this semester so I could focus more on work and art projects. Next semester I’d like to take some 2D design and color theory, but for now it’s just Intermediate Japanese 2 and a tangible computing class.

A design degree is still the goal, but my focus on ID has turned into a general inquisitiveness about design. I’ve read a bit about the Bauhaus curriculum, and I think I’m going to try and put something together for me that would be a self-directed degree in Design that includes 2D, 3D, interaction, service and maybe some d-theory to boot. I’m still really interested in things like furniture, tangible computing and nomadic technology, but I’m now interested in the fundamental design theory that’s the common ground behind all the different [Foo] Design disciplines.

And process. I’m becoming obsessed with process at a theory level — what defines process, what is common in process between different disciplines, etc.

Oh yeah, and I have a partner and a day job and a cat and friends and other things that I’d like to keep paying attention to while doing all this other stuff.

More soon.

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posted by jet at 17:01  

Sunday, October 28, 2007

“I want to be a designer because…” — 2007 edition

Last year, one of my professors asked us to complete this statement every year while limiting our answer to 15 words or less. So here I am a year later, doing it again.

I want to be a designer because…
… I want to make things that will improve people’s physical and emotional lives.

There’s another answer, but it’s more than 15 words:
… I am unable to stop asking the “why” and “how” questions about the world and I think studying design will help me find some answers.

Those are related statements, but one is a process that will never end, the other is an action I want to be able to perform.

When I started down this road a few years ago, I was convinced I wanted to study ID and move into the ID job world. The more I learn about capital-D design, the more I start looking for commonalities between design and other knowledge domains. When I started learning to draw objects I started seeing things differently and laying out diagrams on whiteboards differently. Learning about the American System of production in the 18th and 19th century has started me thinking about how desktop fabrication will change business models of global corporations. Looking at how color and typography are used, I am beginning to understand why I hate the default text coloring in most source code editors and starting to think about ways to improve the text display.

The more I learn about design the more questions I have and the less sure I am of my previous answers to questions.

But that’s a good thing, in my opinion.

(Oh, and here’s my answer from a year ago when I first answered this question.)

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posted by jet at 12:44  

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Self-Directed Summer Program in Design

That sounds pretty sexy — I think that’s how I’ll describe what I’m doing this summer. Ok, I’m really just going to catch up on a bunch of reading, do some writing, practice drawing, and set up some metalworking equipment so I can make some things. But with a sexy title like that, my summer plans sound much better.

I took a couple of weeks to decompress for school but I need to get back into the study groove. I have a lot of real work (the stuff that pays) to do, but I’m going to try and stick to a self-study schedule for design, security and Japanese in my free time.

My books on the “In” pile so far fall into two piles, design and security.

In the design pile:

  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature
  • What Things Do — I haven’t read much design theory, so I might spread this out over several weeks so that it can soak in
  • The Complete Japanese Joinery
  • Industrial Strength Design ("What do you mean it’s not about EBM and stompy boots?")
  • Universal Principles of Design

The stack of security books is big enough that I might end up skimming many of them:

  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
  • Physical Device Security
  • Reversing
  • Building Secure Software
  • Silence on the Wire
  • Security Warrior (could they have come up with more leet title?)

I’m also considering re-reading some of the classics that I read in school the first time around: Alexander’s design books, Foucault’s History of Science, that sort of thing. It’ll be interesting to see how much my worldly experience changes what I get out of the canon.

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posted by jet at 11:40  
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