Not because I’m lazy, but because I received one specific comment from last semester that the class was dissolving into “one of those slides classes that’s kind of boring.” Ouch! I thought it was helpful to create slides that could be posted online and shared with students who unfortunately couldn’t attend class, or referenced later by the diligent students who would review them at the end of the semester. Perhaps I was wrong.
This is a design class after all, not a math or history course full of detailed facts and figures. This semester I am taking a more active approach to teaching design, leading with my belief that design is best practiced in the wild – not sitting in chairs.
I chose not to “teach” about research this semester, but instead lead the students on a micro research program during our two and a half hours of class time. I gave a research brief to each group of students. One example: “Justin Timberlake has hired your team to find out how MySpace can better reach 18-24 year olds. You need to find out about their music listening habits and what motivates them to become involved with bands.”
After a short, live chalkboard lesson on research guidelines, each team created a unified hunt statement to guide the intent of their research. They went out in the field to conduct observations on their target audience and used those first learnings to write a set of interview questions together. They interviewed each others’ team mates to find out about specific user behaviors. Finally, they collected all their learnings on Post-It Notes and started clustering similar ideas together.
By the end of class each group had a clear set of insights from their quick research. We discussed how they might translate those insights into opportunities for design. The process was fast and loose, and they were exposed to more research principles than I could have taught them on a slide. More importantly, they will probably remember the process better because they had to practice it themselves.
I wanted to teach a better storytelling lesson to my students. In the spirit of ditching slides, I asked the students to practice telling stories on the fly. We did a couple improv-style warmups, where small groups worked together to create an entertaining story in response to a prompt.
“Tell me the story of going to the movies” produced a faux-teenage boy riding in his mom’s minivan to a movie with his high school girlfriend. The story climaxed as they ran into his ex-girlfriend at the theater and it turned out they weren’t exactly broken up. Another group told the story of coercing a friend to go to the movies to see the One Direction 3D Experience. It was a hard sell and the heroine ended up seeing the flick alone.
After warming up, I asked each group to use storytelling to solve the problem of “texting while walking.” Each team started by defining the problem (Why is it a problem and what are the symptoms?) and then created a hacked together solution to address the problem. The groups acted out a short story that demonstrated the problem and the solution they envisioned.
In the end we learned an impromptu lesson on what makes a good story: plot, characters, a little drama… and good acting!
Always be Sketching
Sketching is a foundational skill of interaction design, and I’m determined to turn my students into proficient sketchers. We did an entire lesson on sketching, with timed challenges to sketch things like what you ate for lunch and with whom, or sketch an app you use often and explain it as you go. My goal was to get them over the hurdle of laborious sketching and teach them to be more comfortable with sketching as a journey instead of a destination.
I’m curious to see how these hands-on lessons change the way my students think about projects throughout the semester. Will they be more casual in their approach? Or more rigorous in actively solving problems?