June 26, 2011
Many of my close friends know that I spontaneously erupt into song or dance if the moment is right. Or sometimes if it’s not right, too.
During our time here at Taliesin we’re working very long days. We start moving around 8am each day and don’t go to sleep until after Midnight. They’re long days for me, an adult who generally has good control of my crankiness, and they’re really long days for the bunch of 16–18 year olds along with us.
I’ve discovered a few secrets for keeping everyone’s energy levels up:
Drink tons of water! It’s true that it will give you more energy than coffee or soda.
Anytime the group’s mood is down I find myself jumping around like an idiot, singing Spice Girls (circa 1997) and explaining, err, showing them how Scary Spice did the jump kick after the second verse in the video.
And it totally works.
Everyone is instantly laughing (perhaps at me, not with me) and back on track, forging ahead to whatever our end goal is that day.
The last few days have been completely amazing. Our little group has grown together like a family, complete with an 11-person sit down dinner at a single table last night. I’m happy to provide a little comic relief if it helps everyone bond a little stronger by creating some ridiculous memories of their time here.
On another note, I’m totally destroyed! My shoulders, legs and arms are dying from all the strange exertion I’ve been doing. I have bug bites and scratches and yesterday I accidentally stabbed my finger with the tip of a knife. But who cares! I wouldn’t trade any of that for what we’re learning here each day.
June 25, 2011
We’re a few steps closer to reaching our goal of designing an outdoor, enclosed space for making phone calls at Taliesin. If only we can protect it from the mosquitos…
All of our activities today at Taliesin forced me to confront a feeling that everyone has and no one wants to talk about: jealousy.
The morning started with a sprint to finish our Claes Oldenburg-esque iPhone and mosquito objects. I found myself rapidly bouncing between the two teams of crafters, and each time I came back to the team I thought, “Man, they did so much good stuff while I was away! Why didn’t I think of that?!” I was a part of helping the students accomplish something bigger each time I visited a group, and yet I was still feeling left out every time I missed a moment of awesomeness.
In the afternoon we worked on our first sketch-build project at our building site. We made simple “sketches” on the ground using thin strips of wood and quickly laid down plans filled with possibilities for new spaces. We worked in three small groups and every time we shared our designs with one another I got that familiar feeling of jealousy. “Why didn’t my group come up with that?!”
As a designer it’s impossible not to feel jealous of other designers’ fantastic projects from time to time. But it’s also important to know what to do with that feeling. Can you turn the jealousy into something different? Instead of asking “why not me?” can you instead ask “What can I learn from this to improve my work?”
I shared that idea with our students during our nightly reflections. It was important for me to externalize it, and it was important for them to know that I have these struggles too. By sharing an intimate experience I removed a layer of the barrier between us. And because I’m able to identify and share what I’m going through I’m a better person and a better teacher as a result.
June 24, 2011
I can sum up today’s adventures in one word: details. The main goal for today was for the students to wander around the campus and explore the nature of the space where we will all be working for the next week.
The scavenger hunt we completed this morning forced us to take note of all the intricate details that make up the Taliesin property.
What initially looked like a wide, green-filled expanse quickly turned into a detailed mental map of the minutia of life at Taliesin. We started classifying locations based on the parameters of our scavenger hunt:
buggiest place: on the other side of the rotting log with the green lichens on it
loudest place: in between the waterfall and the main road where water and cars rush past in perpendicular directions
Even the non-descript places were soon filled with our new memories of working together. The previously generic landscape became peppered with the images in our minds of our experiences at Taliesin.
We visited Wright’s home during the afternoon. On our private tour (which exempted us from wearing the dreaded hospital booties) we had plenty of time to sit and take in all the details inside the home. I was struck by the level of care and craft Wright devoted to every aspect of his home’s construction. Every detail was carefully considered, including hinged window coverings that simultaneously align with a triangular window and its neighboring square wall.
Sitting at our Wright-inspired farm home this evening I notice the same careful details on the window work. Each window has two uneven shutters inside. The corner window can only accommodate one side of hinged covers, and the cover has been neatly double-hinged to coordinate with the others while fitting into the context of the room. Every detail has been considered.
June 24, 2011
I just finished my first day as a Teaching Fellow with the Public Workshop group at Taliesin. As part of our daily reflection I’ve collected a few of my thoughts.
Today was a one-two punch of awesomeness. I’ve been awake since 3:45am eastern time and have traveled on a plane, on a train, and in an automobile to get to join this amazing group of people.
Meeting everyone this morning was different from what I expected – better, more pleasant than my expectations, and I’m pleased that the students are refreshingly positive and honest.
The few hours we spent in the car, and the subsequent hours lunching and touring around Madison were nice but there was a steady feeling of anticipation. Almost like we were dragging out the procession to our final destination to create a sort of compression and release cadence, just like the ones we have observed in Wright’s architecture here at Taliesin. At the time the waiting felt unnecessary. In retrospect it was the perfect complement to the structures we have experienced today.
The arrival to our new home at Aldebaran could have been smoother. Being temporarily locked out of the house (and dealing with the physical consequences of mosquitos and bodily functions!) was not ideal. I really admired the spirit from Daniel and the students. In the face of boredom they jumped right in and started making mosquito costumes.
I was most delighted by our encounters at meal time. Around 6pm we headed over to the school to look at the studio and join the students and faculty for dinner. We were standing in the studio at 6:30pm on the dot when all the students got up from their work and went to the cafeteria. Such amazing dedication! Such clarity in priorities! Work can wait here at Taliesin. It is more important to be a part of the community. And the dinner community was great. Everyone joyously shared conversation over a homemade wholesome meal. It was as if there is no world buzzing outside of life here. It feels totally secluded yet oddly current. (Honestly the seclusion makes it feel a little culty to me. It could easily verge on being creepy, but the warmth and generosity here gives it the cozy edge.)
We returned to the house for a game of hide-and-seek / tag centered around the theme of “mosquitos.” Alex and Audrey started as the patient zero bugs and proceeded to catch and infect all the rest of us. I was quite proud that I managed to climb up a tree for my hiding place. And even more proud that I made it down safely! The best part of the game was getting to run around together through the trees and hills. I’m sure I will feel the pain from the running tomorrow but for today it felt like a terrific dusky burst of life.
So far everything has been simultaneously just what I expected and also very different. I am feeling very lucky to be a part of this awesome group of people. I can’t wait until we really get into working tomorrow. I have a feeling the juices will be free flowing in this group.
June 20, 2011
This week I’m headed to Wisconsin to spend eight days as a Teaching Fellow at Taliesin with five outstanding Chicago public high school students.
The students were selected for participation from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Newhouse Architecture Competition. Public Workshop is coordinating the whole week in part as a revival of Frank Lloyd Wright’s past Taliesin Fellowship. We’ll be spending our time designing and building a structure in the beautiful Wisconsin countryside.
I am thrilled to be one of the first Teaching Fellows for the program! I’m eager to meet my cohort, Daniel Splaingard, and to spend the week working alongside some amazing students. I’m particularly interested in meeting Joseph and Edwin, two of the minds behind wedesignawesomethings.
There’s a full write up on Alex’s site. I haven’t told him yet that I (sort of) hate nature. I’m going to man up and enjoy the fun and sunshine, despite the bugs and creepies that come along with being in the wilderness!!
June 16, 2011
Sometimes the magic of design happens when you get a lot of minds (and a lot of hands) involved.
Right now I’m working with a client to help them define content and user experience design for a medium sized educational website. During the past few weeks we’ve had some lively stakeholder interviews and group discussion around the different types of content for the site. I thought I had a pretty good idea of how all the pieces were related.
When I sat down to lay out the wireframes I realized that there were a lot of unanswered questions. The core page’s content is so subject matter-specific that I was having a hard time answering the questions myself, regardless of how much discovery and requirements gathering I had done.
To solve the problem I introduced a variation of a card sorting activity at our meeting. On index cards I wrote down every type of content that might possibly appear on the page. I had the team work together to arrange the cards in groups in order of the content’s priority on the page. I asked them to complete the first five minutes of the activity without speaking to one another; I wanted them to share their gut instincts rather than making decisions based on a friendly discussion.
Four minutes into it they were ready to talk! During the process of arranging the cards they discovered a lot of questions they didn’t have before. We were able to have a healthy debate about the tangible decisions they had each made, and since there was a physical artifact on the table it made the conversation instantly more grounded. The entire process worked really well to clear up ambiguity in the terms we had been discussing abstractly for weeks. Although there were some heated moments (some of the team members felt very strongly about their intuition!) everyone was able to reach a consensus at the end.
At a high level, the outcomes of the exercise were:
- Clearly defined content modules
- A new plan for what type of content needs to be created
- A hierarchy for the page that everyone agrees on
The whole activity only took about an hour, and it saved me a lot of time sketching and discovering the information they already know.
June 13, 2011
Design and education is popping up all around!
I just checked out Tools at Schools. It’s a delightful project from the folks at Columbia’s The School, aruliden and Bernhardt Design.
I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this opening video.
Design and designed objects are ubiquitous in our lives; soon it will be essential for every person to have some knowledge of the design process. Just as an automobile owner should know a thing or two about how her engine works.
I wonder how the students will continue to develop their design knowledge over time. I’d love to chat with some of the kids to hear more about their experiences!
May 10, 2011
Last Thursday marked the completion of my graduate degree work. I’m in a moment of limbo until Thursday when I am handed my diploma and given my official MFA in Interaction Design.
OPEN IxD turned out to be a terrific event, despite our skepticism at calling it a “festival.” The night before the event, we all came together as a class for one final night of work. We assembled tables and placed power strips and iMacs according to our classmate (and system administrator) Jeff’s detailed plans. It was perfectly executed. A bunch of us created an assembly line to tack Clint’s 3D glasses on every chair in the auditorium.
The day of the festival was full of nervous excitement. We were all amazed when people we had never met showed up to the event. And there were just as many folks watching our LiveStream and following along on twitter.
My presentation was midday and I spent most of the morning in a hyper-anxious state. I was excited for the day but knew that I would soon be nervous, too. When I got up on stage all my nerves went away with my first couple deep breaths. I pumped some enthusiasm into my talk, and I was finished seven and a half minutes later!
The best part of getting up and sharing my ideas was the connection I made afterward. It was a great reflective activity to share the thoughts that have been floating around my brain for the past nine months with a new set of listeners. I discovered a few people I knew already who had been thinking in the same space. We shared a moment of excited knowing after the talk.
The rest of the day was a blur: eating, drinking, and sharing the last day with all my classmates together. I will remember the day because of the spaces around the festival. Like so many things we create as interaction designers, the talks themselves were a catalyst for a larger conversation that enabled us to connect with each other and understand the magnitude of our accomplishments over the last two years.