From a Junior to a Novice

IDP Class 2017
“He knows not where he is going, for the ocean will decide — It’s not the destination…… It’s the glory of the ride.”
— Zen Dog

I just celebrated my first Christmas with friends yesterday. This made me feel clearly the end of 2017 and the end of my first graduate semester. At the middle of this year, I came here, Indiana University Bloomington, to study my master degree at HCI/Design. With other 42 cohorts, or I would say families to some extent, this program taught me how to become a proactive learner, a thoughtful practitioner, an empathetic designer and most importantly, a supportive, committed and honest team player.

In retrospect, among many touching moments in this semester, there are three short stories I really want to share. They remodel my attitude of not only design but also life in terms of vulnerability, humbleness, and patience. They witness my growth from a junior designer who is a little cocky about her 5 years design experience to an absolute beginner who realizes that the more you learn, the more you need to learn and enjoy playing the whole game, facing the endless challenges with her teammates.

Vulnerability

I came from a quite competitive university in China where I unconsciously got used to hiding my weakness and only showing my strength. Sometimes, I tried so hard to be confident and perfect that may seem distant to others. This semester helps me to learn that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.

We have “Design Therapy” every Thursday night, from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM. These 1.5 hours have a sense of ritual: we just sit in silence waiting until somebody stands up, walk to the middle of the classroom, and start talking about whatever he wants to share. Our cohort takes this sharing opportunity wonderfully. We talk about everything: heartbreaking love stories, the exhilaration and exhaustion to be a new father, the death of beloved families, and the frustration to overturn a carefully-prepared bento box.

This really drove me nuts at the beginning as a non-English speaker. But soon I realized it is not about language at all, but about your willingness to be seen, to be vulnerably seen. We open ourselves honestly and accept others respectfully. These small pieces bond us together: we treat each other as close friends with colorful experiences instead of just teammates. This relationship is fundamental to trust rigorously in a design team, as well as in a social connection.

Humbleness

During one of the IDP class, Our professor Marty asked a group of students, including me, to assemble a Thomas & Friends Playlet. After 15 minutes’ struggling, we left frustratedly with all the pieces scattered. That playlet was for 8-year kids but somehow 5 master students could not figure it out. It was not until Marty pulled out the instruction from his pocket that we all saw the point of this game: being humble and asking help.

Asking help humbly might be the simplest thing in the world that even a baby can do that. However, it’s also so easy to be overlooked. My culture and family educate me to be independent. However, I might interpret it in a wrong way: try best to solve the problem by myself and be as smart as I can. It may work in school to pass a test or submit a paper. But when it comes to a complex design world, no problem can be solved individually. Nobody will care my independence if I can’t conquer the design task on time. It’s ok to be helpless and silly at the beginning but definitely not at the end. Seeking advice early helps to save time and integrate resources. It’s also important in social life to ask help humbly and also give help actively.

Patience

I am uncertain and worried about my future career: Should I become a researcher or designer? Am I more into UX design or Product design? Can I fit in the culture of big name companies? Doesn’t startup help more to sharpen my design skills? One day I walked into my professor’s office with all these overwhelming question and anxiety. After listening, he said to me:

“ Finding a job is like finding a husband. It’s smart to treat the first and second job like a boyfriend, and the third job like a husband. You want yourself good enough for your husband and your husband loves you whole-hearted, right?”

This metaphor made a lot of sense to me instantly. I suddenly realized that most of my frustration and unhappiness comes from the anxiety that I am not good enough for something I really desire. I sometimes push myself too much because of this reason. Being a designer is a lifelong journey: practice a lot but more importantly take your time and seize the moment because the good design comes from reality and heart.


Special thanks to professor Marty Siegel and all the teammates!

If you have any question or suggestion, please reach out via email: doutian@iu.edu

More about my work at www.iamdoutian.com