Overview & Day 1 — Start here!

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For the foreseeable future, every post from this account will be content related to Human Centered Design, or Design more broadly, as I explore the field. This post should serve three primary functions:

  1. Provide salient background information about me
  2. Set expectations for subsequent posts
  3. Initialize my competencies with various skills, so I can reference this to examine my progress later on

My Background

To understand my motivation for writing here, I think some amount of context is important — for now, I’ll keep it to my background. Some of the information here may be redundant with information included in my application essay to the HCDE department at UW, but that won’t be written until many months from now, so I’ll allow redundancy for whoever may read both.

I am a recently admitted transfer student from Bellevue College to the University of Washington. I am aiming to apply for Fall 2020 acceptance to the HCDE program, which means I’m applying in the Spring 2020 cycle. I have been planning out my schedule for transferring and applying to HCDE since last fall quarter, Fall 2018, after doing a lot of searching and talking to my older friends. My dad works as a software developer, and about 5 years ago, referred me to a book he read called The Design of Everyday Things. At the time, I only read the first 50 or so pages, but what I read changed the way I’d think about the world permanently — and I’ve been a product of that book ever since. I have recently picked up the book again to actually finish it in its entirety, and my notes on it will compose many future pieces here.

For a few years between my Junior year of high school (2015–2016) and my Freshman year of college (2017–2018), I bounced around between a few different social sciences. I read “pop psychology” from Dan Ariely, the Freakonomics books by Levitt & Dubner, business from Adam Grant, and more psychology from Malcolm Gladwell. I could tell I enjoyed something about the topics every time, but never felt like anything clicked. My next big formative steps came from two different friends, both of whom were already college graduates.

The first friend helped me hone in on career goals based on my expressed interests. This is where I created my goal of Product Management as a career. This was a big step for me, but I would later come to understand even more clearly that my interests lie at the intersection of people and data, and engaging my brain to solve problems involving both.

My interests lie at the intersection of people and data.

With this goal in mind, I realized product management is not often a field you get to start in, and that graduates usually need to start with something else and work their way there. This is around the time when one of my close friends, who knew my rough career and academic interests, introduced me to his friend from volleyball — who would graduate from the HCDE department later that year. He told me about the major, and it sounded like the best match for my interests I have ever heard, so I have planned my academic path around it since. This was in Fall of 2018.

Earlier this fall, I met with an advisor from the HCDE department and talked about the elements of a successful candidate — among other things, I was recommended to keep something like a process blog that HCDE 210 students were formerly expected to keep. This blog will resemble an extended form of that, but I will address this issue more in the next section.

Since looking at my first HCDE blogs on Medium, I branched out and started reading lots of articles on the entire platform — I subscribed a few weeks ago and love it. However, I will draw certain lines between this blog and the rest of my operations on the platform, which I will further address in the next section.

I could include additional information about my personality and traits in academia, but since this is not an application, I think the above sufficiently addresses how I got to this point.

What to Expect From This Blog

In light of the context I provided above, there are some general and specific things I know I want to do on this blog:

  • Chronicle my growth and development as a designer in the upcoming phase of my life
  • Demonstrate interest in the field of HCDE
  • Demonstrate ability to learn concepts in the field
  • Grow my ability in written communication
  • Post every day, effective on this start date of November 13

And specifically, you can expect posts in the following molds:

  • Learning & notes from specific sources of information, such as the DOET book or online videos
  • Applications of learned concepts in the real world — examples of good and bad design that I find around me
  • Personal status updates, when relevant
  • Original design-related endeavors — potentially website, analysis of published papers, and more that I can’t foresee yet

And what I will avoid on this blog:

  • Discussion of topics outside the scope of design
    I read a lot on Medium, and I am still very interested in the social sciences. I often discuss psychology and philosophy with my friends and roommates, but if I choose to write content for Medium, I will post it under a different account and keep this one for design only.
  • Inclusion of extraneous personal information
    In a similar vein, I believe there will be times that updates about my life will be relevant to my progress, but generally, I will exclude events and interests that don’t explicitly tie in to a topic.

Since this post is written before I have established a routine or created any other content, this is all speculative and subject to change. I’m just trying to give my best projection of where I want this to go.

Initial Competencies

Psychological concepts: 7/10 (?)
I think I have devoted a lot of time to learning about psychology, between a number of classes in my freshman year of college and books I’ve read. I think I have a decent degree of familiarity with most concepts, but I can’t know what I don’t yet know, so I’ll put myself at a 7 for the time being.

Non-technical writing: 8/10
I think I am very articulate in conversation, capable of using a variety of words to express specific meanings while also being able to “dumb things down” as needed. However, my conversational style definitely bleeds into my writing, and I will often switch between verb tenses within thoughts and even single sentences without noticing it. Also, I probably overuse certain sentence structures and punctuation, including hyphens (and formerly semicolons).

Technical writing: 3/10
I have experience with some forms of technical writing through a class I took at Bellevue College. I am comfortable with emails, and have written one data report and one recommendation report as part of that class. However, I don’t even know what forms of technical communication are standard within the design community yet, so I couldn’t say I’m equipped to use them. I’m just saying I haven’t used them— I think I am very capable of learning!

Ability & willingness to learn: 10/10
While I mostly hope I am viewed as a modest person, I think there are times for being direct, and this is one of them. My definition of intelligence is the ability to learn combined with the ability to solve problems by thinking critically. I spent my whole education before high school in advanced programs because of state-administered intelligence tests. I believe I am quick to learn, and have generally needed to spend much less time learning course topics than my peers. One example of this is time spent studying — I spent a total of 0 minutes preparing for the SAT, scoring 1530/1600. Not everything is easy to learn or comes easily to me, and I spent much of my early college struggling to keep pace as my math courses became harder for me to understand, but I can comfortably say that I’m well above average here. However, innate ability only goes so far, and sometimes it’s about effort — this issue has plagued me in the past, but since finding a passion in design, my engagement is far higher than any other subject I’ve studied thus far. Rather than just take my word for it, I hope that my content production in this blog will speak for itself.

Since finding a passion in design, my engagement is far higher than any other subject I’ve studied thus far.

Expertise with Medium: 2/10
This is the first time I’ve ever written here, so I should probably give myself a 1, but I feel like I’ve already been able to implement effective formatting choices. My 1 is just writing everything in the same format with some paragraph spacing, so I’d put myself a little bit above my 1. To borrow from DOET, the discoverability of the formatting features is high — it feels like I’ve been able to learn most of the unique decisions I can make in just a few hours writing.

Design knowledge, general: 2/10
Similar to with Medium, I think a 1 is the floor, and that I have to give myself at least some credit for what I’ve read and watched thus far. However, I think that I have a long way to go and much to learn — that’s why I want to study HCDE! So I will happily give myself a 2 and work to get that number as high as possible between now and when I graduate.

Art skills, any format ever created: 0/10
My biggest concern with design is my ability to represent concepts in my head in physical space. I have always struggled with art, in any medium, and of any level of complexity. I once thought design was almost all about art skill, so I wrote it off — I think that some areas of design, like graphic design, still are, but in general it’s a lot more about critical thinking and problem solving than I previously believed. That said, I will probably have to work harder than others to reach acceptable levels in sketching, wireframing, prototyping, etc.

To conclude, I hope that this post has addressed the three goals I stated at the beginning, so that having read it, you can understand my background, see my big-picture goals, and watch me develop as a designer in the coming months.

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Student in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) @UW Seattle.

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Rand Ferch

Student in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) @UW Seattle.