IxD Education Summit, Day 2

My second day at the Summit started with orange juice. That's always great. And if you're a designer like me, you might appreciate the container more than the juice itself.

Enjoying the juice a delicious salmon sandwich and the morning sun coming through the large glass windows I met an interesting interaction designer from Bern, Switzerland — Alexandre.

He is working on longer-term app projects for an agency called Nothing Interactive founded in 1999. Wow. 1999. That’s ancient by web standards.

His experience saying no to client requests that weren’t aligned with user needs was refreshingly surprising. This topic — “Saying NO to create the best user experience for your product” — would make a great barcamp talk . I wish more people would be aware of and attending barcamps. Sharing our thoughts and experiences more freely would definitely help our industry to mature.

Andy on stage

The first session was kind of an interview of Andy Budd, owner of Clearlef t— a UK agency. Fred Beecher was asking questions and Andy shared his thoughts. Even when trying to capture as much as possible, I was unable to keep up with the pace of interesting ideas an quotes that came : )

The discussion started with education and experience. Learning about a 16 year old web developer with 5 years of experience left me amazed. Wish there were more like her. My thoughts steered into the direction of what would it take to encourage and replicate that for designers. And when is the earliest we can start getting people acquainted with design thinking. In the internet age any person with enough passion for a subject can learn about it and master any skill.

Internships at Clearleft

The conversation shifted to Clearleft and their internship. Any designer working in a cross-disciplinary team in a studio will inevitably learn a lot. Not only from his immediate team but also from all the other people around. Now imagine if you'd be interning at Clearleft. Those are three happy folks on the slide there.

What strongly correlated with my experience was inexperienced designers that to go for the first spark of creativity. Thinking they know the problem and are pursuing the seemingly brilliant yet shallow initial idea. Rationalising away their doubts about it. This part ended with a great quote:

“Design is not worth anything if it’s not a repeatable process.”

I’d sign that any time. Heck I’d wear that proudly on my T-shirt.

Design Industry

The focus moved on to the design industry.

“Value is created not in workshops and production plants but rather by creating original design”

As Xin hinted at on day 1, China is already following this trend design-led value creation chain. The faster your country understands this simple fact the better position you’ll have. Don’t start thinking: “Not me!”. We’re ALL responsible for improving our industry.

The interview ended with Andy shared the cues he’s using to spot talent.

Do you blog?
Have side projects?
Attending events?
Have a passion for what you do?

Share some of these? Then you know how much they help you improve. Not yet? Maybe that’s a topic for you to spend some time reflecting on.

The morning session was followed by a series of three slots with multiple talks.

Design the learning path at IBM

That was the title of Jodie Cutler's talk about her journey at IBM to design the career path for designers within the company. My takeaways?

It wasn’t easy. And especially hard was explaining what they created to the designers themselves. Being still fairly new to education made me appreciate the “question wall” and reference to David Ausubel's subsumption theory.

Designing a Design Program

Adam Smith from Rochester Institute of Technology with Tim Wood talked about their new media design programs. Wish the quality of education was at this level in the nineties in Czech Republic. Today’s kids have it much easier. Leap motion, Unity. Multi-disciplinary teams. Good job, guys. The program — judging by it's outputs — seemed working fine.

Today's design students have a lot of places where they can end up.

Design Games

Taking a stroll through the Aalto university got me to the studio on the 7th floor that hosted a talk by Eva Durall and Heidi Uppa about design games. I’d have to admit my expectation was different and that made me struggle with the two games presented.

My design games bible is Gamestorming. And most of the games in my workshops are rather utilitarian and almost exclusively used during the ideation phase with stakeholders. Seeing games played with users made me think how the outputs would compare to more traditional research methods. Or to cycles of rapid prototyping and quick testing.

Working session

All the previous sessions and talks have set some expectations. Only to be exceeded by the working session led by daniel harvey and Lauren Currie. Kudos for a well prepared and pleasant session.

The working session was held in the film stage. The initial presentation was great to look at as well as thought provoking. Talk about priming well done.

Our first active assignment afterwards was to take a stance on the following statement:

Design education is broken.

Practitioners were flocking to Strongly Agree and people from universities balancing the scale at the Strongly Disagree end and I joined them. In my view the current design education is not broken. Just optimised for a different output. And not reacting so fast to the changing conditions of the job market.

Then we formed groups. My group consisted of Andy Budd, my morning acquaintance Alexandre, Charles Hannon, Adam Smith and me. We were discussing current issues in education.

Design heroes

Engineering and business as areas all have their heroes and billionaire founders. People can look up to them, get inspired and join the professions. The money then allows so much more. What about digital design? There aren't nearly as many heroes. Mostly because we designers consider ourselves facilitators rather than leaders.

This initial phase was then followed a brief period where we should think about … not sure what exactly now :) What remains now is a list of topics that still resonate with me.

Mindsets. Enablers. Facilitators. Need for experience. Everyone has his own goal. Noticing. Language. Expressing thought visually.

How might we?

After spending time on thinking about design education in general it was time for synthesis. We got markers, post-its a flipchart paper and set out to imagine what could be.

We came up with three questions.

How might we customize the design education?
How might we create the best independent design school in the world.
How does design design it's own education?

We explored the second one deeper and this is what we came up with.

Our design school would take multiple years to finish (think 6). First few years would be spent in a design studio traveling the world to places that needed designers. People leaving the school would return to it as mentors and lecturers when they accrued some experience.

We would have a superhero billionaire design founder who would fund the school and we would be very selective about who would be admitted. Our marketing strategy would be to let the outcomes show themselves.

More ideas!

We weren't alone in the thinking. Four other groups took their own approach and there was a lot of interesting ideas. One group did even designed an exercise crowdsourcing ideas about soft and hard skills a designer would need.

This was definitely not your everyday list and it made me reflect on what we currently have in our curriculum in UXWell.

My two post-its on the table were “Reading and writing” and “Interpreting data”. And both of them need a little explanation.

Reading, writing and interpretation

Both of these relate to each other. Reading and writing themselves distinguish us from animals that can use sound to communicate. Our difference is the use of language. Meaning encoded in words. Words that can carry meaning or obscure it. To be able to make sense of the world around a designer needs good command over a language.

Our creations speak to people that are not like us about concepts we're not very familiar with. This puts an emphasis on our ability to understand and express ourselves clearly and unambiguously. To do that I'd say a designer needs more than a regular person. To understand, we need to be able to capture concepts not only using words but also using diagrams and drawings. To express and explain, we need to command the language at a level that allows us to be concise and precise without introducing ambiguity.

Checking out and encountering the wicked problem.

The afternoon working session took nearly three hours. And it was very well worth it. At the end, we “checked out”. Standing in a circle we stepped back one by one explaining to the others what we took away. Not sure what I said then, but then something clicked and I realized that …

A “wicked problem” is a term coined by Horst Rittel and Melvin Weber in 1973. To know if you have a wicked problem check it against these 10 “heuristic” criteria. The more it satisfies the more you can be sure it is one.

  1. There is no definite formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rules.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another [wicked] problem.
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. [With wicked problems,] the planner has no right to be wrong.

Reflecting back on these rules makes me think that design education is one of the wicked problems. Read this article by Tom Ritchey if this list piqued your interest and you want to know more.

Kim Goodwin's Practice and Praxis

Kim gave an inspiring talk and stressed many points starting with the purpose of education.

Education is not only for the advancement of the individual.

We should be better off if education does not only focuses on the craft but also produces citizen designers. Coupled with the right mix of virtues, knowledge and skills, designers would be well rounded and able to tackle any challenges.

Also design education should not be handled only by “academia” alone. According to Kim a designer should pick up a range of skills in a variety of settings. In addition to a few semesters in a strong academic program his experience should be completed by working not only as a consultant but also in a in-house product team. For several years.

Kim finished with an analogy likening the design education to the professional education of doctors. There's definitely a lot of inspiration in an established field. My subconsciousness tells me that there would be more fields we could draw inspiration from. Lawyers, engineers and others have also adopted a similar model. All of those models are naturally a product of the society influencing the profession as well as the craft itself and the professional groups practicing it. Why not apply design thinking on our own problem and coming with a solution? Or just try many approaches, exchange experiences and knowledge and see what works best? It's a wicked problem, remember? As there is probably no test — that would tell if a solution solved our problem — would make the situation much more interesting. Don't you think?


There was one single thread going through most of the talks and chats I had throughout the past two days. And there are also apparently many names to go with it — praxis, teaching in circles, David Kolb's experiential learning.

The unifying aspect of them is the need to reflect on your experiences to be able to learn and progress further. It's a crucial aspect of the continuing learning. One that could be accomplished by a mentor, teaching experiences or in other ways.

And that was it. With Kim's presentation over I was wishing there would be any “afterparty” or any other way to share the excitement with others, but there was not. So I just packed my pens and notebook and ventured into the cold darkness of the coming night …

Thanks everyone for a great experience! Hoping to meet you next year!