Thoughts on design education

Improvising and collaborating with other people has always been my biggest joy when making something.

I am excited about my new teaching side gig at the university I graduated from. I never thought I would ever come back as a lector.

This is only happening mostly because of two people: My former professor Judith Grieshaber who invited me in the first place and my friend Gary Chou. As I was telling him about this new opportunity he provided me with all the materials from his course “Entrepreneurial Design” he has been teaching with Christina Xu at SVA for four years. He asked me to treat it as a creative commons, meaning to refer to him as a creator and use it in this or another form. Thank you.

As I thought about designing the program and I wanted to reflect on a few things.


Learning

A few years before Y2k, I was around 15 years old, and one of my best friends showed me a new program called Photoshop. It was on a non-labeled cd and cost almost a thousand dollar. But there he was showing me on his high-end PC (Pentium 90) the different filter, layer effects and how he made a custom signature with the help of tutorials from the internet. I realized that someone gave me superpowers and I just needed to learn how to use them.

So the next few months I learned hundreds of tutorials, made a website, showed my work in forums, and eventually someone paid me to create a website.

I was beyond excited for three reasons:

  1. You can learn anything regardless of your economic situation as long as you have access to free knowledge (i.e. internet) and tools (i.e. computer).
  2. Some people are willing to pay for your service/product even though they have never met me you in person, but it requires some level of credibility/reputation like a portfolio/resume and learning what they want.
  3. For people to notice you, you need to work in public and have other people participate in your progress.

A few years forward: In 2006 I decided to study design. I felt the need to learn the basics and finished as the only with my thesis about interaction design product with a german publishing company — a personal coach on the iPad. I was the only one who got a job before finishing my degree and quitting my job just a few months later.

I asked myself a lot of questions and why I made different choices than my colleagues:

  1. Did I attend the wrong program and should I have studied something else like interactive/interaction design?
  2. Do I have a different perspective on learning, career and being able to make my decisions?
  3. Did they teach me the wrong things?

At last everyone got a job, but most people think of design as a complementary resource/service, and one of the reasons is because a lot of designers decide to take the agency path — employed or self-employed.

Regardless of what kind of designer you are, you carry responsibility for shaping how people will interact with technology and to define our role as humans in this system. Designing has always been about creating those systems and setting the parameters on how to receive and interact with it.


Facilitating

Now I don’t know anything about teaching design or entrepreneurship, but I know something about starting and launching projects from the creator's perspective.

A close friend of mine who is an executive at an old and big technology company was holding his monthly all-hands meeting in front of more than two hundred people recently. He sat there with crossed legs on the conference table and talked about growth, leading with heart and building products people want. It was one of the most inspiring things I have seen.

His talk was not about teaching design. It was about a bottom to top approach rather the other way around, but also about encouraging collaborations within the group and building something that has value to their customers. The school was the opposite. Everyone learns the same shit; collaboration was most of the time not encouraged and no idea if the things I learn are valuable later.

The way I designed the program is an attempt to glue together what I learned about design, risk taking, to work in public and to be an agent of change.


Executing

It’s very simple structured, has three major components and provides a framework that will make hopefully designers to better creators. It’s an experiment I’m very excited for.

Again, thanks to Gary for providing a lot of ideas to this program:

  1. Ideas are not enough and need validation — The students will work with a startup (Thank you Oliver and Eric from Soundcloud for making this happen). Understand, discover a real business problem, create ideas, solutions, prototypes and validate them within couple days.
  2. Building an audience by working in public — If you are a creator, you need to learn how to engage with your community and give other people the chance to participate in your process. They will reach out to people they don’t know and write weekly in public about their progress and struggles.
  3. Launch project – They have to launch a Kickstarter project that generates at least 999 Euro before the end of the semester.

If you have any questions or want to collaborate, please drop me an email borahm@borahm.de or follow me on Twitter.

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