Meet The New Hybrid Designers


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Article by M. Eckersley and J. Alexis in DMI Review, Summer 2010

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Meet The New Hybrid Designers

  1. 1. D E V E LO P M E N T These profiles suggest the nexus of business and design within an Michael Eckersley, Principal, HumanCentered, academic context. Read Professor, Interaction Design & Design why these students feel Management, University of Kansas their hybrid expertise gives them an edge. Jeremy Alexis, Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean, Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design 6
  2. 2. Meet the New Hybrid Designers by Michael Eckersley and Jeremy Alexis In recent years, design has gotten a tor Peter Gorb1 described a “huge Gorb urged designers to narrow the good deal of attention in the popular river of misunderstanding between gap by gaining fluency in the language business press. Such attention goes the design world and the business of business. That river of misunder- beyond branding and product in- world.” At that event, Gorb was intro- standing has narrowed since the time novation, and extends to the idea of duced by Earl Powell, then-president of Gorb’s remarks. Some bridge- design thinking as a means of general of DMI, as “the father of design building has been done, but today innovation, from services and systems management,” given his pioneering there are still many on both sides of to business models. For seasoned efforts both in corporate management the river who remain content working designers, the attention is most wel- and later as a management professor old familiar ground. However, there come, if a little jarring, after years of at the London Business School. Hav- is a new generation coming along dealing with misunderstanding and ing worked for many years building who see the world differently from resistance to design as anything but bridges between design and business, their predecessors, and who view the peripheral to core business issues. 1. Peter Gorb, “The Design Management Interface,” gap between business and design less Speaking before an audience of Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, as a problem and more as a curious 2003. Edited transcription of a talk given before an RGD designers in 1993, writer and educa- conference held approximately in 1993. anachronism. © 2010 The Design Management Institute 7
  3. 3. Design and Bu siness Transformation Challenged orthodoxies and they will learn a lot from them. ing, and it was assumed a lead design The gradual emergence of design as Yet the roles they will eventually play architect, for instance, had spent his an important strategic input to busi- won’t necessarily be strictly within the or her formative years drawing stair ness has raised the stakes for design design silo. In fact, they are the face of details. management, widening expectations a new class of designer, ones who can Things have changed. Many tools of what designers uniquely have draw on multiple specialties. and methods once core to our value to offer, particularly with regard to A long-standing orthodoxy in the proposition as designers have been the work of innovation. Despite the design profession is that an under- digitized, simplified, commoditized, economic motivations for businesses graduate degree from a top design or made redundant. New methodolo- to innovate, there are relatively few program is required for success in the gies are core to the evolving forms of professionals skilled in such work. field. The nature of craft-based train- design practice. The complexity of So when such popular busi- the problems we face demands ness gurus as Tom Peters2 more of us, not just technically, A long-standing orthodoxy in but intellectually and creatively. assert that “design... has become central to enterprise strategy” the design profession is that an Even great design managers and that “design is only sec- can no longer be experts in all undergraduate degree from a the tools and methods used in ondarily about pretty, lumpy objects and primarily about a top design program is required the course of their projects. In whole approach to doing busi- this new context, a four-year for success in the field. undergraduate degree from a ness, serving customers, and providing value,” people listen. design school may not be the Paying special attention are students, ing (and the master/apprentice rela- only (or even the best) way to prepare young managers, and professionals- tionship) was best suited to people someone for a career in design. in-training looking at a 30-plus-year fresh out of high school, ready to We know that design knowl- career stretching out before them, and define their career and lifestyle as de- edge, skills, and abilities are not all wanting to build competencies that signers. When the tools and methods of a piece, but can be expressed and are relevant and sustainable. Some of of the profession (for instance, laying applied in a host of ways in different these up-and-comers who might have out type, preparing working engineer- problem contexts. These comprise earlier gone the MBA route are now ing or construction drawings) were what Illinois Institute of Technol- looking at graduate school in design. analog and highly manual, late nights ogy professor Charles Owen3 calls They are coming to design school out in the studio and shop were often “a wide range of creative character- of diverse educational backgrounds. the only way to learn. Moreover, just istics, as well as a number of other They are fewer in number than their about every position in the field was special qualities of distinct value to more “vertically trained” design peers, required to have expertise in design 3. Charles Owen, “Design Thinking: What It Is, Why It tools and methods. Even managers Is Different, Where It Has New Value” (speech given at 2. Tom Peters, quoted by Brigitte Borja de Mozota in the International Conference on Design Research and Design Management (Allworth Press, 2003), p. 72. were expected to have design train- Education for the Future, Gwangju, China, 2005). 8
  4. 4. M eet the New H ybrid Designers decision makers.” Owen asserts that sion that we can now accept people such design thinking characteristics from varied backgrounds into design include conditioned inventiveness, school. Both IIT and Kansas offer human-centered focus, environment- graduate design programs that accept centered concern, ability to visualize, nondesigners. Though such practice tempered optimism, bias for adaptiv- is not yet the norm for design schools ity, predisposition toward multifunc- generally, the knowledge and experi- tionality, systemic vision, view of the ential diversity that these people bring generalist, ability to use language as a to programs is valuable. We have tool, affinity for teamwork, facility for learned important lessons about their avoiding the necessity of choice, self- abilities, their transition issues, their Yujie Guo unique learning needs, and their professional prospects Current: Graduate student, Interaction It is a sign of a maturing after graduation. Many of Design, University of Kansas them have changed careers profession that we can now or career focus, which is no Prior: UI Designer at C2 Microsystems accept people from varied small challenge in a profes- and MiNO Wireless sion as fluid and young as backgrounds into design school. design. Education: BS, Computer Science, Recently, we inter- Beijing University viewed six “hybrid design- governing practicality, and the ability ers” with whom we have worked at Why design school? to work systematically with qualita- various times over the years. Some Working as a GUI designer with only tive information. Chris Conley4 and have graduated and have found good a computer science background, I felt others offer their own take on design’s careers; others are still in school. pressure to gain the kind of formal de- new core competencies. But it appears We wanted to better understand sign training that would enable me to that a new model of design education their motivations for going to design advance professionally and compete is emerging that is well rooted but not school. We also wanted to get their for better positions. steeped in the past, with a pedagogy thoughts about what was easy and built around these integrated com- what was hard about the design What were your expectations of petencies. Course subjects, projects, school experience. design school, and how has your and products reflect the broadened experience compared? expectations of design and designers. I expected the courses would focus It is a sign of a maturing profes- on improvement of individual abilities. But the courses have focused more on 4. Chris Conley, “Leveraging Design’s Core Competen- cies,” Design Management Review, Summer 2004. collaborative skills and team design 9
  5. 5. Design and Bu siness Transformation efforts. Also, I discovered that design What is the best part of design touches a much wider variety of fields school? that I originally thought. The courses are well designed and all the materials are carefully chosen. In Of the skills and understandings class you learn not only from the pro- developed in your previous career, fessor but also from classmates who which ones were the most helpful in are from different backgrounds and design school? who share their thoughts very openly. The skill to collect ideas and thoughts rapidly helps a lot in design school. What advice would you give to My notebooks are full of diagrams and someone thinking about changing Doug van der Molen sketches that capture and record my careers to become a designer? thoughts and inspirations in class or in Get real-life experience as a designer Current: Senior User Experience daily life. first. Take on every opportunity to Designer, Google practice. Get an internship or a part- Of the skills and understandings time job. When you do decide, then Prior: Multimedia Specialist, Calvin you’ve gained in design school, you can start planning to get a formal College which do you think will be most rel- design education. n Education: BS, Calvin College; MDes, evant and valuable in your career? Illinois Institute of Technology Communication: the ability to research, interact, and collaborate with team Why design school? members and users to accomplish While in college, I scraped together design goals. $2,500 and bought a Macintosh computer and began teaching myself How do you think employers will how to make websites. I realized I regard your design experience? had a knack for design, but I wanted Employers are looking for someone more formal training. I thought design they can trust. They understand the school would give me the formal de- importance of improving user experi- sign training I was looking for. ence, but they are confused about how to accomplish it. Interaction What were your expectations of designers can help provide leadership. design school? How did your experi- ence compare? At first I was frustrated with the as- signments, which seemed ambiguous, 10
  6. 6. M eet the New H ybrid Designers and similarly, the expectations were attractive because at the time there only loosely defined. At first this was was a near-guarantee of a high-paying frustrating—I wanted the professors job, and the schools had a tremendous to tell me what I had to do and how to number of industry contacts. Going to do it. However, as I progressed in the design school was a risk. program, I realized that this freedom, though frustrating at times, enabled Did you find any challenges work- me to explore different ways of solving ing with people with a traditional problems using the design methods I design background? was being taught. This may be controversial to say, but Zachary Jean Paradis people who are taught traditional, tac- What was the best part of design tical design are often not comfortable school? Current: Director of Digital Strategy – in ambiguous situations, like solving Two things. First was the feeling of em- Sapient complex problems. The main chal- powerment. I felt empowered to create lenge was that they wanted to jump and design things that could change Prior: Producer at a media company immediately to synthesis, and did not people’s lives. Second was the value want to spend time doing analysis of the relationships I formed during Education: Social science and anthro- (which, based on my liberal arts back- my three years at IIT. Those two things pology, University of Chicago; MDes, ground, was where I initially felt most were worth the price of admission. Illinois Institute of Technology comfortable). How did your potential employers Why design school? What advice would you give to react to your design experience? I became interested in design late in someone thinking about changing Most of the potential employers I inter- my undergraduate career, but it was careers to become a designer? viewed with (Microsoft, Yahoo, Adap- not until I was working for a media Be flexible and adaptive. Someone tive Path, various start-ups) had no start up that was “planned” by a gradu- making a career change needs to problem with my design experiences. ate of IIT that I realized I could learn a understand that they may end up in I made sure that my course work and more integrated, strategic approach to a different position than they origi- portfolio demonstrated my ability to the profession. nally envisioned. This requires you to bring value to these organizations. have an expansive view of the design When you were making the deci- process. Don’t think “I am going to be a What advice would you give to sion to switch careers, did you have designer.” Think “I am going to be part someone thinking about changing any concerns? of the design process.” n careers to become a designer? Yes, I also applied to and got into MBA Make sure you’re all-in. n programs like Kellogg. The MBA was 11
  7. 7. Design and Bu siness Transformation What were your expectations of What types of jobs did you look for design school, and how has your during your job search? experience compared? I didn’t look for design jobs. Rather, I Because my previous graduate school created a design role for myself in my experience was research and synthesis division that eventually grew into man- oriented, I expected more debate and aging a user experience team. discussion. How did your colleagues receive What is the best part of design you when you started? Has your school? relationship changed over time? Brian Smith Applying theory to practice. Almost There was occasional tension within everything I’ve been introduced to in some groups. But I was able to intro- Current: User experience, DST Systems; school I have applied to work projects, duce design to them as a comple- PhD student, architecture and design, and this has greatly accelerated my mentary and collaborative process University of Kansas experience and understanding. that produces better results. Leaders saw the business value I brought the Education: BA English, Washburn Of the skills and understandings company and realized that design was University; MA, English, Kansas State from your previous career, which a missing element that was critical to University ones were most helpful in design their business strategy. school? Why design school? Close reading, knowledge of rhetorical What advice would you give to I needed both professional discourse models, software development and someone thinking about chang- and community. Being for the most design, information architecture. ing careers or shifting career path part self-taught, I wanted design toward a design role? school rigor to fill any gaps in my Of the skills and understandings Have the courage to reach out to all understanding. gained in design school, which do the disciplines and personalities in you think will be most valuable in your company—to be the bridge, the your career? integrator, the collaborator. n The ability to apply design methods and processes to any problem is critical in my new career. My skills are relevant, timely, and at times, seem prescient. 12
  8. 8. M eet the New H ybrid Designers Why design school? How receptive have your employers Though my skill set is unique, I felt and colleagues been to your design the need to broaden my competency study? base. I saw a description of the human So far my employers have been factors course at Kansas, and fell in love skeptical—but they are intrigued. My with the idea of Interaction Design. I current team-mates are beginning to wanted to be a part of it. demonstrate similar design-centric behavior. What were your expectations of design school, and how has your What do you see as your future? Angel Stahl experience compared? What do you hope to achieve? I didn’t know what to expect. I just To rock the network industry. Enlight- Current: Network planner, Ericsson; knew instinctively that this field has all enment! graduate student, interaction design, the makings of revolutionizing the way University of Kansas we approach virtually everything we What advice would you give to do in a traditionally Six Sigma environ- someone thinking about graduate Prior: Network planner, Sprint ment. I have been encouraged to use study in design? my mind in ways that I haven’t been “What are ya waiting for?” Life is too Education: BS Journalism in advertis- able to before, learning about new ap- short to wonder. You’ll never look at ing/marketing, University of Kansas proaches to work-related problems. the world in the same way. n What’s your background? Of the skills you developed earlier I’ve worked for 16 years within a tele- in your career, which ones were the communications network planning, most useful in design school? design, and engineering environment. Three things: brainstorming, persis- I do everything from microscopic tence, and listening. analysis of program architecture to macro data trending. I form traffic Of the skills and understandings scenarios and hypotheses, as well as you’ve gained in design school, design system requirements. My skill which do you think will be most rel- set is valuable—a rare amalgamation evant and valuable in your career? of analytical, conceptual, and architec- Instead of joining the traditional tural thinking. design world, my intent is to bring interaction design into network engi- neering and planning. 13
  9. 9. Design and Bu siness Transformation Why design school? What advice would you give to In the schools where I worked, there someone thinking about graduate was quite a bit of creativity in think- study in design? ing about how to help students learn Trust your intuition—if you do go into more effectively. However, there were design, you’re going to have to do a limits to the ability to make a lasting lot of that anyway. And while you’re in change beyond the school. I felt a design school, you’ll pick up the skills draw to be thinking about these prob- you need to help your decision make lems at a bigger, system level. sense to the rest of the world by the time you get out of here. n Jennifer Lee What were your expectations of Reprint #10212ECK00 design school, and how has your Current: Student at the Institute of experience compared? Design at Illinois Inst of Tech, will I was pretty open as far as my expecta- graduate in May 2010 tions went. What has been nice is that I actually (believe it or not) have gotten Education: BA in ethnic studies, Brown more concrete skills out of this pro- University; MA in curriculum and gram than I had been expecting—a teaching, Teachers College (Columbia good foundation in basic design skills, University) communication, and so on. I’d never touched or even heard of the Adobe What’s your background? Creative Suite before I got here. Went into education (teaching)— taught in Colombia, Argentina, and also What was the best part of design the New York City public school system: school? elementary school, and eventually high It’s a rare opportunity to have so much school history (I worked with late-entry flexibility to focus solely on doing immigrant students). I am state-certi- what I realize I enjoy most—thinking fied to teach pre-kindergarten through through a problem and figuring out twelfth grade in New York. how to tackle it. And working with so many like-minded and talented col- leagues who really love doing this too. 14