Week 4: Letting go of holding on to everything

Grad school must be working or something, because all I can think about is design and my environment and the relationship between everything. Sometimes I feel really dumb and that I just can’t critically think about anything that’s being talked about in class, but when I go home, read articles, or notice something, there it is: a moment from class captured in real life. I feel like I keep seeing connections between what we talk about in class and the things other people are saying or doing. It’s like when you learn a new word and suddenly you hear it all the time. It’s not that it’s any more prevalent, but you notice it more.

For all my griping and uncertainty, there is this strength in knowing that my understanding of the world is growing. I thought about why I wanted to go to grad school and what I wrote about in my essay. I’m comparing it to my classmates’: how they’re going through classes, readings, and projects. I’m trying to gauge their happiness. I’m trying to find normalcy. Like, are we really in the school routine now? I want to ask them: are you happy? Is this real? Or are we all just trying to accept it and be happy because we’re going to be $100,000 in debt when we graduate? (That’s me getting real with you, bringin’ in the numbers).

So, I’ve been chewing on it and I realized I don’t want to forget this moment in time. Here is how I evaluate the situation thus far:

1. My program is not what I expected. But I also don’t know what I expected.

If you hope for something for so long, there is no way it could meet your expectations, especially when your only expectation was pure joy for two years. :). It was re-framing my thinking and realizing that I wanted to walk in the door and be captivated and inspired and flushed with design passion. But I have to remember that I’m in school, there is an inevitable monotony that goes in a) school work and b) doing anything for two years. Besides that, the dream that I would be immersed in design was bound to be false because it’s a program that accepts non-designers along side those with previous experience. We’re not all going to get a stack of paper, a fountain pen, and an x-acto knife and be told make a charity poster in 24-hours Bravo-reality-tv-show style. And if we did, is that what I’d want? Maybe a little, but I’m not sure that’s why wanted to go back to school. It wasn’t just to build a portfolio of more things. I could have done that if I kept working.I keep comparing this to when I was first at undergrad and being so moved by just going to classes and hearing my professors talk. I felt overwhelmingly grateful and lucky to be there. Like it was this precious treasure. I feel lucky to be a CMU, but it’s not the same kind of joy.

2. Regardless of where reality might not meet my expectations, I can make this a tremendous experience.

Well, duh–right? Right. Don’t worry, I know. It just takes a moment for that to kick it. I met two people since being here (in Pittsburgh, one didn’t go to CMU) so far who have explained to me their system of going through school is catering to the system and their teachers, taking the easiest classes and just filling their transcripts with A’s and making their professors happy. This method seemed terrible to me. It was a waste of time and money to go to school to just regurgitate whatever the teacher is telling you. So when I have a project I just have to flip it into something I like and make it fun. Ta-da! Making your own fun is a skill too. And maybe I could skip a reading because it’s not like there’s going to be a quiz, but who does that benefit? The professors who I respect so read this and it was worth their time, so why would I think it’s not worth my time? Since classes started last month I now have a list of over 33 books that my professors have insisted are extremely important text critical to what we’re doing. :). And there is something reassuring to me about that. That there is this never ending series of The Most Important Things About Design.

3. I wanted to go to go to grad school to become a better design thinker, not a better designer.

Some where between writing that on my grad essays and the being accepted, it fell into the back of my awareness, but it’s surfacing again the more and more I’m making connections between lectures. I particularly enjoy my seminar where we delve into the wildly theoretical, rhetorical, philosophical and all the other higher-education -“al’s” about design. I eat it up. I read this really wonderful article today about bringing thoughtfulness and process back into design in light of the new iPhone iOS7 coming out.

“Things that look great but don’t work well. Perfect pixel executions of flat design, but work that doesn’t address real business goals, solve real problems people have every day, or take a full business ecosystem into consideration. ”


“If product design is about solving problems for people within the constraints of a specific business, then it simply feels that many people calling themselves product/UX designers are actually practicing digital art. They are Artists. They are Stylists. Executing beautiful looking things, certainly an important skill, but not practicing product design. Product design is about a mission, a vision, an architecture.”

I was just so in love with the idea behind this article. I don’t want to be a visual artist. I don’t think I am now, but I’m not really anything else either. I want to be part of the strategic thinking on how to solve problems, help people, and make the most out of what I do. Seminar is telling me about how the world works (or doesn’t work) and my other classes and trying to get me to tackle that fickle world. I feel really engaged in my prototyping class, for instance. Since school has started I’ve doubled the number of apps I’ve downloaded or explored as I try to accept them into my life as a tool. To try to think about how they do and don’t help me, the solutions that the designers behind it came up with. And I get these tremendous ah-ha! moments when I recognize something a really thoughtful or clever. For example, on of the daily annoyances I deal with is my email. But you kind of just accept it as this inevitable thorn in you life that you have to deal with. But then I see a product like unroll.me and I’m like “it doesn’t have to be this way…” or a product like mailbox which, not only solves the problem of a crowded inbox, but actual makes the experience of cleaning out your email fun. By finding the true core of the problem and solved it in an unexpected way. Something we talked about in seminar: thinking about the alternative  functions and values of the products we use. Did you know the original patent for the toaster was for an object that would  ‘extend the life of bread’? No one thinks of toast like that. Toast has become its own object to be valued (who wants to put jam on untoasted bread?), but if you thought about all the things a toaster does for you, yes, extending the life of bread is one of them.

I realized how much I loved that article and I debated whether to share it with my class in our Facebook group or not. I wanted to hold it up to them and say: “Look! This is what we’re doing and it’s appreciated. People do care!” But I also thought we’re in a design program, they know about it already. Or maybe they don’t care. It’s strange, but I also didn’t even know if it was appropriate to share with them or not because of its content. We’re design students, but we’ve never shared anything design related in the group yet. Do these people care about design? Maybe they’re reading articles as much as I am  and who I am I to try to push them to read yet another thing?

And then I started worrying about forgetting all the things I’m learning right now and thought about starting another 5-year journal where I write down something I learn every day…then I looked up special notebooks that would do just that…

But I don’t need another task to do every day. I don’t need another special notebook when I have piles of them with different tidbits. I don’t need another tumblr. I have this blog and I can write things I learn here, if I want to…blah blah blah.

It’s not about cataloguing every new experience or thought I that I come across. My perspective and the way I think about the world is slowly shifting and I think everything is novel and my instinct is to hold on to it and the past by writing every idea down. But since it’s a whole shift, there’s no need. I can’t un-see a change in perspective. It’s there, it’s part of me and it will effect the way I interact with things in the future. That’s why I keep seeing connection between things in life and the things I learned about in class: because I already absorbed it and am using it the world.






I’m not there yet. But I might be getting somewhere.



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