I Am A Designer – We Are All Designers
I was a designer; at least for many years I considered myself a designer in both my personal and professional life. My undergraduate work earned me a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a specialization in Advertising Design and after graduation I entered the graphic and web design industry where I spent over 16 years serving and supporting corporations and clients with my design work. In 2002 I entered the field of education (part-time), while still actively working in the graphic and web design field. I was a designer.
Fast forward to 2009 where I transitioned from my job in industry into the field of education as a full-time instructor teaching Web Programming to community college students. It was at that moment that I swapped the professional title of “designer” with the title of “educator”. Don’t get me wrong; I am very passionate about education and my role as an educator is one of the most fulfilling roles that I have ever achieved in my professional career. But, I felt a sense of loss in a way because I had thought when I became an educator that all the creativity and design skills that I developed and had flourished over the many years that I served in the industry, were gone. It’s often said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” that played over and over in my head like a broken record. I could not make the connection between design and education other than a few lessons on design basics sprinkled into the Introduction to Basic Web Programming course that I presently teach. I was a designer.
Education is a part of me, I was one of those kids that loved school and as an adult, it’s not any different. I have a passion for education but deep inside I found myself missing and yearning for the creativity and love of design that I encountered and interacted with every day when I worked in industry, that is until I learned that design exists in everything! It’s not limited to a job title, particular career, or field; it’s in everything that we create and in every single career, industry, and field and also everyday life. The epiphany came during the spring of 2017 in my “Learning Technology by Design” course at Michigan State University. I have discovered how to bring design and creativity to teaching, what I was missing has been rediscovered. I am a designer. We are all designers.
What I Learned About Design
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” ~Steve Jobs
Through my journey over the past few months, I have learned that design has many facets, it’s not only how something looks on the outside it also includes how something works on the inside and there is a formal process to design (and there should be). As I mentioned, I have been involved with “design” for many years simply because of the industry that I worked in prior to education. To me, I saw design as being what a person sees on the outside – a graphic image, a painting, a poster, an advertisement in a magazine, a sculpture, the list goes on. What I was missing was the formal process behind the design – the steps taken leading up to the final product.
My background in design taught me to understand and get to know my target audience, storyboard and create rough drafts of what I was designing based on my audience, and then produce a finished design piece for everyone to see. This could be comparable to the empathize and ideate modes of the design thinking process outlined within the d.school bootcamp bootleg document. But my process essentially only included two modes, what about the other three modes in the design process? I certainly don’t recall defining, prototyping, and testing my designs (the designs were critiqued by my instructors and a few classmates, but nothing more). There were missing pieces, what wasn’t apparent before is apparent to me now and I now realize that the process I was accustomed to was incomplete. Design is about people, a process, a product or service, usability, interaction, engagement, functionality, teaching, learning, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity! It’s about being open to feedback and the willingness to react and then modify a product or service based on user feedback. It’s about open-mindedness, collaboration, communication, and yes, failure. What once was a simple two-step process to me in my career prior to education has now emerged into something greater and more powerful that I can not only use professionally but also personally in my every day life. I am a designer.
The Learning Experience
We interact with design on a daily basis – from a product we use, to a commercial on TV, a pop-up add while browsing the web, or maybe the way a parking lot is arranged, or how a road is designed that we travel on. Design is all around us. So you may ask, how is design valuable in education? As educators we are continuously working and interacting with curriculum, creating and/or modifying new or current lessons, creating positive classroom learning environments (both online and offline), and interacting with students on a daily basis. All this can be tied back to design either indirectly or directly.
Following a formal design process as outlined within the d.school bootcamp bootleg document where the focus is on five different modes in the process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) provides a solid foundation and road map for educators to follow during their design journey. It isn’t a coincidence that the process begins with the empathize mode where an educator observes, engages, and immerses themselves with their users and it’s here that we can really learn and start to understand what our students experience. After all, it’s our students that will be interacting and engaging with what we create, they will be using our design as a teaching and learning resource, a tool so to speak. We have to be able to know and understand what they need, not what we think they need.
As we progress through the design thinking process modes, it’s important to keep an open mind and understand that we are identifying a problem with the goal of exploring and developing solutions to that problem all the while keeping our target audience at the forefront. Now, there will be successes and failures during the process but that’s part of learning. I look at each “failure” as an opportunity to learn and then I go back to the drawing board if need be. Just like with coding a website or a web page, nothing ever really works and functions correctly the first time so we find the errors, make the tweaks, and then test it again, that’s usually the same case with lessons or projects that we assign to our students within a course. One of the most important lessons that I learned as I progressed through the design process, is the value of feedback from those that are using and interacting with the product. I view a lesson, a project, a tutorial, a video, an infographic, etc. as a product for student use.
I have come to the realization that a design-based approach can be applied to any type of problem (for which you are searching for a solution) both inside and outside of the classroom as well as both personally and professionally in everyday life. In my professional career as an educator, I can easily implement a formal design process into each lesson or project that I create for my students. In fact if I didn’t, I feel that I would be doing my students a disservice. As I mentioned, it’s so important to know and understand the audience that you are designing for and to get their feedback and use that feedback to make modifications. I am continuously tweaking content every single semester within the courses that I teach based on student feedback. Not a single semester goes by that I’m not modifying a homework assignment, project, or creating an additional supplemental resource. In fact, as I’m writing this now, I realize that without being aware of it, I was implementing a design process of my own.
As I previously mentioned, the d.school’s design thinking process provides an excellent road map that we as educators can follow as we journey through learning about our users (students), defining a problem, developing creative solutions, prototyping our designs, gathering valuable feedback from our users (students) through testing, and then producing a final product that can serve as a valuable teaching and learning resource/tool for our students. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to fail, listen to those that are actually using and interacting with what you’ve designed, and then make the necessary adjustments. In my opinion, the design process is an ongoing process and one that is never ending…it’s a journey not a destination. I am a designer.
Problem Solving & Design Thinking in Life
Reflecting back from the beginning to the end of this course, I view problem solving and the importance of design thinking as something that is essential and that can be applied in both my personal and professional life. Progressing through this course, one of the greatest moments and a huge eye opener for me professionally, was during the empathy mode where I engaged in experience prototyping, character profiling, and requested honest feedback from my students through the use of a 10-question survey. I really began to understand my students at this point early on in the course and see them in a different light – I became more empathetic to their situations and challenges. I was challenged with identifying different types of issues that plagued my students and may inhibit their success. I learned quickly that what I thought was mostly related to my teaching style and how I had created and organized the content within my online classroom was not about me at all, it was about the students and what they needed and wanted. The focus quickly went from the teacher (me) to the student, which is where it should have been from the start. This doesn’t mean that the educator doesn’t fit into the equation at all, but instead of being the focal point, the educator is an active participant in the entire design thinking process just as are the students – both parties play significant roles in the process.
Another one of the greatest moments happened during the prototyping process where I received feedback from my students and had the opportunity to engage in an active learning session with one of my students. This experience served two purposes in my opinion, one was to bridge the relationship gap between the teacher and student and show that as an educator, I truly value the feedback and honest opinions of my students. The other purpose was to demonstrate the importance of collaboration and teamwork as both my student and I worked toward achieving a common goal and outcome. It’s opportunities and moments such as these where important “connections” are made and relationships are developed promoting a very positive learning environment and experience for everyone involved.
Following a design thinking process in the pursuit of problem solving whether it be in a classroom or everyday life, I believe can only enhance the experience and allow us to arrive at creative solutions in all that we do. I feel the design thinking process opens our minds to a different way of thinking that may not be apparent if a particular process wasn’t followed. The process allows us to understand our users, clearly and precisely define a particular problem, brainstorm, collaborate, and discover new ideas or tweak existing ideas, build creative solutions that allows for eliciting feedback and useful data from our users, and to develop a final product that both serves a specific purpose and solves a specific problem for our audience. This by no means that once a final solution has been achieved that the work is done. Design is an on going process. This course has reiterated the importance of user feedback and using that feedback to refine a solution to fulfill the needs and wants of whoever my audience is inside and outside of the classroom. I learned that I must continue to learn from and understand my users and be willing to adapt to change, failure is a learning opportunity, and above all…I am a designer. We are all designers.
Oberholster, Venita. (2106, February). [Round Circle, Design, Paint] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/orange-round-circle-paint-brush-1210526/