SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
It's not a hammer, dammit!
There's a whole lot of stuff that I learned while on sabbatical last year. There's data from online surveys about how we teach and learn design taken by 150 educators and 300 students. There are hours of interviews with design educators at about a dozen colleges and universities throughout the West and Midwest. And there are about a half dozen questions that cropped up during the conversations and afterwards.
Problem is, I haven't been able to pull all of this together into a coherent commentary on the state of design education. That's what I'd like to do, and I have to do something along these lines as part of my sabbatical report, but I don't know where to start.
I'm one of those people who work best with a deadline, so I decided a start would be to submit a proposal to Interaction 10, a conference being held early next year in Savannah, Georgia. I'm proposing a discussion format since I'm still interested in hearing what others have to say. The starting point is my proposal that designers may have more in common with musicians than either craftsmen or philosophers. If so, design education need to change.
Between now and Oct. 1, 2009 the public is invited to comment on the proposals, and these comments will help determine which ones are accepted. I encourage you to go to the conference site and add your comments there.
If you read this after Oct. 1st the site link above will not work, so I've reproduced the proposal below. Feel free to add your comments here at my site by clicking "Comments" at the bottom of this page.
It’s not a hammer, dammit! Rethinking computers and interaction design education Presenter Al Wasco, Cuyahoga Community College Session Type: Discussion A crippling metaphor often comes up when we talk about whether design education should include teaching computer/software skills: “the computer is just a tool.” If the computer is basically a hammer, it follows then that the professor doesn’t need to spend his/her valuable time teaching which end is the handle. There are plenty of books and tutorials, the argument goes, so that students can learn on their own. It’s not that complicated.
I have concerns about students learning bad habits and inefficient techniques when their goal is limited to accomplishing a specific task or two. But rather than debate that I’d like to talk about design education using a completely different metaphor.
I suggest that we think about the computer/software as a musical instrument and designers as performers (or composers or conductors). We can abandon the craft-based approach (hammers) and think about performance (instruments) instead. This isn’t as outlandish as it may seem: live head-to-head design competitions like Cut & Paste and Adobe Pixel Mash are becoming the Iron Chef shows of the design world. Using this approach we can look at the music world for models of how to teach the craft of design (performance), design thinking (music theory), design strategy (composition) and design management (conducting).
I invite interaction designers, educators, musicians, composers and banjo pickers to a jam session: we’ll share ideas about how we can teach and learn how to play our instruments.
Al Wasco is Assistant Professor of Visual Communication and Design with a focus on Interactive Media at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. He recently completed a year-long sabbatical, part of which was spent traveling around the country and talking with design educators and students about how we teach and learn design. Additional research includes online surveys completed by 150 design educators and 300 design students from across the country. After more than twenty years as a print designer he fell in love with interactive media and has taught it full time since 1996. He bought one of the first Macintosh computers and has seen the computer/software evolve from an extension of our hands to an extension of our brains. He’s pretty sure we could do a better job of educating interaction designers. He has no musical talent whatsoever.
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