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Interviews

The Real In the Virtual: An Interview With Daniel Perlin

The Real In the Virtual: An Interview With Daniel Perlin

Daniel Perlin believes in listening closely as a strategy for design. He is currently the founder of Make_Good_, an experience design studio dedicated to bettering lives and the planet.  As a designer, he has produced a wide range of works, from screen-based experiences to objects to installations and spaces. Check out this interview with Daniel as he prepares to teach the new Virtual Realities course here at Products of Design!

"Life at Products of Design": A New Film by Michael Chung

"Life at Products of Design": A New Film by Michael Chung

Michael Chung, celebrated film maker and faculty member, just put the finishing touches on a new film about student life here at the MFA Products of Design program. We have always been huge fans of Michael's work, and were thrilled to engage him in putting together a video that would simultaneously show what it was like to be a student in the program, along with providing a broad representation of the kinds of people who, well, "live here." We asked Michael about challenges of the project, along with the role that video now plays in the designer's toolkit.

Summer Thesis Reading Spotlight: Adam Fujita

Summer Thesis Reading Spotlight: Adam Fujita

I'm currently reading a new book on entrepreneurship called An Entrepreneurs Manifesto by Steve Mariotti. He's a bit of a revolutionary when it comes to mentorship. Mentoring has been on my mind lately and the connection is that for those of us that never had a real mentor, especially at an early age, how does this affect us and how does this lack of guidance create trouble down the line of our lives?

Teaching Through Technology: An interview with Liz Arum

The Teaching Through Technology (TTT) is a one-week intensive workshop for experienced educators in the design of learning experiences using design strategies and emerging technologies. The workshop brings together the teaching practices of experienced teachers with design-driven approaches to the application of technology for teaching and learning. Participants explore the hardest teaching and classroom challenges, and will develop, prototype, and refine new and engaging approaches that advance teaching practice. Participants will leave with a roadmap to apply these techniques in the coming yearLead instructor Liz Arum sat down with MFA Products of Design chair Allan Chochinov to discuss the workshops.

AC: Let’s start at the beginning, Liz: Technology is often thrown in the classroom with the assumption that teachers can integrate that technology into their plans in a thoughtful and deliberate way. What’s wrong with this assumption?
LA: Experienced teachers want to focus on the most important issue—creating life-long learners—when in fact they need to also balance the following:

• maintaining relationships (students, colleagues, administration and families);
• meeting goals (coaching, facilitating, transferring information, engaging students);
• developing skills and behaviors ( teamwork/collaboration, innovation, motivation, inspiration, vision, leadership, emotional intelligence);
• working with constraints (standards, grades, curriculum, limited time, maybe limited money); and
• staying current (dealing with media, new technologies, new content, keeping lessons up-to-date and engaging-connecting material to student values).

Merging design strategies with educational goals and getting teachers out of working in isolation by extending their private learning networks (PLN) will help teachers balance these relationships, demands and constraints and help them meet their goals.

AC: But the challenges go further than technology of course. These workshops pull heavily from the concept of project-based learning.
LA: We want to focus on feedback loops, so that no matter what subject one teaches, the loop is the priority. This can be achieved through projects, games, visual thinking, etc. These are the actions that we want to help teachers hit in every project: Preview, Participate, Process, Practice, and Produce.

This list is easier to accomplish with Project-based learning, but it can also be extended to other kinds of student work as well. Using technology in the classroom should not be a burden on the teacher, and it should not be incorporated just for the sake of using it. We want to help teachers find the appropriate applications that will enhance their lessons and engage their students.

AC: You talk a lot about “active learning” in your process. Can you define that?
LA: Sure. In the workshop we use an active-learning methodology that focuses on 6 objectives: Make students responsible for their own learning, foster important questions in the minds of learners, create cooperative learning opportunities, encourage personal exploration in the pursuit of common learning objectives, focus on rapid prototyping and testing, and emphasize continuous documentation and sharing. We think that these result in a very robust set of outcomes.

AC: Let’s talk a little about the experience of the workshops. What will it be like to be a participant in a group during the week-long intensive, apart from what they’ll be learning?
We believe that the best learning happens through application. In the workshop we don't just talk about applied learning, we put it to practice. Participants in the group will spend as much time designing lessons as they will taking part in them.

From the very first day, participants will have the opportunity to transform learning outcomes into active learning experiences. As the week continues, participants will dive deeper into the lessons they're designing, going through multiple iterations based on testing with the group. By the end of the week, participants will leave with one fully developed and executable lesson, several ideas for more, access to all the lessons designed by the group, hands on experience with technology that meets their objectives, and lists of resources that they will be able to consult throughout the year.

The setting is inherently social and experimental. Participants will be challenged to use new tools that they've maybe never even seen before, work with teachers they've never met before, and create lessons they've never run before. At times it will be hectic—scrambling to meet deadlines—at times it will be relaxing, taking in best practices and new strategies from our expert group of speakers. No matter what, it's going to be a whole lot of fun, as learning should be.

AC: One of the things we’ve always talked about at Products of Design is that it’s a platform for all kinds of teaching and learning. We’re so excited about the idea of “teaching teachers” during the summer, but curriculum and methodology need to meet the learners in ways that are most effective. The summer participants, of course, are students, but also they are teachers! What are two or three ways that teaching teachers differs from teaching, well, not teachers!
LA: One difference between teaching teachers and teaching non-teachers is that the former group, when put in the role of students, can use this opportunity to foster empathy for their students. It serves as a reminder that learning something for the first time is hard, and that sometimes you need to learn something a few different ways before it clicks. So working with teachers is a sort of meta-learning experience, in that teachers experience these methods first hand, but also reflect on the process from the perspective of an educator.

This means that when we teach new tools or strategies, there are really two conversations that are happening at once: how can the teaching be used and taught. If we were teaching non-teachers, they might not necessarily need to understand all the nuances of the tool. In fact, they might be satisfied just making it work. But for teachers to be comfortable teaching a new tool, this demands a deeper understanding of how it works. In fact, the goal is to understand it so well that they can explain it simply. This generally makes for a very curious group of 'students'.

Also, teaching teachers is a particularly participatory process. We acknowledge that the way in which we introduce these tools and strategies and choose to incorporate them into projects represents only one of many possibilities. The teachers who participate are each masters of explanation in their own right, and we encourage them to bring their own expertise to the table. It’s really two things. For one, we want the program to be useful for them and involve them in the learning process. Secondly we hope to demonstrate a learning environment in which the instructor is able to be in an ongoing learning process, and the students are invited to bring their passion and experience to the lesson.

AC: And finally, if I’m a high school teacher reading this interview and wanted to make the case to my school for supporting my enrollment in the workshop, what is the best case I could make?
LA: I think a strong case can be made that by taking this workshop teachers will be exposed to emerging technologies and have the opportunity to evaluate and assess the value of these tools in their classrooms. Participants will also be introduced to and have time to experiment with possibly unfamiliar design practices.

And more importantly teachers will become a part of an expanding learning network. When questions arise during the year or if confidence for using these tools begins to wane after the workshop they will have a network of innovative and creative individuals to work with.

 

 

Faculty Member Carla Diana's "Leo The Maker Prince" Book is Published!

Faculty member Carla Diana has just had a wonderful and unique book published by Maker Media, entitled "Leo the Maker Prince." The book marks a watershed moment in both publishing and digital fabrication, since the title is the first book about 3D printing targeted at kids. (The book is available at Amazon here, and it's 3D models can be found on Thingaverse here.) We sat down with Carla to ask her a few questions about the book, how the project got started, and a little bit about what be next for Leo!

Products of Design: Tell us about the genesis of the project. You’ve had a life-long love of The Little Prince, and you’re a bit of a hacker. What made you combine these, and what were the challenges in manifest it as a story?

Carla Diana: As a technology-focused designer, a big part of my work involves being hands-on with new tools and processes. When I got a 3D printer of my own, I really revelled in the thrill of be able to rapidly go from sketch to physical part, and savored the satisfaction of having something that I dreamt up in my imagination manifest as a tangible thing with such a high level of resolution. I knew this experience was a story I wanted to share with a wide audience, particularly with kids who will grow up with 3D printers in their lives in one way or another.

I started to imagine the 3D printer as a friendly character who worked with me to nurture my creativity. When I sat down to write the story and began thinking of the relationship I have with this magical 3D printing creature, I began to see parallels between that relationship and the one between Saint-Exupéry as the narrator and the Little Prince. That’s when it really clicked. The Little Prince is a book that impressed me at an early age, and one that I’ve returned to it at different stages of my life as a reminder of the importance of creativity and imagination. I love how the Little Prince character coaxes the author to express himself through drawing despite having had that desire beaten out of him at an early age; and I love how the Little Prince takes his drawings and brings them to life through storytelling, just as my printer brings my drawings to life in plastic.

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Carla-and-the-Sheep-that-LEO-printed

PoD: So perhaps a kind of a retelling...from 2D to 3D?

CD: Yes! I also remember being very impressed by the fact that Saint-Exupéry himself had drawn the illustrations in The Little Prince as a means of telling his story alongside the written words. When I thought about my 3D printing story, I knew that, like Saint-Exupéry, I wanted to tell it in words and in pictures. And when I really thought about it, I knew that I would also have to tell this story in objects. My sheep drawing would have to become a 3-dimensional figure that could be held in my hands. And the power and magic of 3D printing rests in the fact that by sharing a file, that sheep could eventually be held in the hands of the reader as well. (In fact, as of this writing, there have been over 300 downloads of the sheep.)

From that moment on I knew that objects would be central to the narrative–not just stories about the objects but the objects themselves as core narrative elements. The biggest challenge was to craft these objects and develop the story in tandem, revising and refining them together.

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Carla-and-Leo-Scanner

PoD: It’s interesting, where fiction authors typically spend time helping the reader “conjure up” images, and perhaps picture book authors spend time helping the reader make a deep connection with the images, your task was to have the characters transcend the pages of the book; they needed to have a life “outside the book.”

CD: That’s very true, and was a really juicy challenge. Each object had to make sense with the story, be visually interesting, communicate clearly to an audience of young readers, and crafted in a way so that it could be robust and easily replicated with 3D printing technology. What followed was an intense period of many months of brainstorming, sketching, prototyping and writing while working along side my design assistant, Alexa, my story editor, Cindy, and my book designer, Nicholas.

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PoD: Well, it also seems reasonable that these characters would want to find a life outside the book. Have you given consideration to expanding these stories through other media? Animation, video games...plush! come to mind. (Well, probably plush probably conflicts with the central premise!)

CD: I have thought about this a lot. I’d actually love to see LEO come to life as an animation, and as a character in an app that helps kids build simple 3D models of their own. 3D printing for consumers is in its infancy, and the learning curve required for todays tools is way too steep for the casual user to step in with confidence. A “LEO builds” app could be specially crafted to ease people in.

And yes, I’ve thought about vinyl and plush, but that totally seems to defeat the purpose of giving people a download and encouraging them to make a sheep or other LEO-based toy of their own. The path from creator to consumer is just so elegant the way it is right now.

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Transitions Workshop: A Conversation with Sinclair Smith

This semester, Sinclair Smith led a new workshop series entitled “Transitions,” where students are led through a refresher in three dimensional design concepts and semantics, and a crash course in 3D sketching and model making. We sat down with Sinclair to talk about the workshop and its outputs.

PoD: The Transitions workshop is something that you brought to the department as a result of your experiences during your Design Performance class last year. A foundational training in 3-dimensions can take many forms (sorry for the pun)—and you’re taking a certain approach, through the notion of “transitions.” Can you talk us through its meaning?

SS: The origin of the name is three-fold and consequently so are the course objectives: logistical, formal and philosophical.

The logistical goal of the workshop is to literally transition incoming students into working in the Products of Design studio and in the Visible Futures Lab next door. Students learn basic methods of sketching in studio materials and learn how to use the tools in the VFL to create durable models in finished materials. After the workshop, they’re familiar with the tools the department provides and can feel at home as they move forward with their course load.

The formal goal is to highlight the role of transitions between primary elements in 3D composition. We see transitions between forms in composition as the spaces that define those forms in relation to one another, and we take the opportunity to discuss the whole in terms of its transitions. Transitional points and connection points are opportunities for ornament, for space, for surface and material change; they are the makings of style. But they are also structural—they are where things need to be held together and where things fall apart. We use transitions as an opportunity to discuss hardware and design-engineering.

Finally, the philosophical goal is to see that the ways in which all things are held in system and sequence is what gives them meaning. No object, form, person or material exists alone. We all exist in context. By training ourselves to observe the transitions between artifacts and behaviors in systems we can become better problem solvers. This leads to a sustainable practice, where we learn to rearrange the relationships between our existing tools to solve existing problems—instead of throwing all our tools out and building new tools with new problems.

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PoD: The notion of “using what we have “or of using current resources” is something that’s consistent with a lot of the teaching in the program. How do you see students better leveraging their talents and resources as they progress through the program?

SS: That question goes directly to a conversation I have with each student midway through the Transitions workshop. At a certain point, it becomes clear that no one will be able to digest and address all the parameters of the syllabus. I throw a lot of material at them very quickly. So we look at their individual progress and I tell them to pick their battles and ask themselves some questions, “What are my strong skills? What do I want to improve? How can I get the most out of this?” Everyone comes to the program with different skills and areas to develop. Students have to relearn themselves in the program, and make fast decisions about what they want to achieve in school and what kind of work they want to be doing when finished. I think it’s important to leverage skills that students have coming in—they can be strong assets. But they can also be liabilities. I encourage students to try and forget what they know; habits from previous experience can prevent learning new ideas and techniques that will lead to a more well-rounded designer.

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PoD: We talk a lot about the “sweet spot” between design making and design thinking; that both are essential, but that neither is sufficient. Do you find yourself traveling in one more than the other?

SS: No. I am an avid generalist. I like to wear many hats and I find each informs the other. I make as a thinker and I think as a maker. I think what I do well is take a broad view and make connections between seemingly unrelated things. Industrial design requires the ability to address a huge range of human needs with a huge range of available tools. It’s good to have a specialty, but it’s increasingly important to be broadly conversant.

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PoD: Talk about your style of teaching. What kinds of input and nurturing do design students need, and do you see any particular opportunities unique to this moment in time?

SS: Teaching is a performance. It’s a conversation with an audience. And as they say in show business, you have to go out there and read the crowd. No two students in a class learn in the same way. I try to find out how people learn and what works best for them. There is information and perspective that I can relay in a rote manner, but I find that it only clicks and forms lasting memory in the student if I can lead the student to the place where the material resonates personally.

Fortunately, in studio classes where we are working with three dimensional design, that can often be as simple as literally moving someone by the shoulders and saying, “stand over here, squint, and NOW look at it!” and then the light goes on. But it’s different for everyone. So I try to make an empathic connection with the student and find out what works best for them. It can be a personalized approach that some students are not accustomed to, but I encourage students to get messy and take emotional chances with their studies and their work. That’s what school is for and I believe that’s what the world needs from designers: the ability to be emotionally open and to take significant risks.

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Product, Brand & Experience: A Chat With Rinat Aruh and Johan Liden

During the fall semester of the second year, students take a course entitled Product, Brand, and Experience. They engage in a deep dive around creating products through a holistic, integrated methodology. This year the topic of the course is “Consumer Products for Protestor's ”— a challenging and seemingly dichotomous brief that speaks to the very nature of commerce and behavior. We sat down with Rinat Aruh and Johan Liden to ask them about their course, now at its 5-week mark.

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PoD: “Consumer Products for Protestor's” seems, on the face of it, like a near-impossible design brief, colliding two things that don’t, well, seem to match. How are the students attempting to reconcile the notions of consumption—with all its attendant difficulties—with the idea of protest, which, by definition, doesn’t seem to want to be co-opted by the marketplace?

RA & JL: Sure, protest doesn’t seem to want to be co-opted by the marketplace, as its efforts are inherently aimed at creating change. But designing consumer products that can enable people to more easily be expressive for that change can, in turn, create more appeal and assumption for use.

And by “protestor,” we are not solely referring to the political activist—protesting comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a child refusing to eat their vegetables or a sports fan at the big game, the bottom line is that everyone, at various times, wants to speak up and to be heard.

It’s interesting to hear our students think about this problem space; how can they design consumable tools that will be a source of motivation or inspiration for any person, empowering them to express themselves. They often turn to organization and structure as a starting point, trying to reconcile the chaotic nature of protests with some sort of cohesive intent.

From solutions that enable protestors to brand their message, to a mobile kit that allows the consumer to protest an idea or speak up at a moment’s notice—the students are creating products that enable people to get their message across.

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PoD: It also seems that "brand" might be antithetical to the topic, though that's part of the challenge you've posed. Protests (and protesters) are branded all the time of course, or they "get" branded by media, storytellers, or various stakeholders. How are you able to leverage the notion of brand as a way for the students to see the context of their own work?

RA & JL: The idea of creating a consumer-facing brand for these products was important to humanize the products as well as the process of protesting. Creating a brand—a visual voice and look—for their products allows them to explore a point of differentiation for the offering. Many of the students are developing brands that are witty or humorous in tone to juxtapose the seriousness of the protesting topic. The "brand" aspect has really brought a new perspective to the products.

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PoD: The students have really just gotten started sinking their teeth into the work. What's coming up in the final two-thirds of the course?

RA & JL: They will be formulating their ideas in their entirety—from brand identity, research, ideation and mock ups—all the way to packaging their product to ensure that it meets the demands of the retail landscape. Ultimately, there is a commercial part of this project that needs to deliver an experience at retail.

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PoD: How does teaching impact your own professional practice? You've worked with younger students in the past as well; how do find working with graduate students—especially students in a brand new program such as Products of Design?

RA & JL: Teaching has become part of our everyday. Whether it's teenagers across New York City or our own staff or even graduate students, we approach each group the same way, actually. For Products of Design it's most critical for us to teach the entire process of product, brand and experience, and to introduce all the realities that emerge in between. We're having a great time.

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