Category Archives: teaching

..:: teaching IxD ::..


this Spring semester at Massachusetts College of Art and Design — which is, like, almost over, sadly enough — i got the distinct pleasure of taking the materials, sequencing and my approach to teaching Interaction Design { by night for MassArt’s Continuing Education Department } and filtering the entire course down into an independent study with Aliyah Domash

i didn’t realize it until we met up to work on the fine details of how Interaction Design might work at this independent study scale — but, that whole ‘small world’ kind of aspect of the design community in Boston was working its crazy magic from the onset, and strangely enough, i already met Aliyah and got to see her work from a semester or 2 back by sitting as a guest critic in one of the final presentations of Alison Kotin’s Foundations of Graphic Design course — anyhow, flashback to that class and i got to see a lot of hand-drawn, amazing depictions of an artichoke, all in black and white, cropped and composed and mounted very professionally and pinned to the wall — it was a fantastic and dynamic final critique that i’m sure involved a smörgåsbord of hummus and cookies and water and other potluck snackage as a part of this wonderful celebratory discussion of all the fine work and progress each student made over the course of the semester

so, as you can probably tell, i have a certain obsession with foodly comestibles AND a little bit of an issue with portion control, right? ;]

but, back to our regularly scheduled topic — meeting Aliyah in Alison’s design class

anyhow, that night and these sorts of conversations with students and faculty and different nuance of design potentialities always makes me happy and excited about the kind of design community we have at MassArt and in the Greater Boston Area in general — and what? with AIGA Boston, BostonCHI, Boston Cyberarts, Dorkbots, IxDA, Pecha Kucha Night Boston, Refresh Boston, Upgrade Boston, UXPA and the myriad university-driven lectures, hackathons and networking opportunities steeped in designery, you almost can find it difficult to keep up with just the community, forget about the most current trends, buzz and general discourse that accompanies the fine world of design in the general locality

who would’ve known that a year out i’d be working to teach and mentor Aliyah at MassArt in this wonderful independent study setup, right? small world, crazy small, in fact — and then, its just utterly phenomenal to see how quickly a student like Aliyah comes in on day one, starts up with the first 3 more analytic exercises in experience design deconstruction and all — and then through reading, dissection, personal and professional reflection and our near-weekly conversational sessions at MassArt and the project work that puts the focus on active exploration of interaction and user-centered design as a theory and a practice and an empathic journey to guiding this bizarre, almost otherwoldly force we call Design in a way that keeps real, live people at the center of our approach and goals as design professionals — well, its just amazing to see Aliyah’s progress over the semester and to see the full spectral journey of her final project work for final critique and completion of the course

its been a really wonderful semester — really interesting to see how i’ve had to flex and bend the materials and approach, only slightly in all actuality, to keep the design of the course itself ultimately very interactive, human and fun

i’m really looking forward to the final critique, although i know we’ll miss meeting up on a semi-regular basis with the good excuse of putting some credits on the roster while hopefully also digging into what design can really mean for all of us as both professionals and people exploring the world through the filter of human-centered experience design




getting your toes wet


thursday started the veryFirst week of my Introduction to Web Design class out at Brookline Adult and Community Education — i think this one’s gonna be fun, and here’s why:

i have 6 students; the facilities at Brookline Access Television are phenomenal; i’m not expecting to be able to teach every single little thing about web { that is — i’m imposing certain limitations on purpose to cover the core and allow 2 passes through the course material }; i got to build the syllabus based upon previous web and interaction design classes i’ve taught out at MassArtUMass LowellSMFA and ArtScience Prize { formerly Cloud Foundation }; i’m basing what and how i teach it on courses i’ve taught and courses i’ve taken; i’m allowing myself to be totally me — plenty of room for improvisation and various asides

i really want to talk with DMI colleagues Alison KotinColin Owens and Martha Rettig about teaching web design — just get their take on what’s worked, what doesn’t work and what might be the optimal set up to be able to not only walk through the essence of web design but to also make it fun, memorable and inspiring for each and every student in the class — like myself, they’ve all taught design courses that involved some technical coding component and i definitely think there’s probably some ways to strategize and build a philosophy around how to make the material sing for the students

my personal ( and still somewhat vague ) theory goes something like this:

  • you need to limit the number of students — 6 actually seems pretty optimal, you can establish a rapport and really get to know each other and deliver the coursework in more customizable chunks depending on the chemistry in the classroom
  • some basic prerequisites might make sense — just a little bit of Photoshop 101 please and maybe some initial forays into the realm of coding attempts out of sheer personal curiosity on the part of each student — maybe they’ve tried a bit and backed out, not quite understanding what might not be currently working — or maybe they’ve blogged a bit and started to format text and set up hyperlinks using a few simple HTML tags and CSS styles
  • the organization you’re teaching for needs to be flexible enough to allow for an improvisational approach and they need to trust you to a fault — any gripey complaints to the administration from students need to be addressed in a way that doesn’t try to change the way i’m doing stuff up in the classroom — you don’t like the way i’m teaching, well, you come up and teach the class — or better yet, set up a better interview process, don’t throw me off my game
  • classes should be hybrid and leverage the live classroom session and online technology to properly get students passing files back and forth and asking questions — i hope they’re both excited about how much they’re learning but also coming to me with a million questions about why this or that isn’t working or what other possiblities might be available to incorporate in their coursework
  • drawing should be part of every single web design curriculum — before anyone even clicks on the green Dreamweaver icon i think its absolutely vital that students do proper design thinking exercises on real napkins with crayons, markers, pencils and pen — i still find it difficult to get students to take this part of the design process seriously, but its an absolute must, its just so much quicker to work through all the good and bad ideas, all the flows and deadends, with hand-drawn thumbnails, storyboards and conceptual diagrams
  • design needs to be part of web design, too — all too often we teach the digital tools of web design and how to find specific tools in the interface of each onscreen applications — design is more than Photoshop and web design is definitely more than learning the code — the basic theoretical tenets of design need to come into play with examples of both good and bad design specific to the web — a little theory in each class session goes a long way — at a certain point, even, i feel the instructor needs to take on the role of CD and crit the work in a way to provide vital direction that the student should take no matter what ( if there are any issues with this more mentorly way of teaching web design, students can always just save a version of what they’re working on, its not like they need to abandon their original direction or ideas, and, in fact, having the 2 versions might be helpful for both instructor and student for reflection and assessment at the end of the class run )  
  • the technology ‘set up’ for the learning environment needs to be good enough to feel invisible — all too often i am put in a classroom scenario where the systems and space are good enough to present and to allow students to use Dreamweaver or Photoshop at their desk, but not quite good enough for the instrucor to lead an adequate group critique session — crit is vital, and this broken set up gets in the way of actual learning in the classroom setting — its important, as the teacher, to be able to summon forth the right amount of technology and then tuck it away for those more community-, social- and human-based portions of the learning experience — once again, providing the tools ( computers and applications ) alone does not an optimized web design course maketh ( either Yoda or Shakespeare is known for that one )
  • web design is best learned in a renegade style or format — the overall setting needs to feel a lot less academic than a traditional college can provide — think lab or workshop, maybe a place where people can work on their own for a bit and then get up to move around and form little groups for guerilla testing and feedback microsessions

anyhow, just a bunch of my undercurrent thoughts on these matters of teaching philosophies in the realm of web design — i’ll let you know how things go as the semester progresses ;]