above: invite and DiTullo's sketches from one-on-one student reviews (click to enlarge all images)
Over the past 15 years or so, I've had the pleasure of working with many University of Cincinnati DAAP (Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning) grads. In fact, I work with at least four right now at frog design. On February 28th I finally had the opportunity to visit when Emmanuel Carrillo, chair of the student IDSA chapter, worked with the school to fly me out to give a lecture. I agreed on two conditions: first, that it would be a conversation instead of a lecture, and second, that I would get to spend one-on-one critique time with as many students as possible. I didn't want to talk to the students, but talk with them.
While I tend to like the controversial '90s aesthetic of the massive DAAP building, there is no denying it is kitted out fairly well with great shops and equipment. After touring the facilities, the industrial design student body settled into one of the larger lecture halls. With the lights up and no powerpoint presentation, I shared a few of my more personal stories about being in difficult situations in our profession and how I dealt with them. This quickly moved into a conversation about where we, as a group, felt design had been, where it is and where it is going. I candidly shared my opinions, as did the students and professors, not to find a consensus, but to celebrate the differences. above: shop facilities at UC DAAP
The thrust of the conversation was: There is no path to follow. Our field was founded by a diverse array of illustrators, engineers and architects, and it will continue to be diverse. There will be no one right way to be a designer. It will be what we make it. This chaos will continue to be the beauty of our profession, as our motley band of creatives who are not artists nor scientists, continue to solve problems and impact culture in unpredictable ways. We use non-linear thinking explained through stunningly visual and tactile media to convince linear thinkers to take risks they would have never taken otherwise. Our thinking is not easily understood but our solutions seem obvious afterward. Through chaos comes the auto-evangelical. This is our value.
To force our thinking into repeatable process destroys that value. To do our work, we do not need others to understand, instead we need them to understand that they do not understand. Through mutual respect and collaboration, we work together with other disciplines to make tomorrow. This is the foundation of what I have described on Core77 as the "Cable Theory". As individual strands we are only so strong but braided together with many different strands there is nothing we can't lift.above: DiTullo's visualization of a set of evaluation criteria for great design
We hashed out an evaluation criteria for great design that I rather like, centered around the analogy of a four-legged stool. The notion is that all four of the legs have to be of equal length for the stool not to wobble. These four legs of great design are: 1) the user, 2) the industry, 3) the creator and 4) the culture. While solving real problems for "the user" is widely accepted and emphasized in design education as the heart of what we do and considering the concerns of "the industry" is seen as necessary to produce and distribute solutions to users, putting equal thought into the desire and satisfaction of "the creator" or designer is often mislabeled as styling. Mass adoption through disruption of "the culture" at large versus just designing the next iteration of something is something we might be just beginning to talk about. We decided you could have a merely good design with two or three of the legs, but a look at all of the designs that we would consider great and have truly impacted us over a period of decades reveals all four legs solidly in place.
Later in the week I had fifteen students from Brigham Young University's industrial design program visit me at frog design organized by professor Richard Fry. We re-hashed through the 4 legs of a great design before touring the frog studios. We will see if they hold up under more weight but I think we may be onto something.above: junior classes
After the large group conversation, I spent the remainder of the day sitting in on classes, critiquing work and spending one-on-one time with students. Together, we reviewed their projects and worked collaboratively on how I might like to see them take their projects further -- generating lots of sketches in the process, of course. These were not the pretty sketches of a rendering demo, but instead, the dirty, working, rapid visualizations that result from two designers thinking through an idea in concert...the real stuff! (see first images for examples) above: transportation class
By the end of the day, I felt the impression I had of the University of Cincinnati from working with so many DAAP grads was firmly validated. I met professors, like Peter Chamberlain and Tony Kawanari, who pushed their students as much as they cared about them, young designers who will go on to become industry leaders in the decades to come, and frequent core77 discussion board contributors like Matt Choto, and Michael Roller (which is always a treat for me) and I even got to sign a book ;-) I'm looking forward to going back. above: sophomore class critique with professor Peter Chamberlain