*quite a long blog warning*
This time last year, I was feeling very worn down from teaching in a new environment, and having developed and delivered 3 new classes - Loops, Happy Lab and Pittsburgh Digital City and trying to get a new programme of Masters courses developed from a base of ongoing thinking workshops with the faculty group. Teaching. Like facilitating. It's not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot out of you.
I had also completely underestimated what the teaching had given me back, in the sense of being able to work through some ideas through the selection, composition and scope of the classes. Slowly that understanding is making sense, much like any learning does, most of it happens after you've been through the experience.
So this year, we developed four new classes - first was Wonderlab, a 5 week rapid course in which we rotated students with Play lab and Speak lab as the core 3 elements of the final year for the undergraduates in the school of design. Written to stir curiosity and to show designers that they can do both things with the artifacts they make, as in make the tools and devices to provoke and capture responses from people. Reactions varied, but there was a lot of anxiety around not knowing what to make - they had to work that out for themselves. Moving from the clarity and simplicity of having a brief, to making your own was particularly frustrating for some, but most managed to do it well, especially when they gave in to not being right.
In the Spring, we piloted StrategyLab and TinkerLab, two new classes in the School, and both attracting a wide variety of students from different parts of the university. StrategyLab was an exploration of design as a business strategy, a deep dive into the kinds of design and business strategy tools available such as the Business Model Canvas, or classic tools like SWOT, design audit tools and tools made specifically for the class, followed up by a whole bunch of case studies and readings. They were then challenged to develop a strategy in response to an existing company, or create a new one - commercial or for profit - and over five weeks they did that.
We had the final crit as a tongue in cheek version of Dragons Den/Shark Tank, and MK Haley from the ETC, Mark Gross and Steve Stadelmeier did great jobs as red brace wearing judges, although the audience had the end of the year weariness. Some great pieces of work were produced - pushing new ways of being able to communicate strategies from guides, to reports, to social media strategy guides.
Nick made a great group of tinkerers gather twice a week and make some delirium things. He kept it really simple, staying near to what they could do. Six muscles to develop in paired stages: dream & design, develop & debug, document and demonstrate. It looked like this...
The last class was a 15 week project with final year seniors called Future City Services. We took a mixed group of industrial and communication designers and put them through the paces of future scenario tools, with the challenge of looking at Pittsburgh 10 years in the future. That's right, we said, that's when you're probably settled, and some of you with babies even. That was a shock to the super-young social mediaistes. They dived in, then with the great support of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership had an expert tour of the space we were designing in. The complexities of ownership, and challenges of creating a lively street level space, and animating the minimal but vital open public realm. We then asked than what services a city like Pittsburgh might need in 10 years, and they made some great leaps of faith into what could be - sometimes with a shove from us - and then create evidence of its existence - oh, now we can make something? Great!
Special mention goes to Alison Tran and Maya's visualization of citizen data flows in a local government participatory data service. Their work was thoughtfully tangible through characters, stories, string and cardboard.
Victor Ng's film authentic branding project of idea engagement was completely effective in showing what it could be like, and his conversation with a senior project director was confident and revealed just how much the idea was relevant. Using another student's concept as content for his idea capture piece, above.
Some made such delightful services - Ahra Cho's street level tamagotchi that reacts to positive or negative news around race relations in Pittsburgh - she projected that the community will be a lot more diverse in 10 years, and that could be a problem.
Alexis Caldero's Look Up project created new walkways and view spaces at the top of the tall places in downtown, giving a whole new set of encounter spaces. Her set of photos from these places were just delightful.
Eric Habich looked at new ways of small scale decision making for city centre groups, and Alex reworked a riverfront with vibrant independent clubs and night places. Samia tacked the public transport, and Frances's programmed a public square with astronomical events.
All of these students had not tackled urban design oriented projects, and they did come right out of their comfort zones, and in our really productive conversation at the end of the final session, told us how much they got what we were trying to teach - about a different role for the design skills they have, and with great relief, we really felt like we had achieved what we set out to do. The people from the PDP were intrigued by the work and I hope will have those ideas in their resource for thinking about the future they are working on. I like the world they imagined and designed for, and I hope they get to make it.
Teaching. It's an interesting process. Infuriating, demanding, and deeply, deeply pleasurable. May I always be lucky enough to always do a little teaching as well as the work I do.
Here's an overview of all of the classes.