My First Quarter at AC4D

The following is my attempt to summarize and reflect on my first eight weeks studying at the Austin Center for Design.

The great:

  • Amazing students with varied talents working together.
  • Experienced professors (who still work in their field) sharing insights and leading discussions.
  • Designers working on real problems (homelessness, sustainability, education).

The difficult:

  • Big time commitment.
  • Learning to be okay with failure.
  • So far, more review than new.

First the great.Without hesitation I think any designer or creative person looking to make a difference should attend the school. The people you will meet and the process you will learn will inspire you and drive you for years.

The students are inspiring. I’m reminded of my sophomore year in college when I started to feel normal. I was finally around people who had similar passions and desires and dreams. When a small network rejects mediocrity an explosive inspirational energy is created that feeds itself.

I feel a similar energy forming here around social problems.

Now the hard.I did not anticipate the time commitment required to attend school. I’ve gone before, but I did not factor in all the new activities and responsibilities I have now (consulting, marriage, startups). I kind of figured it would be like adding one more client to my workload, but really it’s like three new clients.

I use to unwind by learning new stuff or building things or playing with friends. Now my days are filled of client work, nights with class, and the weekend with both. The rest of my life is spent scrambling to complete assignments or attempting to enjoy a relaxing meal with Maura.

I do think it’s possible to work full-time and attend AC4D, but you just can’t do anything else. No side projects, no overtime, no traveling, no going above and beyond at work, nothing but school (or face the consequences).

The consequence is failure. I have had many jobs and worked on a smorgasbord of projects. With the exception of a few scheduling slips, I have delivered what I said I would, when I said I would. I am knowledgable and dependable and deliver exceptional work to my clients. This is why I have more work than I can handle at a healthy rate.

Remember when I said school was a client? That’s how I first felt. I could do not let them down, they were counting on me. Very quickly a time crunch made me rethink this stance and I realized, “I’m the client. I’m paying to be here. I’m here to learn as much as I can, not to deliver perfect work on time.”

For better or worse, this has been my coping mechanism for the past couple months. Every week I am forced to make compromises on what to work on. Client work is at the top of that list, then any team project for school involving other students, then the projects I’m most interested in, lastly the projects I’m not into. Unfortunately this means the projects I don’t want to do (admittedly probably the most academically stretching for me) are the ones that don’t get done.

It’s also frustrating to feel rushed in everything you do. Working thoughtfully and meticulously is near impossible when there is an overflowing dam of work backing up behind you.

My final bitch is that the first quarter consisting of design theory, contextual research, and prototyping felt like a lot of review to me. This won’t be the case for most people. I guess I’m unique in that Jon, the director of the school, taught a large portion of my undergrad program. (So far this quarter is already much different.)

In summary.I love school. It is great and difficult.

My goal for the next eight weeks is to spend more time reflecting in posts like this. I would also like to identify one project a week to be meticulous about, and attempt to do something for each assignment.

(Thanks to Alex for inspiring me to take the time to write this out.)


Chap,Great post. A lot of these issues are on my mind as well, but it’s great to see them written down. I like the idea of prioritizing all the parts separately, assignments, personal projects, client work, life – as opposed to reducing it to a prioritization of work vs. school.I would also add that often times I look back at the most overwhelming parts of my life with the realization that those were the times where I learned the most. There might not always be time for reflection (daily) but there will be time to reflect eventually.

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