Thoughts on studio learning

The last week of our Q3 studio class was much more informal than previous weeks. It was open work time as we prepared for our final presentations with no structured check-in’s with Justin, though everyone ended up chatting with him throughout the day.

Because of those small changes, I realized a few things about the way I learn:

  • I learn through eavesdropping. Because Justin was walking around to groups in their workspaces or meeting with people in his office with the door open, I was able to pick up on various bits of advice throughout the day (including, “if you want people to pay attention to it and remember it, write it down on a slide. Don’t just talk about it.”) I could integrate what I wanted, I ended up learning more, and he didn’t have to repeat himself over and over again.
  • I’m nosy and want to know what other people are doing. Because of the structure of scheduled one-on-one’s between groups and Petro (which I’m glad we had because we had given feedback during Q2 that we wanted more of that time with professors), groups ended up presenting and preparing for their meetings with Justin behind closed doors. And the feedback was in some ways trapped in that room because 1) we just integrated our feedback into our own process/project and went along our merry ways and 2) we didn’t have the time or discipline to reflect and share that feedback back via blogging, and 3) we simply didn’t realize what we were missing in not sharing all of that back. We spent the rest of our class times working in our teams (often in separate rooms or corners). While we did catch bits and pieces of what others were doing, notably when someone (inside or outside the class) asked a group about it, there could have been a lot more.
  • I wanted coaching about the design process. This clicked for me when I read this in an Edward de Bono article: “I am not suggesting that [lateral thinking] is easy. It requires a lot of careful practice and coaching. But the deliberate steps can be used.” And then when I saw this happen because Kat asked for Jon’s help in walking her through an insight recombination exercise:Feedback is an important part of coaching when you’re trying something new. One net result of the structure of the quarter was that we got a lot of feedback on whatever we managed to pull together to present of our projects, and less feedback on our processes. Coaching is tricky when the process is so messy, but there is value in walking through the methods we are new to in the specific context of the project we’re currently working on—often when the need arises, and in the middle of our individual worktime. It helps gel the individual methods we learned previously floating around in our heads with the context and roadblocks of our current project floating around in other parts of our heads.

Of course, hindsight is much clearer than foresight. It takes a change, reflection, an outsider, and/or the ability to step back to see how things are currently working. Because we’re usually too caught up in the actual work, and we fall into habits and routines, and things just go unquestioned. It’s a struggle new organizations also have to deal with after a few years of operation—how to best use the people and the space that you have to work with.

As interaction designers, we can look at the “touchpoints” of a studio learning experience:

  • meetings: open vs. closed, location, formality, who’s invited, who can sit in.
  • do you go to the higher-up or does the higher-up come to you?
  • do people feel free to come up to you while you’re working and interrupt and ask questions?
  • where do people actually work? what’s the space like?
  • where are the closed doors? (the physical ones and the assumed ones)
  • how public is your process? how visible is it?
  • what are each person’s expectations about the space, the time together, the process?
  • how do people keep each other updated on each other’s work?
  • what’s the dynamic of teams within the larger organization?