Reflecting on week 4

Our fourth week at AC4D was just as busy as the previous ones. In theory class I presented the diagram I made showing 8 author’s viewpoints on design research, and my own interpretation of what design research should and should not be. I think this went well, and I received a lot of positive feedback. Similarly, in our Application class where we’ve been learning and practicing sketching, I got feedback that I’ve improved a lot in my daily object sketches. I’m feeling so relieved and proud of the progress I’ve made, but I’m also tired. I’m finding that at AC4D you will learn, but it will be hard. You will improve, but it will be through many hours of sustained effort, and time is a precious commodity.

Tomorrow my team will be presenting our stories from the field to both the client, and the IDSE101 class. Today we originally planned on working 11-3, but completely changed up our presentation shortly before 3pm, and ended up working much later. I’m feeling good about the changes we made, and think the presentation will be much more impactful because of them, but I can’t help looking forward to some magical time in the future where I feel confident that I know what I’m doing from the start, and it takes me a much shorter amount of time to accomplish a similar quality product.

Day 11 of sketching the same object daily.
Day 11 of sketching the same object daily.

Week 4 Reflections

Apparently we’re halfway through Q1? Scott mentioned that in our Theory/102 class on Thursday.

We had another assignment and presentation due in that class this week. We had to take all 8 authors we’d read and place them on an axis of designing for/designing with and then create another axis of our own choosing and plot them along that axis as well.

It felt like I was making a very personal assertion. It felt vulnerable that I chose an axis of “where the designer is in the process” and then placed the authors on it. I can tell you now that that’s not what came across in my presentation. I still got the feedback that they wanted to see more of my perspective in my project.

I also realized I took a too-literal approach to the assignment. I could have taken the info I’d absorbed and placed my take on it regardless of the actual assignment instructions.

It reminded me of a design project in college where we had to do 4 stages of a page layout. Stage 3 was the final layout, Stage 4 was “break all the rules.” I went wild! I applied filters to my photo, I made my line slanted, I made the header neon pink! My instructor said, “No, that looks great, that’s your 3rd stage. Now go break all the rules.”

I’ll keep you posted on how I show more of my perspective in my next assignment!

The Limitless Nature of Data Collection

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been collecting data for our project with Recycled Reads. Recycled Reads is a part of the Austin Public Library system that helps reuse, resell, or recycle the old or damaged books from the libraries. We were aiming to interview fifteen people with the organization to gather the data for our project. During most of our interviews, we asked our participants to draw us the “Path of a Book” from start to end with Recycled Reads somewhere in the middle. Below is an example that a branch librarian drew for us.

This exercise required the participant to draw out the path a book takes from publication to Recycled Reads and beyond.
This exercise, called “Path of a Book” required the participant to draw out the journey a book takes from publication to Recycled Reads and beyond. The above photo shows one participant’s view of this path. 

 

While we started our interviews with the four employees of the organization, we quickly learned through this activity that there were many hands that books pass through in the “Path of a Book”. We decided to investigate as many pieces of this path as possible. After interviewing the staff, we expanded to the volunteers that work at Recycled Reads sorting and shelving the books and then the customers that come to buy used books.

Along the way we learned that branch librarians weed books, meaning they pull old, damaged, or overused books from the shelves, to make room for new materials. When these books get pulled, they go to Recycled Reads. To better understand this process, we knew we had to talk to some of the branch librarians.

Then, we realized that we also should talk to delivery services since they were the ones physically transferring the items between the libraries and Recycled Reads. So, we scheduled an interview with them.

But Recycled Reads’ circle of influence is even bigger than just the library system. Recycled reads also works with many other city departments. They partner with the Austin Resource Recovery, Office of Sustainability, and the Office of Economic Development. We wanted to know how they interact with these departments and offices, so we interviewed people at all of these places, too.

In addition to the offices and departments within the City of Austin, we also discovered that many of the discarded materials go to Goodwill. Fascinating, we thought.

Last week, I spent hours emailing, calling, and making new contacts with employees at Goodwill of Central Texas. I found out how they process books that come in, including those from Recycled Reads. This past Friday, I was excited to join the behind-the-scenes tour of Goodwill. We had already learned that once the books get to Goodwill some of them go out to the retail floor, but some of them, especially the damaged ones, get sold by the truckload to be pulped or recycled. I wanted so badly to know what happened to these books. Who is buying them? Are they becoming book pulp? Where do they get sent and what happens to that material after it’s pulped? I desperately wanted to finish the Path of a Book activity and understand the ending of the life of a book.

Last Wednesday, we met with Matt and Jon during our class. While we had great progress on our “Stories from the Field” presentation, we were far behind on our transcriptions. While asking their advice for how to get the most out of behind-the-scenes tour at Goodwill, they told us to skip it. I was shocked. We had spent a lot of time setting it up, finding out all these pieces that touch the Recycled Reads process and I was invested. I was invested in the story and how the “Path of Book” ends. They explained that we had a lot of data to transcribe and to synthesize. Our goal was fifteen interviews and at that point, we had completed 25 interviews. We were well over our goal and we needed to stop collecting data or we would have no time to synthesize it.

I had been sucked into the weeds, swept up in the hunt for information, and intrigued by the unknowns, but I had to stop. We are working on a very tight timeline for this project and I realized that I could collect information endlessly, if I didn’t consciously cap it.

Early on in the program, our teachers warned us that we could spend an indefinite amount of time on identifying themes and insights, but they didn’t tell us that we could just as easily make the research process endless too. Our group could go on forever, following leads and threads, but at some point we have to stop. For this project, that time is now.

Week 4 Reflection: Lessons from the Marshmallow Kid

Teaching Improv Comedy 

For five of eight years of living in Austin, improv comedy was a significant part of my life and work. I ran a youth program, “AP Comedy” for the New Movement Theater (currently the Fallout Theater) and performed regularly as a musical improviser. Improv and its training of action over deliberation has many useful life lessons, but it wasn’t until this week at AC4D that a previous 6th grade student of mine, the “marshmallow kid,” came back to me.

The Marshmallow Kid

The marshmallow kid did not have many friends in my improv class. He was odd, but accepted as a member of the class troupe. I gave him his nickname (behind the scenes) because every scene he performed involved marshmallows. “I’m the marshmallow King!” he’d announce, taking the lead at the top of a scene. Or in a another scene between two firefighters: “The school is full of marshmallows!” he’d explain to his scene partners, throwing a wrench in their established scene environment. I imagined him plotting on the wings of the stage about how to fit his favorite candy into every scene imaginable.

As we developed a relationship, I was able to ween my student off his metaphorical marshmallow obsession by guiding him to un-think before a scene, but once in a scene, listen to what’s been previously established by his troupe mates.

How Improv Works

An improv mentor of mine explained this concept with the Venn diagram below.

IMG_3833

Two people enter a scene typically one before the other. Each inhabit different characters, and in some cases, completely different worlds. It’s a mistake to believe that every scene must be dominated by one character, the scene playing to their world. Or that each scene must be a complete merging of the two. The magic of improv comes from two different characters finding a scene while keeping their own worlds as characters.

Acting, the AC4D Way

Now let’s replace Character A and B with AC4D students. The same concept applies, we as students are coming in with different learning styles, communication methods, we are in essence, different characters with a common goal in mind. Similar to improv training, at AC4D we are required to act, iterate, step back, repeat. Like the best improv scenes, they rarely begin with a plan in mind, and a mindless gesture or spoken line often ends up with productive results. It doesn’t always work. Just like improv, the earlier you can fail, the faster the lesson can be learned, and the project, product, or AC4D assignment improved. We all have preconceived notions about what the finished product should look like, or we have worries that a first draft of a work will be sloppy. Sometimes we will we get in our heads like the marshmallow kid. But if we respect each world of our AC4D classmates, but limit deliberation in favor of creating or visualizing, we can grow as students and end up with unexpected, powerful results.

More Talking, More Doing

LESS TALKING, MORE DOING

Less Talking, More Doing has become a de facto school motto here at AC4D. At some point early in our first week, an alumnus mentioned that we would hear this during the year frequently from our teacher Jon Kolko in the course of our group work. Although I have yet to actually hear the command directly from him or any other faculty member, it is nevertheless referenced persistently in our space as if gospel from above. Like other dogmatic expressions, it is now both overused and misused out of context, much to my dismay.

The phrase, as told to us by the alumnus, was uttered originally by Kolko as a directive intended to keep team dialogue from spinning into unproductive territory. There is a propensity in group work of all kinds, particularly when dealing with a multiplicity of viewpoints, to become stuck in a back and forth volley of ideas, leading to inefficiency and wasted time. The answer to this, as the motto would suggest, is to stop the vicious spinning in place and either visualize something concrete or find another way of moving forward – usually by undertaking some form of task (making something, however small). I wholeheartedly agree with this situational need and use of the phrase.

VERBALIZATION IS VALUABLE

However, there has been some misuse of this phrase outside of this original context. The problem with less talking, more doing is that it introduces a hierarchy in which talking is less valuable than doing. While there are times that is true, as described above, it’s not an appropriate or applicable value judgment all of the time. For example, in our theory class, Design and the Public Sector, we read theoretical texts and then discuss them both in small groups and as a class. This is beneficial because it helps to clarify one’s own understanding as well as opening up a dialogue of possible interpretations by others, leading to a broader appreciation and perspective on topics as a whole.

Additionally, anyone who has ever taught anything, whether formally or informally, or has had to give a verbal presentation knows that at the point where you have to present your knowledge to someone else, you quickly discover how much you actually know about that topic. Being able to verbalize something clearly reflects one’s own understanding. This can be a useful tool in the learning process, in which the attempt to verbalize something can shed light on the gaps in personal knowledge.

There are applicable parallels to be found in a collaborative team context. Collaborative verbalization can bring up valuable alternative viewpoints, as well as indicate gulfs in understanding. Unfortunately, what I’ve observed and experienced in group work recently is that verbalization has been shut down, using the less talking, more doing motto as a justification to undermine dialogue. I’ve also witnessed classmates remove themselves from fruitful discussions in order to ‘do’ something on their own, despite it fracturing the momentum of group progress. The more doing part of the phrase  in this context is interpreted as the idea that doing something individually is more valuable than talking about something all together as a group.

MORE TALKING, MORE DOING

Healthy discussion deserves an equal place at the table. I don’t reject the value of visualization or the act of making, but I caution the blanket dismissal of dialogue in favor of making in every situation. The most productive group work sessions that I have experienced have married the two; when dialogue can include some form of externalization of ideas, be it lists or drawings, I’ve seen the most progress take place. We need to be cognizant of the roots of the phrase, less talking, more doing as an instruction intended to combat inertia and to instigate forward progress, and to change the phrase in other contexts to the motto more talking AND more doing.

When visualization of ideas and group dialogue meet, the most valuable progress is made.
When visualization of ideas and group dialogue meet, the most valuable progress is made.

 

Perspectives in Austin

During the past two weeks in IDSE 103, we focused on drawing perspectives and figures. I find perspective drawing to be a bit meditative so I was looking forward to spending some time putting a different part of my brain to work in between reading, interviewing, transcribing, and presenting. Pat mentioned a few places in Austin that sounded iconic and I imagined sitting on a bench by a lake, sketchpad in hand, enjoying the fresh air. The assignment seemed like an opportune time to see a bit of Austin since I have had little time to do that in the month since I moved here.

My pleasurable vision of sketching in the park was soon swept away by the realty of our schedules here at AC4D. Instead of the assignment serving me a chance to explore Austin, I had the opportunity to capture what Austin is to me! Below are perspectives of where I spend my time. For reference, I’ve arranged them clockwise from the lower left, beginning with where I spend the most time and ending with where I spend the least time:

Springdale General, the new home of AC4D (and the view of the final construction work from my desk) // My group work area at the AC4D Studio (…including our walls now covered countless utterances and post-its) // An Airbnb // and Cuvee Coffee on 6th (I have only been there twice but that seems like a lot comparatively).

Although my sketching did not take me off the beaten path, I enjoyed visually taking in the spaces where I spend time and having time to appreciate my days here.

IDSE 103 Davis

 

Add meanings to people

I did some interesting practice on sketching over 50 people this week, those sketches are a direct representation of my stories from real life, whether it be cartoonized or realistic, made by pencil or pen. Also those people added an extra layer of “ meaning” .
To start, I needed to choose types of people, I choose family, individuals, kids with grandparents, different ages, different roles, some people are big, some people are slim. My mission was to quickly sketch fifteen people using different ways within 30 minutes. A lot, huh? I thought so, too. But I decided to give it a try.
At the beginning, it was easy to limit my tools only to pencil. I was easily lost in the details of lines. I had to put this people into context: What objects should I added into those scenes?

1 2
I used a combination of techniques that I learned from foundational classes to make a few others, it worked
Next, I start to sketch a group of people showing interaction each other. The first thing coming to my mind was a kid sitting on the ground, his grandpa sits on the chair reading the newspaper. When I thought about this, I felt warm and an image of sweet home came to mind.
What else? I’ve seen people walking around in the domain, I thought that could be interesting place to find stories. And it turned out, this was the best area observing people.
Lastly, I remember I was exhausted by keeping sketch for around three hours.
Like Pat said, energy management is like Long distance running, in order to reach to the destination, it requires energy balance.

103 Assignment 3: Life Drawing

I have a hangup about figure drawing. I was an art major in college and I had a 3.98 GPA in my major- I got As in all my classes except figure drawing, where I got a C.

So I went into this last studio session with more than a bit of trepidation. But Pat makes it fun. I appreciated that he went over the basics first before we started live sketching. I’ve also historically been afraid of drawing faces (so much room for error- obvious error!) but again, Pat made it fun. We don’t need to take a hyperrealistic approach to drawing faces, we just need to get across an idea: maybe a gender or age or emotion.

Faces we drew in class.
Faces we drew in class.

For this assignment we also needed to sketch out in the real world. I did a few of my sketches at Austin Bouldering Project both in real life and looking at a photo. With more time (less sleep?) I might have benefitted from doing one version where I traced a photo. I’ve found that doing that with my daily object drawings helps me focus on which parts of the drawings to highlight.

Austin Bouldering Project.
Austin Bouldering Project.

Fewer words more pictures

Last Saturday we learned some techniques for sketching people and faces. Specifically about how to place body parts and make things look proportional. For our assignments we practiced drawing figures in different positions as well as adding them into a scene. This allowed us to practice perspective sketching and drawing people. Here are some of my efforts that show how I progressed through making these.

A few iterations of a museum scene.
A few iterations of a museum scene.
Iterations of a tunnel scene
Iterations of a tunnel scene

Practicing Drawing People

As part of our coursework for Quarter 1, we have a studio drawing class that meets weekly on Saturdays. It’s important for us as designers to learn to visualize ideas and scenarios quickly and accurately. There will come moments where time is limited and we’ll need to present an idea that is immediately comprehensible, and the best way to do that is by drawing it.

The problem is, drawing is hard if you haven’t done it, and even if you have, it’s a skill that must be maintained like any other. We are supposed to draw every day (which I admit that I fail to do), to build up our fluency. While it’s difficult for me to put time aside to draw, I definitely see improvement when I’m more diligent about practicing and making multiple iterations of the same thing.

A first draft of drawing people in a space.
A first draft of drawing people in a space.

This week we’re focusing on drawing people, including bodies in space and motion, and individual faces. For this assignment, we’ve been asked to draw people in 5 different locations of our choice, using the perspective skills we worked on last week to complete a somewhat realistic scene. Most of the scenes that I chose were based on photos from Recycled Reads, a used bookstore that’s part of the Austin Public Library system, and the site of my current design research. I’m intentionally practicing drawing the people within the space so that when I need to communicate the research in the near future, I’ll have some experience to draw (!) from.

A second draft of the same scene.
A second draft of the same scene.

REFLECTIONS ON PROGRESS

What’s Working for Me:

I can see improvement from my first iterations to my second. I wish I had done a third, and fourth, and fifth, but I let time slip away from me. I also think you can get a sense of the people within the space, and the general action that’s happening, even if the perspective and proportions aren’t entirely accurate.

What’s Challenging Me:

The accuracy of hands and faces, particularly eyes and mouths. I’m trying to find a style that’s not too cartoonish but it’s not coming to me easily. I get the proportions wrong. I also overwork things. I draw a line I don’t like, so I draw over it darker. That’s worse. So I erase it. Even worse. So I draw over it again, still not right. It’s hard to move on. It’s frustrating to know what I want it to look like, especially since I’m using photographs as source material, but somehow my mind-eye-hand connection betrays me. I tend to start off a drawing session with pretty poor results, then get better within a few minutes. After a while my eyes and hands get tired and I start getting worse again. I know everything will get easier with practice but the progress is incremental. I think my main challenge, in drawing as in everything else we’re doing, is that I get lost in the details, and more often than not, the details don’t matter. I’ve just got to stop judging everything as I do it, and move on to the next iteration, where I can try again.