AC4D Orientation Diaries

Day 0.5. Couldn’t sleep much the night before the first day of orientation. It was 2 AM and even the humming of The Office’s dialogue failed to self-medicate as it loyally has before. The anticipation wasn’t a feeling I was completely unfamiliar to, but it did feel new.

Day 1. “Make things, build empathy, trust your intuition.” It sounded like a holy trinity I was prepared to make a career out of. I scanned the room and it seemed my classmates felt similarly. I was increasingly excited to get to know them. Ruby later reintroduced the concept of wicked problems and dispensed its many definitions. One definition stuck with me. “Every wicked problem is a symptom of another wicked problem.” In my former engineering classes, most problems were isolated cases with clear, definitive answers that were either a product of optimization or ruled by the law of physics. This was going to be very different.

Day 2. In our first assignment, we tested our design research skills while interviewing local food truck staff, owners and managers. I felt vulnerable but motivated by the challenge. How do you learn from people in the context of their lives? Find problems? Form understanding? Build empathy?

As it turns out, it’s pretty tough. I realized active listening is a muscle I might use less often than I’d like to think. And how do you ask poignant open-ended questions that lead to meaningful discoveries? I always thought empathy shaped my daily perspective, but practicing empathy in the context of design felt unfamiliar. While at moments I felt awkward or unnatural, I was energized knowing I had room for so much growth.

Day 3. Time to make sense of it all! Jon said, “Words become semantic containers for ideas,” and I slowly recognized how heavily design research relies on verbal language. We transcribed and collected the words of our participants into “utterances.” With these utterances, we tried to find meaningful patterns shared amongst them and later transformed those themes into insights. Words carried weight in every step of this process. Are design and language working in parallel? Or are they just one the same?

We later selected an insight and were tasked with creating multiple variations of ideas which addressed it. Generate 300 concepts. Iterate and diverge. I experienced a moment of nostalgia while practicing this way of thinking. It felt like something I often used in childhood but forgot as I got older. Although the exercise was tiring and challenging, it was ultimately liberating.

Day 4. We attempted to visualize our ideas in practice. We were tasked with creating a sketch for five of our previously generated ideas. This process also felt somewhat foreign. As I tried to sketch each idea, I witnessed the idea reshape and refine from my initial perception of it. The ideas slowly began to transform and awaken.

Day 5. Reflecting over this week and everything that had to happen for me to make it here – AC4D is far from home, but exactly where I’m supposed to be.