On our very first day in CO 404, also known as Responsive Media, professor Cox wasted no time in dunking us into the ocean of the latest technology, the ridiculously vast media landscape of today, and the concept of design intervention. We did not have a moment to dip our toes in the water – no, day one was a dive into the waves, the shock of the cold exhilarating our brains and inspiring new ideas for our future in the class.
Our first experiment was in video mapping, using the software MadMapper. The majority of us had never touched MadMapper before in our lives, let alone had we ever heard the term “video mapping”. While the confusion and pure terror seeped through the expressions on our faces, professor Cox remained unfazed. He had the upmost confidence in our abilities, and his seemingly unaware attitude toward our lack of technological knowledge instilled in us enough faulty confidence to move forward on our assignments with an uncertain yet determined sense of direction.
We struggled forward, scouring the internet for gifs we could map onto real-life surfaces using the projector professor Cox brought for our educational benefit. Meticulously, we clicked and pulled each point across the MadMapper grid, adjusting and readjusting to make sure each pixel lined up perfectly. We put on our professional hats and pretended to be mapping pros, our personas built up by our professors unabridged encouragement and belief in our capabilities. Before we knew it, each of us had produced a live projection onto random surfaces throughout the Plangere Center, where our class is housed.
Day one, our eyes were opened to a new world of technology and design – a universe of potential was unfolded in our laps, over the course of three short hours. We understood immediately that this class would be a challenge, but professor Cox assured us it wouldn’t be one we weren’t capable of tackling. We learned through trial and error that we were embarking on a journey of endless trial and error, one that would teach us what the world of design is actually like. Day one, we learned a new software. Day one, we were exposed to unknown territory, and we trekked through it with eager footsteps and hungry wanderlust. Day one, we rearranged our mindsets and found ourselves fully prepared for a semester of exploration, innovation, and of course, design intervention.
I think the most important questions that I can pose to my current media arts and design students who draw on a strong curriculum of general education is: what does the technology of the late 2020s and 2030s look like and how will we build and construct culture with those tools? In some sense, it is the question of a futurist to inspire young adult students to aspire to be futurists themselves. In some sense, the question asks the respondent to critically consider the tools of the present day and maybe discover the emerging but contemporary uses like gestural and physical computing, beacon-technologies, virtual/augmented reality, wearables, and immersive technologies. But, I think, the most powerful and hidden aspect of the question is one of rooting and situating our future cultural implements into a historical and social context. History shows us that new media necessarily builds upon the modes, discoveries, and methods of previous media (including their biases) and, as it does so, it shows its own distinctions which are either lost to time or become the next wave of past technology to be built upon.
In 1997 (the year I graduated undergrad), if you had asked me those questions about the 2010s, I don’t think I would have been able to describe the necessary conditions for or the coming of social media, digital media, cloud computing, or mobile apps to you and yet as I write this message 47% of the global population are internet users. I was a musician, zine creator, filmmaker, animator, and performer. I loved devices, video games, knobs, pedals, gadgets, and gizmos. I liked listening to phone messages and making firm plans with friends for outings and events in-person a week out. I watched cartoons on TV at an appointed hour and loved seeing the dollar movie of the week at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond, VA. I used creative technology for all of my professional pursuits and hobbies but I did not imagine the world as we live in it today; maybe because no one invited to me or because I was caught up in all the feels of being young in a youth culture or maybe because I just could not yet imagine a mutable or fluid enough world where I could affect change or contribute to the unfolding of history?
Can you imagine 15 or 20 years from now working in a world surrounded by new and ever-changing tools? I imagine that you will be trying to make sense of the world even as it changes; at least, that has been my experience in the last twenty years of adulting. I have worked in multiple fields and industries and those experiences now inform my opinion regarding sense-making. The best tool that I have found for internalizing and processing the changing world is design thinking. Design thinking reflects a way of 1)looking at a particular scope of the world and all of its ambiguities, problems, issues, and concerns through the lens of other peoples perceptions, needs, and desires; 2)discerning the patterns that you find through rapid trial-and-error exercises (prototypes) to try and predict what you can modify in those patterns to lead to positive change; and 3)creating a feedback loop with clients and stakeholders to exchange ideas about change and transform prototypes into cultural products, services, and information.
In current design literature, User Experience (UX) design is often couched alongside design thinking because it focuses on the roles of perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in the construction of day-to-day patterns from the subatomic to interplanetary scale (from the cellular to the cosmic and everything in-between). UX designers use empathy to imagine themselves in the position of someone without the institutional knowledge of their team working on a new product or service. They help to connect unknown users’ intuition, emotions, ignorance, patience, routines, opinions, and abilities to the most effective design choices in the implementation of those new products and services. As it turns out, design impacts every aspect of our lives directly or indirectly. Once trained to observe patterns in UX and design thinking, you can see it everywhere and in everything.
For this course, I plan to present the framework from IDEO Design Kit for Human-Centered Design. At the same time, I will be presenting emerging technology tools and platforms for your consideration and experimentation. As a way of motivating our learning in design thinking and emerging technology, we will work with a real-world client to make design interventions that reimagine the way they do business with and for their stakeholders.
Our class as a whole will be working as one team to design a solution to our client’s real-world challenges. Tasks, deadlines, and workflow will be decided amongst the team with input and guidance but there will be ambiguity at the start of and during the project because we are solving an issue that we do not yet know that exists. We are discovering it using the framework of design thinking. You will learn about the culture and values of the client and their stakeholders and audience. You will discover the design challenge, you will research the issues, you will present and discuss possible solutions internally and externally, you will organize insights and materials, you will document your process, you will prototype with familiar and unfamiliar technologies, you will make, you will ideate and iterate, you will critique, and you will offer prototypes as solutions to the challenge. Some of those prototypes will work and some will fail; you will learn from both.
You will learn to be comfortable with ambiguity, gain critical insight, and practice creative confidence. Hopefully, you will have fun too!
So……..Who is interested in helping to design and build the future?