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Sunday, May 2, 2004

All Over But The Fireworks
Spring Semester 2004 is drawing to a close. Classes are finished and the next two weeks are filled with final presentations and the turning in of papers and posters and such. It's hard to believe a year of classwork is nearly done. Graduation for the second-years is fast approaching. New students are visiting and accepting (or declining) offers to come here next year and be the new first-years. Summer is close enough to smell.

posted at 04:07 PM in classes, student life | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, April 26, 2004

We presented the results of our product testing and the refined version of our SeeNote concept (7.1mb ppt) for the Microsoft-sponsored miLife project last week.

Design Studio II, the class that this project is run through, is basically like a job. I spend some 30 hours a week, outside of class time, working with my team on this project. It's the most time-intensive class I've taken (or hope to take), although Interface and Interaction Design was close. It's a killer.

posted at 04:32 PM in classes, projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Golan Levin Course
Former MIT Media Lab member, noted artist, now CMU art professor Golan Levin just announced a class for fall: Fundamentals of Computational Visual Form. The description:

This course is an introduction to the use of computer programming as an expressive visual tool. It is a "studio art course in computer science," in which the objective is art and design, but the medium is software. Rigorous exercises in the Proce55ing flavor of Java will develop the basic vocabulary of constructs that govern static, dynamic, and interactive graphics. Topics include the computational manipulation of: point, line and shape; texture, value and color; time, change and motion; reactivity, connectivity and feedback. Students will become familiar with basic software algorithms, computational geometry, digital signal filtering, kinematic simulation, and the application of these techniques to aesthetic issues in interaction design.

Well. I think my Fall 04 course decision has been made for me.

posted at 01:38 PM in classes | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Picking Fall 2004 Classes
Wow, hard to believe it's that time again. I'm really starting to get an acute sense that every class I pick is a precious one because I have so few left. I am trying to figure out what I will kick myself for not taking after I leave school. But, even with two years, there is not enough time to take everything you want. Things get in the way or the schedule is wrong or the class is only taught one semester a year--at the same time as a required class.

This fall, there's two classes I need to take: Thesis Paper and Thesis Project. Those are givens. And I am desperate for a typography class, so I think Graduate Typography is a must. Which leaves me with only one full-time class or two mini (half-semester) classes to take. There's an interesting variety to choose from: Designing for Service, Conceptual Models, Intro to Entertainment Technology, Intro to Sound Design, Visualizing Stories, Design History, and Adaptive Worlds. Just to name a few. I could probably take all of these and learn a lot. But I can't, so I need to figure out what I need to know before I go, what I won't be able to (easily) learn on my own.

Decisions, decisions...

posted at 02:29 PM in classes | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Design Seminar, Part Deux
This semester, Design Seminar breaks into two sections: one for interaction design, and one for communication planning and information design. The CPID seminar is (reportedly) all about narrative in design, while the ID seminar is all about current issues in interaction design. Issues like:

  • How do we promote this discipline?
  • Is all communication design really interaction design?
  • What are appropriate design research methodologies?
  • How do you turn data into an actionable outcome?
  • How does design relate to anthropology and ethnography?

Design seminar is also a time for guest speakers from the industry to come in to discuss these issues and others.

posted at 10:05 AM in classes, cpid program | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Really Final Classes for Spring '04
After a week of testing out some classes and making some hard choices, my class schedule is set for this semester. I was sort of heartbroken to drop the beloved Time, Motion, and Communication, but the workload is very heavy, and the likelihood of my doing a lot of kinetic typography work in my professional life is pretty small. Plus, I'd like to take Grad Typography before I do something advanced with type.

I also dropped my undergraduate class: Reason, Passion, and Cognition. (I had to drop all X,Y, and Z classes, apparently.) It was too much work to keep track of. I know that sounds crazy from a graduate student, but there were three exams, a paper, and weekly homework. Way too much to constantly keep on top of.

My choices for a classes (aside from Design Seminar and Design Studio, which are required) are Sketching & Modeling (to improve my atrocious drafting skills) and a late addition to the schedule: Mapping & Diagramming. (I kept all the Y & Z classes apparently.)

S&M (!) should be fun. It's designed to give those of us without visual design backgrounds more of the fundamentals. It rotates between four different teachers and is focused on lots of in-class exercises to improve our skills.

Mapping & Diagramming is a small class focused on information design as it is displayed in, well, maps and diagrams. It's being taught by Karen Moyer, who also teaches typography and color, so I'm hoping we get some of those mixed in as well. She has an Old Skool graphic designer's sensibility, with a clear sense of the right way to do things, which is sort of refreshing. I should learn a lot from this class.

All in all, I think this should be a pretty interesting suite of classes for Spring.

posted at 09:29 AM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, December 12, 2003

Winter Break 2003-4
It's with a mixture of sadness and relief that I close out the first semester of graduate school. It's been a tough semester: emotionally, mentally, and even physically. As Dan Boyarski warned us at orientation, CMU is intense. You can burn out easily. You can get so deep into schoolwork you can warp. Small things take on a heightened importance. Your liver can take a serious beating. I am ready for a break.

But I've done a lot of stuff, learned a lot of stuff, made a lot of friends, and, all in all, it's been well worth my time being here, which I was really worried about. A few of the things I've learned have been things that I've always wanted to but never got around to (ActionScript), but some things I wouldn't have even known where to begin.

So now, my final paper has been turned in. It's time to put down the mouse and the (power)book, and recharge for next semester, which promises to be equally interesting.

I wish you all the best holiday season and a happy new year. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my exploits this past year. I'll see you in January.

posted at 10:00 AM in classes, cmu, student life | comments (3) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, November 21, 2003

Hard Choices
People wiser than me (namely 2nd year students Ian Hargraves and Catherine Mulbrandon) have told me that the courses I'm planning on taking in Spring, combined with my teaching Visual Interface, would lead me down the path to ruin. It's too many classes and too much work; everything would suffer.

So. Now I'm faced with the hard choice of choosing which class to drop. Every one of those classes fit neatly into my master plan of taking a mixture of studio/project classes, seminar classes, and raw skills classes.

In my heart of hearts, I know I need Sketching & Modeling class. Badly. So that has to stay. So it's between the other two. One (Time, Motion, and Communication) is one of the classes in the design department and some of my pals are taking it. It's also reportedly a ton of work and in a subject (kinetic typography) I probably won't use all that often once I leave CMU. The other (Reason, Passion, and Cognition) seems very useful and would help fill an essential gap in my knowledge. It, too, is supposedly a good class.


Adding to all this is the fact that I need 180 credits to graduate. Dropping one of these classes puts me at either 39 or 42 units--below the recommended 45/semester needed to graduate. I'm pretty sure it won't be hard to make up come next year, but still.

posted at 06:54 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, November 17, 2003

Spring '04 Classes Scheduled
I got up at 6 a.m. this morning to register for my Spring classes. I have two required classes, Design Seminar II and Design Studio II. Normally in my program, I would have a third required class, Research Methods for Human-Centered Design, but I've done a fair amount of this in my professional life so I was able to petition the graduate committee and get exempted from it.

So I basically had two electives open to me. I wanted badly to take Game Design, but it is being taught away from the main campus and it would have interfered with Studio, so unfortunately that will have to wait until next year. Instead, I'm taking one of CMU's signature courses, Time, Motion, and Communication, taught by Dan Boyarski. Another design class I'm taking is a mini (that is, only runs half a semester) called Sketching & Modeling. I need all the help in that area I can get.

Rounding out my schedule is a class in the School of Social and Decision Sciences called Reason, Passion, and Cognition. All about how and why people make choices. I thought it was important to take at least one class this year that wasn't strictly-speaking Design, although with a three word title like that, it almost could be.

These plus the class I'm teaching should make for a very jam-packed couple of months. Then again, for all the trouble and expense of being here, I want as much out of this place as I can reasonably pack in in two years.

posted at 10:06 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Three Weeks Left
Where does the time go? In three weeks, I'll be a quarter through with grad school. Damn, it does go fast and furious.

posted at 09:41 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, October 30, 2003

Spring '04 Classes

We have to register for our spring classes in two weeks, so everyone is starting to piece together what their class schedule will be like. As my classmate Brian Haven noted, "All classes here are precious. Choose them wisely." And it's true. When all is said and done, I have less than 20 classes here, less than 10 of them electives.

Thanks to my professional experience, I passed out of what is normally a required class, Research in Design. So along with my two required classes, Design Studio and Design Seminar, I'm in the process of finding two classes to round out my schedule. Adding to the mix is that I don't know what my assistantship will be next semester, so I have to leave a block of time open for that.

posted at 11:33 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, October 19, 2003

Mid Term Paper

One of the problems with having professors who also consult is that occasionally they don't have time to teach. That's apparently what happened last week and part of next week as well for Seminar class. So instead of forging ahead with the syllabus, we were stuck doing a paper on a CD-Rom called Sokkuram, a web version of which can be found here.

Here's where taking a lot of English Lit classes as an undergrad pays off. It's only a four-page paper, and stuff like that we used to do as a warm-up. I'd often crank out 7-10 page papers in a night. I wrote this one in about three hours. A lot of my classmates are sweating it out, though...

We're basically supposed to watch the Sokkuram CD-Rom, then analyze it using the three interpretations of interaction that we've learned up until now. (We should have learned all four by now, but who's counting?)

posted at 10:23 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

So it begins II

Today I started two more classes: Computing in Design and Interaction and Visual Interface.

Computing in Design used to be Intro to Programming for Designers, where they taught the design students the basics of Java. So many students complained about it that this year instead the focus is on Actionscript, the coding language used by Flash. Of course, the day we start class is the day after Macromedia announces a new version of Flash. Oh well. And I just bought my copy like two months ago too. Grrr...

In any case, the class uses Actionscript as a basis to teach us the basics of object-oriented programming while providing us with a tool we'll actually use in other classes and in professional practice. It's being taught by Ian Hargraves, a second-year interaction design student and TAed by Jeff Howard, one of the first-year ID students.

Chances are, I won't be writing overmuch about this class, since, while useful, probably a good portion of what I'm learning about can be learned elsewhere.

My other class was Interaction and Visual Interface Design, taught by professor Jodi Forlizzi. This class is going to be very project-based, with four longer projects and several one-day ones thrown in as "quizzes."

We talked about three trends in design over the last 50 years: a systematic way of breaking down design problems (human factors and HCI), then having users design (participatory design), and the most recent, a combination of user and a designer's knowledge.

What is interface design? Interfaces are the "skin between the product and the world it exists in." The skin can be a digital image or it can be an environment, like the inside of Starbuck's, or a physical set of controls like the dashboard of a car. Interfaces offer the user a "story of use." That is: here's how to experience/use me.

We then launched right into our first project: Expression and Physical Interaction. We're going to be looking at physical objects (like, say, an egg beater) and create from them a list of rich interactions that could be applied to a digital context. Then we're going to apply them to a simple scheduling application.

First, though, we're creating mood boards made of images based around various words: vision, hearing, touch, place, pose, movement, and facial expression. We'll use these throughout the course as a sort of pallete to refer to.

Homework tonight: working on my Studio and Seminar homeworks for class tomorrow. So it begins. My life isn't my own any more.

posted at 10:26 PM in big ideas, classes, classmates, faculty, interface design, projects, software | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, August 25, 2003

So it begins

Today was the first day of fall semester and, really, the first day of school. Yes, I did CDF in summer session, but today seemed so much more real somehow. Maybe it was that all my classmates were around. Maybe it was the several thousand undergraduates that appeared on campus. And maybe it was just that both professors talked about the experience of CMU and about being in graduate school. Whatever it was, it was an exciting, nerve-wracking day.

My first class was Design Seminar I, which is taught by the former head of the design department, Dick Buchanan. It's a rather infamous class, much talked about by alumni and the second-year grad students. And, three minutes into the class, it's not hard to see why. "I'm here," Dick introduced himself, "to change design in the world. I want to change the way design is taught and practiced." Then he turned to my classmate Jennifer Anderson. "Why are you here?" he bluntly asked. Then he went around the room, asking each person in turn. (My answer, in case you care, was that I want to make the world a better place by improving the tools we use.)

That done, he talked about the difference between undergraduate and graduate study. Graduate study focuses on themes, connecting (and mastering) a set of facts to create an approach to design practice. Graduate students are expected to become leaders of the industry, able not only to create good designs ("good" being defined by Dick as "well-designed and the right thing to do"), but also to discourse on them. Master's students aren't expected in their theses to contribute something new to the design field, but rather to deepen a theme. It is the doctoral students who are more concerned with inquiry into new design areas and research.

Interaction is at the heart of all of CMU's Masters of Design programs, even the new one in Product Development. Something he's obviously going to get into more is that interaction design relates to Poetics (creating emotionally satisfying experiences), while CPID relates to Rhetoric (creating persuasive products). I'd be lying if I told you I knew what that meant right now.

The stated goals of the class:

  • establish a common framework of the concepts of interaction design
  • provide a strategic perspective on the community of practice
  • find our place in the field of practice
  • encourage creativity
Grad students, Dick informed us, can be boring to teach. We have too many things built up inside us that we need to suspend in order to learn. We need to learn how to be inventive. Dick's main goal is "to provide [you with] enough stuff so that you see the world differently."

It's ok, he told us, if this is perplexing. Perplexity is a form of wonder. And when wonder occurs, the possibility for creativity emerges.

We then discussed the History of Design and the History of Interaction. In the 20th century, there were two great fields of design, graphic (symbols) and industrial (objects). About 40 years ago, the language of design began to change and it started to talk about human systems like environments (actions). Then, recently, design has concerned itself with what holds a system together (thought). These are the Four Orders of Design: symbol, thing, action, thought. New things can happen when you think of something outside its order. For example, a table. A table is not a thing. Think about it as a symbol or an action. ("Ceci n'est pas une pipe"?). I'm guessing we'll get a lot deeper into this as well.

Finally, we looked at the following fragment:

Interaction is a relationship between   in the process of   for the purpose of

Broken down, this becomes a series of questions:

  • What is the data we have? What do we look for? What is acceptable data and how do we interpret it?
  • What is it between?
  • How is the connection established?
  • Why? What is its purpose?
And that's where we left off. We have a homework assignment to select any example of interaction design and identify at least three types of data that one could investigate in order to understand or appreciate the design.

Reminder: this is all in the first hour and a half of fall semester.

Went to the on-campus Indian restaurant with Rob and Phi-Hong Ha, another first-year interaction design student. I like Sree's Indian food from the trucks better, I found.

The afternoon class was Graduate Studio, taught by the current head of the design department, Dan Boyarski. Studio is the yin to Seminar's yang. Seminar is mainly reading and discourse. Studio is project based and more nuts-and-bolts.

Dan started by saying that if the faculty don't change us, don't make us students different than what we were before we came, they haven't done their jobs. Grad school can be thought of as a retreat. It's not a smooth journey, however.

We talked about the need to be flexible: the environment we're working in is constantly changing. Often, part of the designer's job is simply to exercise common sense with clients.

Communication is what interaction is. We work with human-to-human communication, filtered through mediums (like computers). It's our job to turn data into meaningful information by providing form and structure to it.

We looked at Richard Saul Wurman's ways to organize data: LATCH. Location, alphabetical, time, category, hierachy. One of my classmates, Cheryl Gach, suggested one more: Random. Combining these ways, the information becomes even more meaningful. It's the designer's job to ask the right questions of the data.

Our first project for Studio is a self-portrait poster using Wurman's categories as the starting point.

Wow, quite a day. It took me an hour and half to get it all down. I can't promise detail like this every day, but today, being the first day, I thought it was special enough to record in detail.

posted at 10:18 PM in big ideas, classes, classmates, cmu, cpid program, design 101, faculty, projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, August 7, 2003

CDF Wrap-Up

Even though there is still one day left of class, this is probably going to be my last entry for summer session. I'm leaving tomorrow after class for a week at the beach. Fall starts up again with Design Orientation two weeks from today, August 21st.

Today is all about wrapping up the USPS project and finishing our process books so we can turn them in tomorrow.

Looking back over the six weeks, I feel like we covered a lot of ground. It certainly wasn't a deep exploration of any of the six topics, but it was broad enough to give a little background in the subjects. Personally, I really enjoyed the Expressive Typography, Photography, and 3D modeling weeks, but no week was a waste of time. Was it really necessary for me to take this prior to fall semester? Probably not, but it was nice to ease back into school gently, getting used to the rhythm of classes and homework again after being away from it for so long. Plus, you do get to meet the second-year students and professors that are around, which has been pretty invaluable as far as advice and inside info about how CMU works.

All in all, it's been a fun summer. I'm really excited about starting my fall slate of classes, and hope these entries have given you a sense of what my student life has been like this summer.

See you in two weeks!

posted at 12:55 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, August 1, 2003

CDF Week Five Wrap-Up

Hard to believe there is just one more week of class left before summer session is over...

This last week has been fun and an interesting juxtaposition with the previous weeks. The main message of the first four weeks was all about being careful and making deliberate, design-oriented choices. This week's message has been about allowing in the random, the unplanned, the accident.

We spent today applying images to our sketches, black and white via cut up, photocopied photos or in color, via the slide projector. It's amazing I didn't slice the tip of my finger off with my xacto knife. We took photos and I'll try to get them off the server soon and post them.

Next week is information design and I might teach a mini-software-bootcamp session on Dreamweaver and basic HTML. Also next week is when we'll be assembling our Process Books, which collect and make sense of the work we've done over the course of the class. It's what our grade is basically based upon.

posted at 01:54 PM in 3D, big ideas, classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, July 25, 2003

CDF Week 4 Wrap-Up

Despite my complaining, I did learn a lot this week. It was just painful learning. We finished up our exhibit drawings today, adding in detail and figures. I'll post some pictures later this weekend when I have more than a minute to put them up.

Next week: Field trip to Fallingwater! 3D and 2D objects!

posted at 12:16 PM in classes, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, July 18, 2003

CDF Week 3 Wrap-Up

We're halfway through CDF. My how time flies...

We talked a lot about the value of critiques, and about the value of design education (for mentoring), today while critiquing our final exercise (pdf 32k). I should mention how we do critiques here (at least in this class). We post several treatments up on the wall, then proceed to go through them methodically one at a time, referring to the others on the wall as necessary. Wallspace is important for critiques. With laptops, you are limited by the number of variations you can show at one time. Wallspace removes those constraints (mostly).

We also looked at the various elements that make up a type face (baseline, serifs, etc.). Strange that, similar to the photography portion of our class, in that we "play" with the things for a week before learning some of the more formal elements of the craft. I wonder if this is deliberate or not.

Picking a type face for a project is a matter of readability, flavor, and context. Different type foundries have different versions of the same type face. Very few type faces are designed solely for the screen.

A nugget of design wisdom: Style is something you build all your life.

Next week: Visualization!

posted at 12:06 PM in big ideas, classes, design 101, projects, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, June 30, 2003

First Day of D School

I survived my first day at school! Hooray! My two classes are Communication Design Fundamentals and the accompanying "software bootcamp."

Communication Design Fundamentals is a six-week course designed to teach Design 101. Each week is a different instructor to teach a different aspect of design. This week is Introduction to Display Typography, taught by Karen Moyer.

There's about 13 students in the class, a majority of them from the HCI program. We spent the first day arranging a pile of kitchen utensils and art supplies into a pattern that would make sense. The purpose being not only to show that this is what designers do--make order out of disorder--but also to show the process of design, from familiarization to development to refinement. The key points:

  • Form carries meaning.
  • Space carries meaning--even empty space.
  • Structure carries meaning.
  • Everything has a form, including (especially) typography.
  • Appropriate, engaging, and clear presentation of content: this is the purpose of communication design.
Another key point: let the visual display do what it can do and nothing more. It must be well-thought out, but it cannot do the thinking/processing for the viewer.

The first program we're learning in software bootcamp (taught by second-year second year interaction design grad student Ian Hargraves), is Adobe's InDesign. It's a smaller class (about 8 of us) and for some of us (like me) the beginning of the class was just getting used to the Mac machines as opposed to the PC (what do you mean there's no right mouse click?). Since I've never used InDesign, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to learn it.

In other news, I got the key to the Graduate Design Studio, my new (working) G4 Powerbook, and my summer student ID card. I'm a student again! So strange, but so great, to be back in school. I'm glad this first, awkward day is over though.

posted at 07:35 PM in classes, classmates, design 101, software | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Summer School

Many people have asked me why grad school is starting in June and not in fall. The reason is that I have to take Communication Design Fundamentals, a summer class for the poor souls like myself who weren't Design majors as undergraduates.

The morning sessions of the class are Design 101. The afternoon sessions are "software bootcamp," where we're hopefully going to be taught the ins and outs of Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, and InDesign.

posted at 12:21 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans