Design School . . . what?

2 November 2013
4 min read

One of the main things that has struck me about CMU is their two-folded approach to both functionality (training designers professionally) and philosophy (helping designers design for "the good"). However, sometimes it seems like the jobs and internships that the students are pursuing aren't exactly in line with what they're saying. Although on that end, I think it depends on what kind of job you are pursuing as well. The number of resources that are provided to students to help them find a job and new opportunities is ridiculous. I was able to go to Toronto for an entire weekend JUST to see design firms. And these firms were pretty amazing- all with an international basis and doing pretty great work (it also made me realize what a self-obsessed bubble America was). It's definitely something that Rice needs to improve on.

Being a grad student is a completely different experience. Not only do you not have dorms to live in or a continual set of friends that you see everyday (except for the wonderful people in your program), you don't have any group that you belong to. On top of that, you're always working. It sounds funny to say that you're always working, but you're also always enjoying the work that you're doing (as frustrating as it may be). It is also an isolating experience because you are only focused on doing this one thing all the time, with everyone working on their own as well. I see the undergrads running around with free time and it's not that grad students don't have free time but between "real-life" responsibilities and grad school, it seems like most people struggle to find any real time for relaxation. That's one thing I wish I could really help the program see- that designers are "creatives" and thus they need to get out into the world to design FOR the world. I'm one of the youngest in the program, maybe that's why I particularly feel this way. I've found that when I "live", I can design better for the "living". Maybe that's just my fine arts background talking.

Fun fact: designers will never agree on anything.

Another thing I've learned is that there are always certain buzz words that are floating about. From information architecture to design fiction, these words function not only as "snooty" placeholders for explaining concepts sometimes, but they have brought to attention the importance of language in communication. I'm definitely a lot more conscious of what I'm saying and the terminology I use to convey it. I still have a LONG way to go, but I've started a collection of these terms just as reference to better educate myself on design jargon.

I feel truly honored to be in design school at CMU. Honestly, I loved the program when I applied but I did not realize that CMU was on the cusp of actually defining what design education means and what it is. Next year, they are reintroducing the PhD program back into the school. With this brings quite a few changes to the existing program for Masters students as well. I'm not sure if I entirely like the consequences of the changes (we will see) but I'm definitely glad that gained admission before the changes if not then just because I have a good understanding of what the program offers currently.

I think in the first couple of weeks of school, I didn't know what was going on. I heard the word "design" more times in one day than I did in my entire time at Rice. The classes we were taking/are taking were interesting but I didn't see how the fit into the context of the whole of understanding design and practically applying it in the world. For the longest time, I didn't know what DESIGN was. I mean I knew it in my personal sense of combining aesthetics and functionality but I didn't understand it the way they were teaching it. I think now I only started to gain a better understanding of it. While designers must always be on their toes, learning about the next thing, design school provides them with a philosophical basis on why they do design and integrating that knowledge into a deeper practice. CMU is definitely a "process-focused" school for design- with which I have problems with as well (I like process but at the end of the day I like the tangibility of things more). I think at the end of the day there is enough structure to let the students explore what they want to but they still get the skills they need. This is a point I've been skeptical on for a while. I've wondered if I need to push myself more and what the role of the professors is to push us to create as well. I'm still trying to figure out the balance in this although I'm doing my feasible best to push myself as much as I can (but not to capacity). And while I still feel a little uncertain of the future, I'm putting my faith in the program that it will make me a well-trained designer who can succeed in the world (whatever success may mean to each person).

Tagged: gradlife

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