Friday, September 28, 2012

Design. Work. Play.

Or that's what the lecture series should have been called, I think.

Realistically it was called something rather boring, i.e. Aalto Symposium for Studying and Improving Design Practice. Pfff. You'd think people in design could have come up with something better, but somehow it slipped their minds to think of something creative. I scoff. (Well, actually not, but if I were a Designer instead of a designer, I definitely would...definitions of the differences to come later).

When my old TA (JBL) from college rang me up several months ago to tell me he was going to be in Helsinki to give a lecture, I was rather shocked. I didn't realize the rest of the world had noticed my departure from America. (Yes, it's true, I actually don't think the world revolves around me and people pay attention to my every little action...but it was kind of nice to know that someone actually had ^_^). Anyway, I was flattered, and of course agreed to see his lecture.

Making the lecture series sound important (which it was) and my attendance to it mandatory (also true), I broached the subject with my manager carefully and was astounded to find that she encouraged my attendance...nay, insisted that I attend and bring my teammate along. So, upon the given day I happily walked the three blocks from my apartment to where the symposium was being held.

...and promptly got lost.

Whoever decided to name this symposium and where it should be held should clearly talk to some user experience people. This person needs to be fired. Or at least demoted.

But I digress. 

As I got there I was greeted by a familiar face and entered into what has now become a rather nostalgic but never-forgotten feeling of childhood: the classroom. Ah, the classroom. With all its connotations of earnest hopes and wide thoughts...smashed by the fact that I was wearing silly professional adult clothing in order to fully represent what I have come to realize is the snobbery of my industry here in Finland. But I'll return to that later as well.

Anyway, I sat down, excited to be filled with a day of learning. To be a sponge. And so sponge I did.

And it took me by surprise. All of the lectures centered around one particular topic (which I hadn't picked up from the rather unimaginative title) - the rather rocky and tenuous relationship between the academic world of design and the industry of design. Uhhh oh. I could see where this was gonna go.

And unfortunately go it did. It became an argument of "us" versus "them." Unfortunately I was one of the "them." In a room of mostly academic speakers, I felt something I have not felt in a long time...incompetent. I was out of my element. For the first time in years there was very little I could do to adapt to this situation. I was sitting in a boiling pot full of lobsters ready to scream. 

Silence always being my friend in cases like these, there's only so much I wanted to say. So I will say it here (immense apologies, JBL):

The marriage between academia and industry is difficult. It's difficult because although everyone may have come from basically the same place (hey, relatively speaking we all went to school), our toolboxes have changed. We're all hacking at the same block of stone using different tools, trying to make the same thing (assuming we've all talked and agreed about making the same thing). And sometimes that's great - no one's saying that there is only one way to make something and that you can only use a certain set of tools. No no, I wouldn't ever say that. But unless it's coordinated, communicated, understood...where are we going to go? We're going to make a mess. And what comes out, is not what we all agreed upon. Pretty sure no one will be quite satisfied with the results.

The real understanding comes in being able to use someone else's tools and make something great with them. That's where the hard part is though. You're so used to using your own tools and knowing how they work, you're comfortable with them. Most people like staying with what is familiar and set...routine. This is where the marriage is rocky - not being able to use each other's tools. This, unfortunately, is where the solution lies though. Until we can use each other's tools and make something great with them, we're not going to get anywhere.

And unfortunately the only way to get great with someone else's tools? Practice. Experience. Exposure. You can't just live in one arena and expect to know the glory and the benefits of the other. Not fully, anyhow. Go do the other, see both sides (hell, see ALL sides), then you'll know. Then you'll have all the tools.

/end rant.

In any case, the design symposium was full of brilliant people thinking and contemplating and realizing brilliant things. As academics always are, and always will be. My lack of competence aside, I enjoyed being in a different environment, seeing the other side. Made me realize how much I missed this kind of learning (because it's not like just because you stop going to school you've stopped learning...or at least I hope not ^_~).

So, thanks. You know who you are.

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