I was reading a very interesting piece by our friend David Armano at Critical Mass. He talked about his D-school experiences and the power of a single conversation (You can read the full story here.) I am a big believer of that. I am fortunate enough to have many of those conversations earlier in my life and I am glad that I am now old and wise enough to be in a position to have those with many people, many times these conversations helped them master change in both their personal and professional lives. This is probably the most valuable thing I bring to my clients and associates.
The other thing I am inspired by is how David described his D-school experience. I am a big believer (and practitioner) of D-School meets B-School (my company Idea Couture was created on that very idea and my business partners are also big believers). So I added my piece below. I though it would be interesting when you read them together. Two very different paths...let me know what you think. Here's David's piece:
Yesterday I was part of a communications exercise where we had to tell a story. I told the story of how a single conversation with my Mom in the middle of the night made it possible me to attend design school (Pratt). In short, I stated that had that conversation never happened—I wouldn't have been in that meeting room sharing my story to them. Which made me think of this post as well as the power of a single conversation. So here it as again—and thank you Mom for helping me pursue my dreams. (Originally posted on 9/25/2006)
For every Ying, there needs to be a Yang. A while back, Design Observer re-printed, “The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School.” by New York-based architect Michael McDonough. It’s a great read and all too true—sadly schools of any type don’t often prepare us for the real world. But what about the things we DO learn in D-school (Design School)? How are we influenced during this pivotal moment in our lives? And does it carry over into life after D-school? What about values that are instilled in our developing hearts and minds?
I was fortunate enough to attend Pratt for the better part of three and a half years. I received a very unique education which consisted of pioneering the usage of computers in design, cooking fillet mignon in the classroom, welding in workshops, and even posing in the buff for a figure drawing class (I'll explain in face your fears). I learned a great deal about urban living in the middle of some pretty rough neighborhoods (got mugged at gunpoint in my second week). But I also learned how privileged I was to be able to receive this kind of education in one of the greatest cities on the planet.
What I learned in D-school has served me well to this very day. Here are a few highlights. All of the images included in this post were created during my time at Pratt.
What I Learned in D-school:
See Things Differently.
My visual communications professors constantly challenged us to look at things differently. To never be satisfied with our first ideas—they were merely stepping stones to something better. When I facilitate ideation sessions, I remember these lessons. The first ideas can sometimes be really good—but the more ideas build upon each other, the better the chances of ending up with something wonderful.
Embrace New Experiences.
I learned how to use computers early on when much of the design world was cutting and pasting away. If I wanted to do something like create an animation—it might mean learning a new program, doing things like creating 3-D models. I didn’t know any of this stuff before coming to Pratt, but I left there with a "learn by doing attitude" which enables me to put myself in the shoes of users—do what they do, and a desire to experience things for myself.
Face Your Fears.
A group of students who wanted to get better at figure drawing agreed to meet one a week after class to continue drawing. There was only one problem. We didn’t have models. So we modeled for each other. I really didn’t want to get up in front of my fellow students with nothing but my bare assets—however I did want to learn how to draw better. So I got up on that platform—in full view of my classmates. But once I did it, I felt a sense of accomplishment in staring down my fears—and to this day, it takes a lot to rattle me. After all, once you do something like that—even the most demanding work experience seems tame in comparison.
The mask I designed here was created in one evening. But before I started working on it, I had to show a sketch to my professor. The initial sketch didn’t do the actual mask justice—my professor wasn’t very impressed at the idea until he saw the execution. This taught me the value of executing ideas rapidly. Sometimes people need to see, touch and feel to believe.
Having fun is probably THE most important thing I learned in D-school. One of my projects was to design a better “choking victim poster”. So I thought, why can’t a poster about choking be fun? And with a little inspiration from Keith Haring, I did just that. Work doesn’t have to feel like work—I had a lot of fun at Pratt staying up all night working on projects. My roommates and I would wake each other up in the middle of the night if one of us was working, just to get feedback. We had fun with our work and with each other. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously. All things that should ring true in our serious corporate settings (but don't always).
I guess that’s about it. And if you think about it, you really don't need to go to Design School for any of this—but for me, it did the trick. And the funny thing is that if you look at this collection of thoughts and images, you see very little which directly corresponds in a literal fashion with my actual practice in digital experience design (at least not how it’s practiced today). There are no flows, sitemaps or personas. These are skills I had to learn on the job. Marketing, user-centered design, copywriting—these were all developed through real work experience in the field. However I still tap into the core values I leaned at D-school. Maybe what it comes down to was being influenced. But as we know, a little influence goes a long way.
- David Armano
For me, although I never went to design school or received any formal visual art training, I have always been a pretty good self-taught art director, photographer/cinematographer and visual artist; these skills served me well to this day and helped me a lot in many aspects of my life and work. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I have gone to Pratt or Rhode Island School of Design instead of B-Schools. Will I be working in a different role of simply doing the same thing through a slightly different path?
And for me, I was fortunate enough to attend some of the best B-Schools in the world. I received a very unique and prestige education which I greatly benefited from it by learning from some of best business minds of the world. The profs at these schools had always thought that I was a little different from the average investment banker type (translation: I cannot be rich). I was never interested in graduating at the top of the class (although I did pretty well), but more about finding answers. What I learned in B-schools has served me well and will continue to do so. I wish they had provided me with a little prototyping tutorial for objects, software, experiences, performances, and organizations. Design thinking can be extremely useful to tackle difficult, messy business problems. Anyway here are a few highlights.
What I Learned in B-school:
See Things Differently.
My marketing professors constantly challenged us to look at things differently. Strategy or marketing is not about doing what others are doing, it is about doing it differently. In order to do it differently, first you need to see it differently. It is about how to see the world through the eyes of the customers. That understanding explains consumer adoption of any new products which is a critical success factor of launching innovative new products. Simple lessons, yet very useful.
Embrace New Experiences.
Every B-school casestudy means a new experience. Going through an intense debate of what a company should or should not do at a particualr point of time is the best part of B-school. I notice some school is better than other at this. The amphitheatre is like a stage and it is like drama class (excpet you need a lot of preparation and making sure you have as much access to information before class). For me, everyday I was embracing new experiences when I put myself in the shoes of those characters in the case studies. The funny part is I eventually get to work with those poeple in real life.
Face Your Fears.
Business is about uncertainties. Strategy is about managing them. Uncertainties cause fears. It is about facing your fears, fears of unknowns and fears of failure. Fears of how your competitors will run you over. There I learned and perfected the craft of strategy; that is, how to identify the industry strcuture and choose a superior competitive position within their structure or try to shape that stucture (strategic innovation), how to analyze a strategic situation, and finally how to create the organizational context to make the chosen strategy work.
Business is about building things, from building products/services and customer experiences to building delivery capabilities and new competencies. It is so called “operations management” and teaches us to develop an operations strategy, perform process analysis and the effective use of data and managerial opinion. It is about building something with many moving pieces and ty connecting them together that produces something call "profits".
Having fun is probably THE most important thing for ME in B-school. I don’t know about others, I enjoyed every moment of my B-schools’ days and that’s why I kept going back for more. Although the return-on-learning was hitting a point of diminishing return, I just loved it. I made many wonderful friends for life. You know what, I think I probably won’t switch from attending B-school to D-school if I were starting over again. Actually maybe I would have, well probably not.