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Uncovering The Sexy That Lurks Within

By Leslie Jensen-Inman

Jared Interviewed on Let

At the outset, a database with thousands of antiques doesn’t sound that interesting. It’s hard to imagine the design challenges that might arise. Especially when you compare a database filled with antiques to, say, Google Glass or some other Silicon Valley invention.

And that’s the challenge we heard from hiring managers from organizations like Sears, JP Morgan Chase, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when we talked about attracting graduate designers. They felt their projects just weren’t sexy enough to attract the best talent. They felt new design talent wouldn’t see any interesting challenges to the work.

Yet, when you talk to the people who work for those organizations on those unsexy projects, and get them really talking, they get visibly excited. The problems they start to share are wonderfully interesting with nifty constraints and subtleties. Truly sexy challenges hide within these seemingly unsexy projects.

While it could be a marketing problem on the part of the hiring managers, I think the core of the problem lies at the heart of the design schools. Seeing beyond the surface, to uncover the sexy design challenges underneath, is a skill. A skill that schools should be teaching.

How do you teach it? One way is to ensure the students get to that underneath part when they work on their projects. These projects have to be assigned, because, well, who would choose something that doesn’t seem sexy on its own.

Once assigned, the faculty needs to show the students how to see the sexy design challenges and appreciate them. This process has to be repeated, until the students start to see the sexy on their own.

Seeing is a core part of design. Seeing the subtlety and nuance that makes a design project sexy is a wonderful skill to learn, because it invokes an excitement and engagement in the designer that takes the design to a new level.

That excitement and engagement is valuable to the hiring companies and it’s an attractive quality to see in students. Everybody wins when you can uncover the sexy that lurks within.

Projects Change Goals and Roles

By Jessica Ivins

Jared Interviewed on Let

Project-based learning

Hiring companies tell us they want to hire designers who have worked through the entire lifecycle of a project. They want to hire folks who have experience developing, designing, building, and deploying projects. This desire—this need—has us asking questions like:

“What if education focused on experiential learning?”

“What if students learned by working on projects from concept to completion?”

We’ve come to realize that project-based learning causes both the goals of education and the roles within education to change.

Goal Change

The goal of education changes from teaching to learning. When students engage in experiential learning—learning by doing, through making, by collaborating on specific projects with constraints—they foster a passion for learning. They move from wanting to earn a good grade on material they memorized to wanting to truly understand information and construct new meanings with the knowledge they have encountered.

When students work with real clients on real projects, they also shift their focus from good grades to creating appropriate deliverables that meet client needs. Students want to impress the client so they work more diligently than when they are just managing their grades for themselves.

This goal to create passionate learners can also be seen with the shift from teacher-directed activities to student-directed activities. Teachers do not just assign work, instead, teachers work with students to determine project constraints and tasks.

Role Change

Teachers move from being a “teacher” to being a “facilitator”—a facilitator of learning. They are no longer the all-knowing instructor, instead, they are a resource. As a facilitator, they are able to move away from the art of teaching to the art of connecting. Facilitators are able to focus on being what each individual student needs him or her to be. They serve roles such as counselor/education optimizer, communicator, project leader, and learning coach.

When education is project-based, the roles of students change as well. Students move from individuals to collaborators. They move from seeing their role as independent to seeing their role as interdependent. Collaboration reduces, even eliminates, individual competitiveness among students. Students turn their focus from individual outcomes to working towards the best outcomes for the group and the project. Project-based learning also challenges to stop receiving information passively and instead be constructors of knowledge. They gain the opportunity to see the parts within the whole. Students understand that they are as responsible for their learning as their “teachers.”

How to Teach Industry Ready?

By Jessica Ivins

Jared Interviewed on Let

Hiring managers have told us that to be “industry ready” UX designers must have a holistic blend of hard and soft skills. Many educators understand this and want their students to succeed beyond the classroom. But each educator asks the same tough question:

“How do I teach students to be industry ready?”

Educators face many challenges when attempting to teach students how to be industry ready. For example, it’s easier to grade hard skills than it is to grade soft skills. And in academia, what gets graded is what gets valued. And what gets valued is what gets taught. This challenge has more to do with our educational systems, governances, and funding opportunities than with educators’ desire to provide appropriate education for their students. These types of challenges occur because the focus of academia tends to be on teaching and not on learning.

Keeping this in mind, let’s change the question a bit. Let’s ask,

“How do students learn to be industry ready?”

When we change the question, we shift the focus from teaching to learning—exactly where the focus of education needs to be. We know that people learn by making, by building, and by deploying. Humans have known this since the time of Aristotle when he said,

“What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.”

One of our goals with the Unicorn Institute project is to understand how to make graduates industry ready. Figuring out how we support students learning, by doing, that’s education’s and industry’s challenge to figure out—together. We’re excited to dive deep into these challenges and work to find solutions that support students and hiring companies.

Industry Ready

By Leslie Jensen-Inman

Jared Interviewed on Let

This is extreme. Of course, it’s IBM and they don’t do anything halfway. But to set up an entire design school for new hires seems extreme to us.

Here’s what blew us away: it’s a school for people already trained and experienced in design. Only a small portion of the six-month curriculum focuses on the IBM Way for design. Most of the time, students are learning basic and advanced design skills.

Every newly-hired designer (and many of the designers already in IBM) are sent to the school in Austin before they start with their groups. It’s an entire program designed to make sure everyone with the title of designer has the same skill set.

Every Company Needs Talented Designers

IBM has set a high bar as to the skills and knowledge their designers need to have. And they aren’t finding it consistently in the designers they’re hiring, especially those coming right out of design school. Therefore, they are doing what any smart company with the resources to make it happen could do. They are finishing the designers’ education.

Only a handful of companies have the resources to pull this off. Yet, every company needs to have talented designers. What are the companies that can’t afford to build their own school to do?

Understanding ‘Industry Ready’

When we started the Unicorn Institute research, we visited dozens of companies deep in the process of trying to hire designers. Every single one of them expressed the same angst: Many of the designers who are interviewing are lacking in substantial ways. Ways that prevent them from contributing.

Industry ready goes beyond being a critical thinker or a creative problem solver. Sure, those are important skills, but they are only a small piece of what a designer does.

An industry-ready designer knows how to go beyond just coming up with a design solution. They know how to navigate the murky waters of implementation to get it built, knowing how to compromise and work through the inevitable constraints that emerge.

An industry-ready designer is fluent in the full gamut of design tools. Not just Photoshop, but today’s critical tools, like JQuery, frameworks, and the various font toolkits. They understand the process for creating responsive designs and can use production tools like Git and SVN.

These companies are also looking for designers that understand how products are built and shipped. They understand how development and engineering processes work. They know when to push back and how to let something go.

The companies also want designers that can work as part of the team. They know how to send emails and attend meetings—something that’s surprisingly not taught in schools.

’Industry Ready’ is Very Nuanced

As soon as we started the Unicorn Institute project, we knew we’d have to dive deep into what it means to be an industry-ready designer. We made it a central goal of the project, with the hopes we can identify techniques for building a curriculum around it.

The great news is that we believe we’ve made some interesting progress on this front. Stay tuned to discover what we’re thinking.