Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Computer Monkeys of the Future (or not... hopefully)

A couple of months ago I wrote the following but never posted it...
"These past seven days have run the gammut — from wonderful conversations with amazing game designers to a faculty colleague insinuating that people do not want or need the classes that I create/teach. Today I sit here reflecting on the latter half of that arc. My writing these words is perhaps a way for me to purge myself of the negative thoughts I've been having. In this tiny dark corner of the digital I feel safe to write these words. More than ever I am filled with self doubt. Maybe I have been going down a wrong path. Maybe graphic design does not need to concern itself with any of the things that I have spent the last 8 years pursuing. If that is true than it's time for me to come to grips and pull the plug. I will concede that graphic designers do concern themselves with notions of user-experience, interaction, systems-level and human-centered design. But, do they do these things well enough? If so then why should I concern myself with any notions of change?

Not long ago I told a friend that I would be happy teaching design the same way that I was taught design 20 years ago. I had a great experience in my undergraduate education. I would be happy to go back to that model. So, why have I felt compelled to do anything differently? Return to your roots. All is well. Let's make things that look great, things that seem like they will solve a problem."

I have been reflecting on these words since I wrote them.  But, things have grown more complicated since then. I have been researching the future of "graphic design" and -- there is no easy way to say this -- it doesn't look great. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the job market in "graphic design" will essentially be stagnant for the next eight years -- 1% growth. This makes me sad but also very curious.

It appears that other areas of design potentially face a much brighter future. UX and IXd in particular seem to be faced with a very bright future. It seems that I may be on to something with the concepts that I teach in my classes. I have been weaving thick threads of user-research and other IX/UX design notions into my graphic design classes. It has been challenging because both students and some of my faculty colleagues are resistant to the idea that graphic design education needs to change.

It is true that thin threads of IX/UX ideas have been used in some areas of graphic design for decades. But, these threads have been weak, inconsistent and have rarely used the same vocabulary as IX/UX. Increasingly I believe that we as graphic designers and design educators must adapt or face a strange and in my opinion undesirable future. That future is one where graphic designers are brought onto projects toward the very end of development and tasked with creating visual designs based on pre-established specifications -- i.e. graphic designers become computer monkeys.

My vision of the future is much different. It is a future where graphic designers understand and use IX/UX methods and are valuable team members that are brought onto projects before they even begin. It is a future where visual design becomes central to every step in the progress of a project. It means that graphic designers must understand user-research and how to use visual design to make that research better. Preparing students to do that type of work requires a paradigm shift. It means holding off on the design of the grail and beginning with designing the tools (i.e. visual research) that will be used to craft the grail.

Friday, March 3, 2017

It's Not About the Games

I have had on numerous occasions over the past three years people make suggestions or recommendations for me -- suggestions and recommendations that assume I want to teach or pursue game design. I want to be clear -- I have no such desires. It's true that I have a deep interest in the design of tabletop games and yes I have dabbled in designing such things. But, my interest in board game design lies in what other types of designers can learn from the concepts, methods and outcomes inherent in the design of tabletop games.

I believe very strongly that the concepts, methods and outcomes found in board game design can be powerful, powerful tools for designing almost anything. Furthermore, when used in the classroom, board game design can be an extremely effective, efficient and enjoyable means of teaching students (of all design disciplines) principles that will make them better designers. In the five different courses that I have developed and/or taught over the last three years I have used board game design in only one of them. Board game design principles could be extremely useful at any level of education. But, I strategically use game design in the 200 level course that I teach. I believe that the game design principles that I can leverage in the classroom are foundational. So, while those principles can be powerful at all levels it is best to introduce them at an early level in a design students education.