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a conversation with
Interview begins by scrolling down
I really wonder about this term “inter-disciplinary design.” To be really good at something it seems you just need to have a clear focus in one direction, yet people seem to really love the intentionally blurry definition of design.
Yet, at the same time, in the commercial industry, especially here in San Francisco, the roles that designers have to fit themselves into seems to be increasingly more siloed. At least, that’s my experience as someone just trying to find entry-level jobs.
You’ve been in the industry before, and gone through a masters thesis, and now work in academia, how do you think designers should respond to this?
Its not that the silos don’t work anymore but that the borders between them are a lot more fluid. And I think saying that you are a graphic designer instead of a product designer or an interactive designer is less helpful than it used to be.
I think going forward - well, let me think of a less grandiose way of saying this - I think what the profession needs is not people that know how to do one thing really well, but can kind of … well, now you’re making me second guess myself.
When I studied graphic design, it was very much the learning software and practical technical trade skills, and I think that’s important but I think the way the world is going....
where design is not this thing that we’re surrounded by all the time, that designers need to be well-versed in all of it and know hot to think through all of it, and I think as we move towards towards that, a graphic designer or an industry designer will become somewhat arbitrary becomes the terms will just start to merge.
A really bad obvious example is that in Times Square, every building is covered in screens, and where the buildings then become graphic design in way. Yes, it’s a building but it’s also a poster and that’s one thing.
A really bad obvious example is that in Times Square, every building is covered in screens, and where the buildings then become graphic design in way. Yes, it’s a building but it’s also a poster and that’s one thing.
I’m not saying that a graphic designer needs to design the building, but that all of these things are now somewhat merging in their output and designers have to think through all of that.
Well I apologize about putting you on the spot there but I’m glad I asked about it.
I was thinking about how to do the research for this and I decided not to go back and re-listen to your podcasts instead read over a lot of your writing. In the essay "Celebrity designers, context collapse, and rethinking how we teach design history" you wrote “Every Generation of Designers of tasked with redefining what Design means to them.”
That really resonated with me as design student, especially here in San Francisco where every designer does completely different things. And its hard as a someone who is just trying to get an entry level job, cause I feel like I just need to fit into these pre-determined silos to just get into the door.
I think you’re right, and one thing that someone at MICA, Brockett Gray, once told me is that she does not see her job as helping students get their first job, she sees the job as a design educator today is to teach student how to get the next job, or the job ten-years from now. And that shifts the goal of design education away from teaching design skills and tools to teaching thinking and process and ideas that will also you a career.
When I was at Facebook in San Francisco the stuff that I was doing was not a thing when I was in school. 18 year-old Jarrett would not have imagined that. One, because Facebook was a small thing that was new but also because when I started college there was no apps, so that’s a whole new field that’s started since I’ve been out of school.
So when I look at my students, I can’t teach them what I’ve learned because that’s already out of date, and I can’t teach them what’s now because that’s soon to be out of date.
When you first started doing these interviews, you didn’t necessarily think “I’m making a podcast,” is that right?
Yeh, I went to grad school thinking that I was going to write a book. I was interested in criticism, and theory, and writing, and I kind of got to this idea that all good design and criticism is conversational in some way. There’s a certain dialectic to it, there is designer and audience and back and forth. So that’s why I thought the core of this book is going to be.
These series of interviews with me writing these things that connect them and it’s going to be this theory about design criticism. I was going edit the interviews as audio to be sort of promotion for the book, as a way to sort of tease the content.
I realized two things - one, writing a book is only going to hit the people that a really interested in design criticism and I’m really interested in broadening this discourse outside of the people who are already there, and two …
The conversation is actually really important. And then I kind of shifted and it became a podcast, and it was supposed to be done when I graduated.
But then I realized there was a lot more people I could talk to.
Can I ask you to talk about why you made that switch to podcasts and stuck with it? Why this medium to spread the conversations?
One, It was medium that I was very curious about, I’ve been listening to podcasts for ten to twelve years and it was always something that was very interesting to me, so as a medium and format I was just immediately interested in it.
And two, there was something that was really accessible, there wasn’t a big learning curve on how to listen or download. I come from the blogging era where you’d subscribe to blogs in Google reader and then new posts would just show up and I think podcasts have some of that where you just subscribe and they are there.
And the final thing is I purposely leave the conversations really un-edited, they are edited but they’re not 99% Invisible or This American Life, they are meant to sound like two people on a Skype call.
There’s a certain impermanence and lesser finality to what people say.
I think this idea that me and the guest are working these ideas out in real time is really interesting to me as opposed to a text that has been worked over and edited for a month.
Just talking about it, there is a certain sense of ...
“here’s what I’m thinking about right now and next week it might be different, and that’s OK cause this is just this conversation.”