My First Semester of Graduate School

Well, I'm one quarter of the way through grad school, and halfway into my seventh (yes, seventh) year at NC State. I've finally gotten over the bizarre deja-vu of returning to my alma mater every day, though they've certainly done their best to confuse me with all the new traffic patterns. I've learned an incredible amount over the semester, also that pretty much everything I've ever designed prior to grad school was superficial. I kid, I kid. But really, it's been amazing to have time to actually explore different concepts and designs so that by the due date they're thoughtful and well-researched projects. I'm learning to ask more questions and challenge my own answers to those questions. 

We completed three projects this semester in our studio class. The first was about annotation and elaboration. We were asked to choose an existing text and explore ways to allow users of the text to add to it in a meaningful way. I decided to look at mystery novels, and designed an app for use on e-readers that would allow readers of, say, Sherlock Holmes to highlight text then collect and categorize it as evidence, name suspects, and finally declare their own hypothesis. To see how it works, watch the (4:00-ish) video below. Beware - there is some spooky music, but it doesn't start right away, so be careful with your speaker volume.

The second project began with some group research into collaborations. Our group chose to study NC State's disaster emergency preparedness plan, which turned out to be very extensive. We interviewed several individuals from NC State and the Red Cross to find out what kinds of collaborations take place inside NC State as well as with other outside organizations and colleges. 

To me, the most interesting collaboration we discovered exists between the six universities in Raleigh; NC State, Meredith, St. Augustine's, Peace, Shaw, and Wake Tech. They've organized themselves as the Cooperating Raleigh Colleges, and membership in the group allows each to rely on each other in times of crisis. I chose to focus on this area for my independent collaboration study, a mobile app designed to connect students from each of these six universities and help them find an provide transportation for each other. The biggest challenge was to establish trust between students who would most likely be strangers - and make them feel less apprehensive about being matched with other students for travel. See my final design for the app in the (5:00-ish) video below. Again, there's music. Really happy music.

The last project was about the use of schema in creating new interface designs. A schema is a set of principles or conditions in the real world that users already recognize, and therefore do not need to be taught to understand. We were asked to choose an online community and use a known schema to enhance that community's interface. I chose AIGA Raleigh - an organization near and dear to my heart - and focused on the idea of agency - enabling user action - on their site.

Side note: AIGA Raleigh is the local chapter of AIGA national - a one hundred year old organization for design professionals. Our chapter has a rather unique structure. We're "open source" - meaning you don't have to be an elected board member, community board member, or even a member at all - to suggest and spearhead new events or programs. If you have a great idea, you're encouraged to run with it, and we want everyone to be involved, and feel a part of the triangle design community. With this in mind, I created an interface for their "Get Involved" page that centers around AIGA's three missions: Design Ability, Design Impact, and Uniting People. I created a short questionnaire that seeks to match potential volunteers with their goals for participation, their ideal time commitment, and their unique skills. The schema used for the survey is essentially a word cloud - where word size and surface area communicate the hierarchy of ideas. See the final project in the (1:30-ish) video below.

And that was my first semester!