My Second Semester of Graduate School

My second semester of grad school just came to a close. The theme for this semester was New Media Environments, so both my Studio and Seminar class focused on projects, readings, and discussions related to emergent technology and its connection to graphic design and the role of the designer. 

The first project we were assigned in studio centered on Data Visualization. We were tasked to select two data sets from North Carolina (civic stuff, weather, demographics, anything) and then create data visualizations that combined the two, whether they were related or not, to create sort of “fake” mashups that might suggest some kind of relationship between the two. 

I can’t say why but I had SUCH a hard time choosing a data set for this project. I wanted to make some sort of deep, thoughtful comparison between datasets, when really it would have been better to just choose them randomly. I was also hugely hung up on picking something having to do with the cycles of the moon, because I could already imagine some killer visuals that would go along with that. Finally I gave up on that and chose statistics on teen pregnancy in NC compared with money spent on public schools. (Not surprisingly, there did seem to be an inverse relationship between the two.) There were three parts to this project. First, we created “2D Mashups” that simply overlayed the two sets together, then “3D Mashups” that did the same thing but introduced depth. The last part, “4D,” involved creating a device-agnostic interface that allowed the data to be drilled and explored at different levels. This culminated in a poster, shown below: 

My favorite part to make was the one in the middle on the right that looks like a wedding cake or a roller coaster. This was made from construction paper, and I used my Silhouette die cutting machine to cut out the design for me. Turned out pretty cool, if lacking a bit on labels.

Then we studied “smart objects” - meaning objects that are connected in some way digitally to the environment, or to other objects. At first, I thought of a “smart cup” that would track your water intake throughout the day. Speaking with my teacher, I also mentioned it might help people like my dad, who have to limit their liquid intake for health reasons. Her reaction was that the limiting of fluids was way more interesting than just tracking fluids. So I ran with that. My dad had a kidney transplant several years ago, and before that, he underwent dialysis three times a week. In order for his dialysis to work, he also had to limit his daily fluid intake to something crazy like 32 ounces a day. For reference, that’s like one giant fast food cup. For the whole day. So I thought it would be helpful for a smart cup to track how much you were drinking throughout the day, keep you on pace, and slow you down using visual cues and haptic feedback if you drank too fast. The video below explains the concept, and illustrates how the cup’s interface would work. (This video includes sound. The sound of my own voice, actually. Sorry.) 

Last, we explored Augmented Reality - where a second layer of information or access can be digitally added to an existing physical space. One of the videos we watched for inspiration was IKEA’s virtual catalog, which is a fun watch, go check it out. Immediately I thought of home improvement as a context, one - because I love working on my house, and two - because I've done some home repairs in the last year that involved many hours in Photoshop creating mockups so Matt and I could choose what color would work in our kitchen. I thought it would be great if you could load an app onto your phone or iPad and view the room or project area “live," and select a new color for a surface that you could view through the device. (At this point, I’ll mention that yes, Home Depot came out with an app for picking paint colors after I created this project. But I downloaded it and it’s crazy buggy and not at all as seamless to use as I had imagined. So keep trying, Home Depot.) To present this project, our class chose to create gigantic videos for display at Hunt Library in the Immersion Theater. This ended up looking pretty cool. Here’s a video of my video in the Immersion Theater. 

This semester also allowed time for me to take an elective class, and I chose “Teaching Design at the College Level” which is a PHD-level course, taught by our grad department head, Meredith Davis. I’m glad I signed up for it, because on the first day of class she told us she was retiring at the end of this semester. I enjoyed the class so much - Meredith has been teaching for thirty years, and she has creative strategies for every kind of teaching situation you could imagine. It was a little bizarre to learn how to motivate and evaluate design students from a person who has taught me as a design student on more than one occasion. There were a couple of moments when she would reveal the reasoning behind a type of exercise or evaluation and I would privately think, ‘oh yeah, you so did that to me one time, and it worked like a charm.’ We wrote a short paper comparing pioneering design teaching methods (I chose Bauhaus) to contemporary design education. I found a lot of similarities between Bauhaus methods and my own experience in undergrad at NC State. We also created a final poster presentation on a topic of our choice, and I chose the topic of Relevancy in Design Education. After we presented and discussed our posters as a class (there were only about a dozen students in the course) Meredith turned and said, “Well, as you know, this class is a pass/fail course, so good news, you all pass!” I enjoyed that class so much. 

This semester was also my first student teaching experience. I was paired with Scott Townsend (who was one of my teachers in undergrad) and together with my classmate April Maclaga, we helped teach a design course called 'Visualization Representation and Display' that used to be simply called 'Imaging' when I was in school. I digress. Throughout the course of the semester I helped with routine classroom management like taking attendance, timing critiques, and printing and distributing handouts to the class, but I also go to create and present a few software demonstrations, conduct one-on-one desk crits with students, and even lead full class in-process critiques. I got more and more comfortable throughout the semester with advising students on their concepts and designs, and each day I was stunned by these (sophomore!) students' talent and professionalism. 

We ended the semester with a “salon-style” presentation at Hunt Library where we posted all of our Studio and Seminar work for the rest of the faculty to evaluate and ask questions. And then… Summer!