Lauren Meranda

Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Judson University

Lauren Meranda

Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Judson University Episode 45

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode forty five of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing what is necessary to be a successful designer in a contemporary, screen-based interactive world. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In this episode we will be discussing the different approaches to teaching web and interactive design within a traditional graphic design program. We go into specifics on the difficulties of finding the right balance between teaching visual design, front-end development, and user experience within a limited number of credits and finish up the conversation discussing just how many classes would be ideal to teach the three distinct, but interrelated disciplines.

Today’s guest is Lauren Meranda. Lauren works as an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Judson University. She has a Masters of Design in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University. During graduate school she attended the summer design workshops at the Basel School of Design.

Lauren also runs a multi-disciplinary design practice specializing in projects for cultural institutions, social activism, civic engagement, and public memory through experimental media, collaborative storytelling, and interactive design for physical spaces. Her work has been featured at the Hull-House Museum, in the Chicago Design Archive, Typeforce, and the Chicago Design Museum’s Distortion Social. She presented her research on memorial design at the AIGA Design Educators Conference in 2014 and has presented on the formation of a Student Design in Nature Retreat for Judson University at TypeCon last August.

Lauren has been an active member of AIGA Chicago since 2007, serving on the board of AIGA Chicago as Education Co-Chair since 2016 and has been leading the Judson University AIGA Student Group for the past three years. Lauren has a passion for the intersection of design, education and social engagement, and hopes to pass this love along to the next generations of designers.

She also REALLY loves the Chicago Bulls.

Welcome Lauren.

Lauren:
Hi!
Gary:
Hey, thank you so much for being on the show; I really appreciate it.
Lauren:
No problem; it’s an honor.
Gary:
I’m glad! All right so my first question, I’m just going to jump right in: you have been teaching a course called Web Design 1 at Judson University for about three or four years now. Before we talk about the course in particular, can you tell the listeners how it fits into the overall design curriculum at Judson?
Lauren:
Yes, so Judson, just a little background, is a very small, private, liberal arts college in the suburbs of Chicago and so we have about sixty students total in graphic design from freshmen through senior years, so, not very many students and when I got there they had been…the Graphic Design program had basically been run by adjuncts who had really just spearheaded a pretty decent program for being part-time faculty, it’s not really their job to develop a program but they did a really great job and wanted to include web design in the four year plan for the students and so it was actually started by the Adjuncts at the school, telling the department they needed to have web design. The way it was taught before I go there was basically just how a website looks; they did a little bit about in Dreamweaver where you can just make boxes and it appears but when I got there I wanted to ramp it up a little bit and have more of a web focus or a digital focus because it was the only digital class that they had in the entire program. It is mostly up until that point based in design fundamentals so they have rhythm, tension and balance and things like that; how to design a layout for a magazine or branding projects, so this is their first digital media course in the program.
Gary:
That’s pretty much the same everywhere! So, you also have been teaching Web Design 2 for about the same length of time. So, where does that now fit in to the continuum?
Lauren:
So, that was my pet project, was to get them to have a Web 2 program or a Web 2 course and I adjuncted at the school for a year before I came on full time and that was my request when I came on full time is, we need to have a Web 2 class because they’re not getting enough digital media. If this is the only course that they have in their four years, it’s not enough and so Web 2 came out of just that need and the name is only there because it is based on the pre-requisite of Web Design 1 and it was easier to pass that through the system than to be like, this is digital product design, or trying to think of a name, because nobody would understand what that meant so it’s Web 1 and Web 2 and I can teach whatever I want! It’s pretty great!
Gary:
All right, so I want to…you did something smart that I wish I would have thought of and that was make it a requirement to your hiring because that’s the only time as an educator you have leverages: they offer you the position then you can negotiate money, that’s the only moment that you have leverage and so anybody out there, just tuck that away in the back of your brain if you change jobs or you’re going into a new teaching position, just take a good long, hard look at that curriculum and say to yourself, what kind of changes do you need to make and there’s a good chance you could make them at that point, kind of build that into the contract. All right, so, you answered my next question which is that Web 1, you walked into it and Web 2 you built from scratch, so, how much did you re-vamp in that first Web 1 course?
Lauren:
So, I basically scrapped everything that was being taught and based it off of a course that was being taught at the school, at UIC where I went to grad school, so this was the curriculum as it started was based off of their web class and it was first learning basic coding, what is HTML, what is CSS? How do you make something visually what you intended it to be? And then moving into OK, now we’re going to think about web as a format for communicating a message or communicating content and how do you make it the most clear through hierarchy and interactivity and then building into different media forms so for your phone or through a tablet or through your computer and creating responsive websites, so basically having a progressive revelation of content dealing with web and it’s pretty quick but everything builds on one another, from learning how to write an HTML document in the first place through then in the last part of the class they hack WordPress sites and so it’s just those…it’s a quick run-through of basics of web, in case they didn’t take Web 2, that they would have a basic understanding of it.
Gary:
This is an unscripted question, so I might be throwing you for a loop or not but, when I first started teaching web, I was very heavy HTML, CSS, I’d throw in JavaScript and hack if the class was up to it I’d even throw in a little bit of PHP, so it really was web development, not web design, and so then I started doing this podcast and then I came to…you know what? How much do they really need to know how to code? Being a unicorn’s great but you’re sacrificing the visual design to now, over the past maybe month I’ve really been soul-searching and I’m like, do they even really need to know any HTML and CSS? And I’m going to clarify that by…I think they need to, when you create a poster, when you’re staring at it on the computer screen, the typography looks beautiful, the elements are properly spaced on the computer screen; you print that thing out at full size and look at it, and it’s off. You need to re-adjust it. So, I’m starting now to get to the point where I think all they need to know is, if they can get something into CodePen so they can look at the typography on the screen and if you’ve got it in CodePen you can look at that pen on any plethora of devices, if they could quickly make a three column grid or a four column grid with their content in it and play around with the screen and identify where it gets uncomfortable and then say, OK, that’s where I need to make a media query or a break. Is that enough? Sorry for the rambling thing there!
Lauren:
So, I think in some instances it is; if they’re going to be working in a large firm or a large environment where they have developers that can do that for them and they never need to touch code then that would be fine, but I also know that I have students that want to work in maybe small in-house design teams or want to start their own small studios and it’s helpful for them to be able to have basic understanding so they can go in and update somebody else’s work or somebody else’s code or how we do in our last project which is hacking WordPress sites; they only touch HTML and CSS; rarely they’ll put a little bit of…they’ll get into the PHP, having to change a command or something, but mostly it’s just HTML and CSS and with just a basic knowledge they can create usable sites that they can give off to clients; but they can give that to somebody else and it’s not that much…it’s not that hard to learn those basic things to create a large outcome so for me it’s worth it because I know my students are…have a range of desires after they graduate and I want the students who aren’t looking to go into the tech world to be able to produce digital media.
Gary:
No, that makes perfect sense and I think that’s why I keep oscillating between everything is because I’m…from doing this podcast I’ve interviewed quite a few people who work in firms, in larger firms, and I haven’t really done a lot of interviews with the small boutique firms who maybe need to do that kind of stuff in-house so I think I’ve got my perspective skewed to one type of student outcome, job-wise.
Lauren:
For me it’s also a little bit based on the fact that I run a small studio and so I generally don’t get…it’s for arts and culture, and I generally don’t get clients that have large enough budgets that I can hire a developer and so a lot of times I have to use WordPress and their sites are WordPress and it works out pretty well but I have to know how to…I use that, so I’m trying to…I know that it’s relevant to teach the students if that’s something that I’m using in a professional setting as well.
Gary:
Here’s another un-scripted question: there’s a lot of work out there for people who can make a website on a platform like Squarespace or WordPress or any of them out there. So, for you, and I don’t know, I’ve never set up a Squarespace site but I’ve done WordPress. I’ve built themes from scratch from WordPress, so that’s how I would approach it. So, how do you teach WordPress? Do you teach them how to get a bare bones theme and then go at it from that?
Lauren:
Exactly, yes. They will…I have a couple themes that I think are very versatile and so as part of their course fees, they have to buy these themes and they can then hack those themes. They’re very basic so it just has the underlying structure and then they build the aesthetics from scratch. So, they don’t have to learn how to write PHP or too much detail into databases and CMS but they understand the basics of it. And it works out pretty well in that they get a high reward for the amount of effort that they put into it. They create these functional sites that really work. Maybe it’s just my small school setting but having that type of tangible reward for the work they’re putting proves to be really beneficial for the morale of the class.
Gary:
Well I don’t think it’s just your school. I think every educator, whether they’ll admit it or not, is out there wrestling with these same kind of things because WordPress isn’t that old and the ability for it to be a robust CMS and have these templates that it almost turns it into a drag and drop, once you get into the admin panel, are even newer yet, so I think educators, myself included, just really haven’t thought about, is that a viable option for students, and I think it is, and how do you go about…how do you wrestle with, well they’re not designing the design from scratch, because they are manipulating somebody else’s design, so I don’t think we’ve thought about those things as a whole.
Lauren:
Maybe I just bought into the hacking idea; I love that. I like that they can take something that’s already there and manipulate it into something that they want it to be and a lot of times it’s them thinking outside of their normal way of thinking about things because whoever wrote the original code has a certain perspective, or they write it in a certain way and they have to figure it out and it’s enjoyable to watch them go through that thought process of breaking it down and trying to figure it out and technology does change so rapidly that the scale of them figuring out how to do it for themselves from what’s already out there is almost as valuable as the actual technology or the actual interface that they’re learning, right? If WordPress falls off the cliff in a couple of years, they’re still going to have the ability or the knowledge that they gained in figuring out something, figuring something out that they didn’t know before and to me it doesn’t really matter what the technology is or what it is; if it’s Squarespace or WordPress it’s more about autonomous learning and figuring something out on the spot.
Gary:
That makes sense. You did mention technology. So, personally right now, I have my students use Brackets for coding the HTML and CSS and like I said, I’m considering completely switching to just using CodePen so they don’t have to learn the front end development, so all they have to really learn is the HTML, the CSS. Anyway, I see that you’re personally using Muse and Edge Animate and Dreamweaver; at least, that’s what you have listed in your syllabus. Is that just I haven’t deleted it yet, or is that the ones that you choose?
Lauren:
No, that’s what the school pays for and so I use it! They buy all the students membership Creative Cloud and yeah, so it’s what we have, it’s our resources, so…
Gary:
Well, there’s nothing wrong with Dreamweaver because it is technically a text editor and it’s now using the Brackets base as its text editor: you’ve just got to remind them that it’s not as drag and drop as they would like it to be.
Lauren:
Yeah, they don’t really use it at all in the design mode: they do the code or the split-screen mode. For that I thin it’s beneficial because they can code and see it instantly; they don’t have to save and refresh. At least for that beginning level, it’s nice to have that instantaneous, even though it’s off most of the time! Which is another lesson, I guess. It changes between different browsers and devices; it’s another lesson for them.
Gary:
That’s why I like Brackets and it has its little live preview so they don’t have to constantly refresh and they can just toggle back and forth between the two windows. But again, like you said, almost the same thing as Dreamweaver now. One thing that I struggle with when I assign web projects and I’m not sure why it’s with web projects and not the same with print, but it has to do with the content for the site. How do you get your students…do you give them the content? Do you ask them to create the content? Is it a little bit of both? How do you go about that?
Lauren:
So, this I stole from UIC! My first project, which I don’t know any educators that don’t steal their projects from their educators…
Gary:
Oh, we all do!
Lauren:
But the first project I did in that class was based on recipes because that content is so easy to get; they can go on…there’s a million cooking websites online and it’s easy to copy and paste that type of content and they’re more likely to grab it that way, so it’s based on the first one where they’re just learning how to make their static designs into coded sites or coded designs; they make recipe cards, so they take one recipe and they learn basic things like how to do an unorganized list, how to do an organized list and it’s good for that because there’s unorganized content which would be the ingredients, and then there’s organized content which is the directions and it seems to have all of the basic things that you need to learn in HTML which is how to do lists and how to do…it’s how to organize content; there’s a lot of organizing content in a recipe and then we just built on that. They took their recipe and they made a cooking website out of it because it was a natural step and they didn’t have to change gears completely trying to keep something constant and the next site is personal portfolio sites because they all have a vested personal interest in that! They all want one anyway so they’re more likely to put effort into it, into getting the content for it. And it’s their personal content so they can make it up and it’s OK.
Gary:
You know, I’m wondering if this is a regional thing because I used to live in Chicago and I used to teach at Colombia College, Chicago and I taught web there and one of the projects was a portfolio website and yes, that was the one that they were most invested in; it was like they put all the work into but here at UMBC in Baltimore when I had them do portfolio websites, there just wasn’t the same enthusiasm about it.
Lauren:
Really? That’s very interesting!
Gary:
The only…now the only reason that that might be the case, I’m thinking about now that I said it out loud is, at Colombia College, generally they took that web class almost at the same time that they’re taking their senior portfolio project…senior portfolio class, so they’ve got a load of content that they’re pretty proud of and ready to dump in, where here at UMBC the first web class, there’s a good possibility they’re taking it their first semester, their Sophomore year, so they really have nothing to put in it…
Lauren:
That makes sense.
Gary:
…in the way and so I don’t know, I’m just wondering if that might be the difference.
Lauren:
Yeah, that makes sense: the students are taking…my students are taking Web 1 the first semester of their junior year so they have quite a bit and it’s the third project so by that point they’ve at least done a couple…they have a couple of things from that semester that they could put in it. That’s interesting. I bet you that’s the reason why they’re more anxious about the fact that they don’t have a lot to put in it.
Gary:
Yes, that whole procrastination thing: we’re Sophomores, we don’t need a portfolio, we’re not graduating for another year and a half, two years or whatever. Yeah, it’s probably that. So, again, reading through your materials online, can you talk about the research presentation that you have in Web 1: what are the students presenting, what are the research prompts, you know?
Lauren:
So, I have just a list of digital media artists and designers that I have them research and it’s a very broad range of people and/or studios and it’s not basic web design firms; it’s a lot of times kind of crazy things, like I have them research Casey Reas, I want them to know the possibilities and the crazy applications to design the technology; letting them see what is possible if they wanted to continue working in it and so that was the goal of the research presentations is to almost ignite a little bit of fire for them to see what can be done and what cool things are being done. So I just collected a list of people that I enjoy their work and made them do research on them. And a lot of them are pretty broad; they’re not all…you know…
Gary:
No, that completely makes sense and I did those two but back when it was print but the pioneers of print design, not like the avant garde, we’ll use that term, the avant garde of print design and we did that. No, when I read it I was thinking, OK, you’re making them go out there and do user research or things like3 user testing and I was wondering if that’s what that was.
Lauren:
So, that’s something that we’re doing now in Web 20 so I’m starting that right now; I’ve re-vamped Web 2 this year, not a ton, the projects are the same, but how I’m teaching them is different and so they’re working on their prototypes for an app right now and we pushed up the timeline and they have to have round one of a prototype and then they have to do user testing and then they have to re-vamp it from user testing, so that’s new for my class this year.
Gary:
What do you do…well, what kind of user testing but even back…but you also said…so what kind of user testing, what kind of specific user research and also when you say prototype, are you talking about clickable type prototypes, like you would make with InVision or Adobe Xd?
Lauren:
So, I guess I’m going to take a step back and say the second class which we call Web 2 is more like digital product design; the first project is they find an existing product and find the faults in it and analyze it and figure out ways that they would improve it and that’s the first project. And the second project is they find a problem that they have on campus and…or that they personally have and create…generate an idea for an app from that, so one student is creating a room-mates bills and chores splitting app and so it’s things that they have access to the users and so that they can do analysis and research on their room mates or people on campus. Just for the ease of introducing them to that idea, that this is going to be used by somebody that’s not just you, but that those people are accessible. It’s new for me so I would love insights or feedback on how to do it better but the first round of the app was on paper so their first prototypes were paper prototypes; they cut them out and made big videos of somebody else not in the class is using their paper prototypes and it was entertaining to watch because they were…slapping papers down trying to keep up and they learned a lot from those first rounds of user testing on paper and then they’re building it in Sketch and putting it in InVision, yes!
Gary:
Well, OK, that’s interesting that you’re not using Adobe. OK, the reason I find it interesting you’re not using Adobe Xd is I actually prefer Sketch and so I would rather students use Sketch, but Adobe Xd is free because everybody else has to have Adobe CC
Lauren:
So, we did Adobe Experience Design last year and there hasn’t been any major updates to it and there aren’t the capabilities that are necessary to make a viable prototype so…
Gary:
Listen to that, Adobe!
Lauren:
So, I made every student go out and buy a version of Sketch!
Gary:
I’m glad you said that.
Lauren:
Which I think is good!
Gary:
I’m really glad you said that because Adobe fumbled around for three years before they even entered the market. When they entered the market they…I understand the slow, methodical approach to it like, we don’t know what we really need so let’s build it a bit at a time, but Sketch is like…the community is throwing plug-in after plug-in after plug-in at that thing and Adobe just is not keeping up and not only should they be keeping up, they should be actually leading the pack, so I’m always frustrated with…I don’t want to make the students pay for it but at the same time it’s the one that works best!
Lauren:
It is and you know what? It’s going to be the most beneficial experience that they get from that class, getting Sketch and learning how to use that program is going to be more beneficial to them than using and learning Experience Design. If they can go to an employer and say, I’ve worked in Sketch, that’s worth, what is it? Fifty dollars?
Gary:
Yeah, it’s ridiculously cheap and you don’t even have to upgrade it because they switched that subscription thing where now it’s fifty dollars a year but you don’t have to.,…even if you don’t choose to upgrade it, it still stays the same. So, at UMBC, our interactive course or web design course is part of a BFA with a concentration in graphic design, so I constantly struggle to balance visual design, the training of it, with user experience and front end development, so, looking over your course syllabus and website, it looks like you are concentrating more on front end development and visual design in Web 1 and not so much on user experience and then it looks like in Web 2, that’s where it’s visual design dominant with an introduction to user experience. Is that accurate?
Lauren:
Yes.
Gary:
And is that by choice?
Lauren:
Yes. I think they have a difficult time doing all the things at once and so…I mean, who doesn’t, honestly? And I want them to feel…comfortable enough to try and fail at the coding part of it and the front end development of it before they start to get discouraged. They get discouraged, so if I’m not harping on how it looks and just helping them figure out how it works, then they’re going to learn that skillset instead of being distracted by the other one and we’ll do a little bit of…I can’t read the blue text on red type of thing if it’s atrocious, but it’s more about figuring out how to make a heading than it is to, is that heading large enough or is that body text too small? And so visual and user experience is lower on the list of priorities in the first class and the second class is clipping it so that they already have that basic understanding of how responsive website works and how people read content on the web because we read Don’t Make Me Think and so they’re starting to build on that knowledge and it piggy-backs on that class and is more about how do the aesthetics influence the usability? So, in product design, in physical product design, we know how to use something because a button…it looks like a button so we know to push it and so we’re going in that direction which is when you don’t have the tactile experience, the visual aesthetic of it tells the user how it should be used and so we’re balancing more in that direction of why is your circle…why is your button a circle? Why isn’t it a square? What does that communicate to somebody who’s using it? Are they supposed to spin it or are they supposed to push it and we’re trying to figure out how visuals communicate messages to people.
Gary:
I could list off all kinds of issues I struggle with when trying to teach responsive web design and in most of these previous episodes I’ve said what I struggle with. But I’d like to know about some of your own struggles: first maybe with the course design itself or then about the concepts, or no matter how hard you try the students, either slow to catch on or they don’t get it at all. What are your pressure points?
Lauren:
Yeah, I would like two TAs in my class. That would make the class so much nicer. I think my biggest struggle is there are what, fifteen, sixteen students in the course and one of me and each of them if at a vastly different level. Some people catch on so quickly and they are learning this language and it’s there: they get it. They may get hung up on something but they think in a way that they can figure it out and then there’s the students that just don’t get it: they don’t get it at all! Then there’s various stages in between and you have to manage that as a teacher and figure out how to make it the best experience for each of them so that each of them is improving and getting the most out of the course that they individually can and for me that is a huge battle! If there was somebody that could…if I had a technical support, that would be great. I try to get them to work together as much as possible so that…they share with the person next to them at the beginning of class: what are you struggling with right now? What are you struggling with, so they can help each other a little bit and that alleviates some of the stress on me having to run around but it’s pretty wild and you know, the students oftentimes who don’t get it suck up so much time and it’s a shame because the students who do get it deserve to be challenged more and to be able to push it. It’s a difficult…yeah, it’s difficult for me to manage that.
Gary:
No, and let me ask if this sounds familiar to you: I used to teach in the classroom; they’d come in and we would do an HTML and a CSS demo: step and repeat all the way through the course of the semester, but I had a lot of either students coming in late or students not coming at all but they would…but not enough to fail the course, but enough that it was a substantial amount of absences, so I had this going on and it was like, what is going on? What is going on? Maybe it’s just the University or whatever, maybe it’s jus the region, and what I did, have you heard of the term, flip the classroom?
Lauren:
Is that like where maybe you record how to do it and then they come in and work on it in class, is that…
Gary:
Yep!
Lauren:
OK!
Gary:
So, all of my demos that I would used to do, I made them into screen-casts and that’s their homework is, you’re going to go home, you’re going to follow along with these series of screen-casts and you’re going to learn HTML and CSS in the screen-casts. Lo and behold, the first semester I do that, I no longer have students…I mean, students were more on time and they missed less classes and the only thing that I can think is, I can ask until I’m blue in the face but the most I can come up with is just the fact that like you said, the students that get it are bored out of their minds. The students that don’t get it are embarrassed and don’t want to come and then you got the middle ground who like, yeah, whatever; they’re just fine, so does that whole thing sound familiar to you?
Lauren:
Yes.
Gary:
OK.
Lauren:
That’s a great idea; I hadn’t really considered it yet, that’s great. And it’s I think a lot of less pressure for you because, I mean, I don’t know about you but lecturing is never my favorite, I don’t really like to do that; then you don’t have to worry about talking in front of them!
Gary:
For me it was born out of just frustration on…at the end of each semester, they weren’t producing any design that was worthy of a critique, because they just didn’t have the skills and no matter what I could do, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many different ways I revamped things or shifted things, the end result was the same: the end result was something that wasn’t able…wasn’t quite good enough to start a dialogue about what is good interactive design, so I said, screw it, I’ll just…they can just do this as homework, they can learn the medium of HTML and CSS and then we’ll just do, we’ll go through the whole interactive design process all the way from ideation all the way through to the final clickable prototype and actually the final client presentation because I make them present it like they’re presenting it to a client so they’re not sitting there doing Mike Monteiro’s real estate tour where they sit there and describe what it looks like.
Lauren:
That’s a smart idea. That’s a great idea; I’m going to try it!
Gary:
No, please, because it basically doubled the amount of class; it was that simple and I was like, oh my God! And what little feedback I did get from my students was, oh my God we love it because we can stop the video, we can replay the video and I managed to get enough of them to give me enough feedback so I could get the pacing right on things. Anyway, it worked for me and I highly recommend it because it just doubles your output.
Lauren:
And it gives them an opportunity to learn how to use a tutorial because when you’re not in school, that’s how you learn things, so that’s great.
Gary:
Oh, you know another…the other source of frustration with me was….so I would teach them the stuff in class when I was doing it in class and even the students who were the really good ones that were able to produce something like, hey, this is a portfolio where the website that you coded from scratch, they’d come back to me a semester or two later like, how do I do this again? I was like…are you kidding me? And so there was the permanence of what I was teaching wasn’t there either and so this is the other way to solve it is those videos are up there, they can go, they can reference them whenever they need to.
Lauren:
Yeah, and there’s a level of autonomy in their learning; they have ownership over it and that way, even though you’re still telling them how to do it, they have to seek out that time, so it’s more like they’re figuring it out themselves. I love it, that’s a great idea.
Gary:
Just a couple more questions before I let you go because I don’t want to monopolize too much of your time. I think it’s unrealistic for any educator to teach visual design, user experience and front end development in a single class; we’ve just been discussing there’s too much to do, too little time. So, since these are all skills that are necessary for most designers entering the field, if you could just wave the magic wand, what would your ideal curriculum look like? Or at a minimum, let’s be honest, we’re lucky if we’re going to be able to carve out between two to four classes of our own within an existing curriculum.
Lauren:
I agree, it’s too much to have anybody focus on learning a new skill and remembering all of the other skills that they’ve had at the same time; it’s too hard to focus on that many multiple things at the same time and it seems like all the educators that I’ve talked to and you’ve been echoing this as well is that we just focus on one part of it in this course or another part of it in another course and it would be nice to have three separate courses. One is, we’re going to learn visual design for web and it’s not going to work; none of the things are going to work. You’re going to learn how to create aesthetics that mean something and would work well in the web. I don’t know, this would need to be tested because I do think that there’s knowledge that you gain from making a website that you would have never thought of if you did it. But also then a course…so, maybe visual design does come second. But then another course that is just front end development and it takes the pressure off of trying to make it look good when you don’t know how to make anything at all. You know, when their taste level is higher than their skill level, it leads to a lot of frustration and so to take the aesthetics off the table completely in a course and then have user experience as a third emphasis, so maybe those all do exist in every single course but one is emphasized more heavily in that; I think that’s how I would do it. Probably should have thought about that more!
Gary:
No, I mean because I’m actually kind of, at UMBC we’re kind of the same way; we have…well, not yet. We have two courses but I’m fighting the good fight to hopefully get a third and that’s exactly how me and another colleague discussed we would split it up too, there would be like this basic introduction to the medium of the web and I know that doesn’t…the medium of app development is different but I think that there’s enough similarities that that’s enough, and then do that then go into like let’s just focus on the visuals and they’ll have a little bit of coding experience where they could actually make some of those visuals and say like, oh yeah, what I am making does work and then ended up with now that they can make something that’s visually sophisticated, let’s introduce this idea of what…is it purposeful? Does it make sense to the user? So I kinda agree in the same way is that you need that minimum of three courses, to give any kind of permanence to the learning that those three different but equally important things.
Lauren:
Right, and I think it’s a lot about their emotional and mental states. When you try to teach it all at once it’s not going to work because they can’t emotionally and mentally handle that; even if they’re capable of learning that, they’re capable of learning it but to have to focus on all three things at once is just too much. I mean, I know in my Web Design 1 class, once a week we spend twenty minutes of the class at the beginning of class just talking out our frustrations with our projects and that’s helped the morale of the class and made them to way better in the actual making part of the class because they’ve addressed their frustration and then had a little bit of catharsis and then could get into just figuring it out and talking it out. They’ve talked it out together as well. It’s made the class more enjoyable first and also more productive but the motivation of splitting those things up, for me would be that it takes that mental pressure off of the students so that they can really focus on learning and maintaining that knowledge.
Gary:
No, that makes so much sense because I feel like I’m part Zen Master because they freak out: they’re clearly freaking out. It’s not working because like you said, that whole idea, what they can picture in their mind they can’t anywhere close to produce and it’s that frustration like, I can’t do it, I can’t do it: I was like, you’re not supposed to. Why would you? You don’t have the skills yet, you need to constantly remind them, you’re working towards a greater…ah yeah, educators need to get in a room and sit down and have a cathartic moment about dealing with the students on anxiety.
Lauren:
Right. I’ve never had to be as Zen. You’re right, it’s like a Zen Master, they are freaking out, you’re going, it’s going to be OK, we’re going to get through this and there’s a lot of mid-project reminders that I have to make to them which is like, just look at how far you’ve come: remember when you started this class, you had no knowledge of what HTML was and now you’ve made a website. That’s huge! They need that encouragement. We all do, right, a little bit of affirmation along the way, it goes a long way!
Gary:
Yep, just that rational hey look, I’m asking you to do something that you don’t know how to do. Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean that you should know how to do this yet. All right, Lauren, so I don’t want to keep you any longer but just before I let you go, I ask the same question of all my listeners. So, is there anything that you are working on personally that you would like to share or promote or if there’s anything that we didn’t cover that you want to, like, hey, I want to talk about this for a bit? Open mic!
Lauren:
The thoughts that are consuming me right now is that next weekend, next week, Thursday it was April 21st, 22nd, 23rd, I’m working on a conference for socially engaged arts practices here in Chicago called Open Engagement and it’s all-consuming for the past few weeks and it’s next weekend so that’s all I can think about right now! It’s nice to have a little break, so thank!
Gary:
I’m in a similar boat as you. I’m also…AIGA Baltimore’s Education Director and we do a two-day kind of thing where on Friday we have a series of studio tours and then on Saturday we have our student conference where we have three speakers in the morning, we have lunch and then we have an afternoon full of portfolio reviews and I’m obviously the one spearheading that so today was my break from the madness, like the final details. So, who do you do this project with, the social art thing that you just said in Chicago?
Lauren:
So, it’s called Open Engagement; it’s a conference and it was founded…yeah, it was founded by Jen Delos Reyes; she’s currently at UIC School of Art and Art History and it’s her project and I’ve been working with Jen as a designer for various projects that she’s working on for the School of Art and Art History for a couple of years and so I came on as the Creative Director for the conference and it has been a wild ride. It’s going to be really exciting, you should look at that, there’s so many events, so many!
Gary:
I’m looking it up now because I know about the conference and I don’t know why! And I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve lived in Chicago or…
Lauren:
So, this is the first time it’s in Chicago, I believe. It’s been going all over Portland, Oakland, next year it’ll be in New York.
Gary:
Yes, I presented at one of the ones in Portland many years ago.
Lauren:
Awesome!
Gary:
That’s why I remember Open Engagement but…I’d just always assumed it was in Portland so that’s why I just didn’t think to connect the dots. All right, I’m good, I know why now! But I’ll put that in the show notes for people to check out.
Lauren:
Awesome. It’s openengagement.info; if you can’t make it this year, there’s always next year.
Gary:
Yes, and at least in the past for listeners, they would put out a call for presenters and speakers and so I ended up putting in one for some of the socially engaged work I was doing with one of the classes, so check it out, it’s good to check out anyway, for the listeners.
Lauren:
Thank you.
Gary:
All right, Lauren, that’s all we have time for today on episode forty five of Design Edu Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Lauren Meranda for being so generous with her time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the Design Edu Today hosting sponsor DigitalOcean and CDN sponsor Fastly for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. I also want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that lead to this podcast series.

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