Research & Teaching Philosophy

Design Practice & Research Interests

Within the broad scope of professional design practice, my specific area of interest is the emerging discipline of interactive design. In essence, the discipline is the marriage of human and machine, allowing the user to interface with information, devices, or even more importantly, other people. One may argue this belongs within the domain of graphic design because information is conveyed by words and pictures arranged logically on a screen for the benefit of the user. However, unlike graphic design, the user also acts upon information through various input methods including some compelling advances in technology such as touch, gesture and voice. Further, devices react to the user’s input with a variety of feedback mechanisms that include animation and sound. In these respects, interactive design shares many of the facets of product design. Mechanical dials, levers, switches and controls are usually thought of as the key interactive components of a product, but that is no longer the case with today’s computers, electronics and the Internet. Many of these traditional product features have corresponding digital analogs on web pages.

Following this line of logic, interaction design crosses the boundaries between graphic and industrial design. Designing for the interaction between human and machine is, therefore, a carefully thought out and appropriate orchestration of actions, reactions, input and feedback as a task or sequence ending with the user’s desired result. For me, this is where the process starts: with the user and her behavioral patterns. This mode of design thinking is referred to as human-centered design and is predicated on the notion that the user’s needs, goals and aspirations are first and foremost in the design process. This interface is the conduit between human and machine, and this is the space in which an interactive designer works. The best interface design is when the user does not even notice it.

As the field evolves with the technology, so must my research concerning interactive mechanisms and user behavior develop. Currently, my focus is concentrated on media that connects people and delivers information in ways previously not possible from a technological standpoint. I remain interested in my graduate research that tested the feasibility of people learning and interacting live (or synchronously) via electronic media, and I also continue to work on media that connects users asynchronously. Projects that I am working on now, as well as classroom assignments, are based on conveying complex or abstract information in clear and concise ways. There are numerous interactive methods that contribute to a more immersive experience, but one I find especially powerful is motion. Motion design is emerging as a sub-discipline of animation and video that is visually akin to graphic design—but moving. It is also used as a way to refer to information that is animated, which is likely to contain kinetic type or other symbols of representation. With the advent of rich mobile interfaces, motion is critical to the designed experience with every action, transition, feedback response, and formation of the displayed information.

Design Teaching Philosophy

I think of design as both an applied art and as a creative science. This means much of my work is creatively applied research. It also means that I believe my students can do the same in the classroom. As the field of design marches forward, the need for skilled talent designing for interactive technologies is becoming increasingly important. Knowing that my charge was to develop the interactive area of our design program, my major goal when structuring assignments for classes is to promote great design and not to cater to computers and electronics. As a result, it has been rewarding to see a student care most about the content and experience and how it serves the intended audience, yet simultaneously embracing the hurdles of coding and technology.

The tools of interaction design are under constant evolution. Even though I constantly strive to improve my courses and adjust to trends within this technological discipline, it has been important for me to modify my methods so that my students immediately perceive the relevance and importance within each of the assignments. Through excellent design faculty mentor-ship, networking with on-campus colleagues, and seeking out facilities and services on campus that have dramatically impacted the class, I believe my students are more prepared for the design profession and aware of their own growth. The most rewarding measure for me is observing a former students applying their expanded design knowledge to other projects, other schoolwork, professional work, or succeeding after graduation.

The four interactive design studio courses that I have developed include Web Design: Introduction to Web-Based Interactivity which is offered every semester, Motion Design: Kinetic Messages offered every spring, and alternating each fall are Information Design: Data-Driven Design and Interaction Design: Device Interface Design. Each of the classes is an intermediate to upper-level design studio requiring one introductory graphic design or industrial design course prerequisites. The popularity of the web and motion courses is on the rise based on increased interest from designers and additional enrollment through cross-listing outside the design program. Industrial designers are particularly drawn to the interaction design class because of its graphic/industrial hybrid nature, and they are usually well represented in all my offerings.

My classroom is a dynamic and evolving space to work within, and working with client-sponsored projects pushes learning beyond the boundaries of the classroom. In most cases, an interactive design project will require other expertise, programmers, for example, to build the final product. My successes with students have come from establishing that I may not have an immediate solution to every technical detail to realize their vision for a concept. Instead, I share my methods for seeking out technical assistance. In the professional field, students will find that team members with other skill sets are necessary to complete most projects. My most recent courses provide the resources to understand the complexities, and they actively share alternate and feasible solutions. This also encourages spontaneous peer review and critique among the students. It is gratifying to see this kind of depth of sharing particularly when the topic or technique I am demonstrating does not fit a student’s unique situation. This also inherently leads to sharing to with the whole class.

Experience design is the common thread of all my courses. Conveying complex or abstract information in a clear, concise fashion happens when my students take the empathic plunge into their users’ minds and design an experience that teaches, persuades, entertains, or informs. Part of every assignment includes identifying the problem, defining the user, articulating the user’s needs, and delivering a beneficial solution. This user-centered approach aligns also well with the design program’s social design model. Guiding students to help users navigate the complexities of contemporary, digital life is a worthwhile undertaking.