Reflection // First year, Check!

I have found that at the end of each semester I absolutely require a rest period where I can’t think about my classes, even if it would be more fresh in my mind if I did it right away. Things being what they are, here I am now. First year of grad school complete and first week of my internship down!

Last semester was a doozy. I signed up for one extra elective that I thought would be manageable. Overall, every week was difficult, but I didn’t die. It made finals week head-exploding, but I came out on the other side of that too (there was some serious doubts for a while).

Without further ado, and in the same order as last time:

Seminar II:

As predicted, this class was amazing and totally indispensable. Our professor was so generous, knowledgeable, and a good teacher. It was this level if quality and perspective of knowledge that I was expecting when I choose CMU.  We covered relevant topics to design with a focus on communication design. I am so grateful for the readings and discussions. I shiver to think I would miss such a class. We talked neutrality, agency, rhetoric, semiology, and social psychology. Things that expanded upon my previous interests/studies as an undergrad and my long-standing personal interests in social psychology. I knew it always related to design! (/ relates to everything ever). And, of course completely knew concepts. Beyond that, our professor spent a good amount of time spent a good amount of time on our final projects that we could use our thesis projects on. I wouldn’t have survived without Suguru’s guidance.

Presentation on the visual rhetoric of a Rihanna selfie. 

Studio II & Research Methods:

This was the semester-long group project with Microsoft. It had it’s ups and down, but I felt  pretty luck for the most part that I had strong group members. I learned a lot about working on a concept from idea to hi-fidelity prototype, pitching, and many design research methods along the way. I’m happy we have such a class and felt like, because of our group project I have amateur-status in habit change, life logging, the technology paradox, and technology in the home, nudges, and ubiquitous computing. Not bad! It was a substantial project with a lot of collaborate and many new skills learned that we could apply right away.

The only thing I didn’t like about the class, to be honest, was the class itself and not the project. When we got feedback at mid-semester and then at the end, didn’t really align with our project or what we had tried to communicate, so that was discouraging. Not that I don’t like feedback (I do!) but their feedback sometimes either 1) didn’t apply to what we were doing or 2) made untrue assumptions about our product that we didn’t discuss–like: advised us to stop doing something that we weren’t doing in the first place. Which probably means there was a communication error on our part. But on the final project they made comments on a project that didn’t reflect what we presented. Beyond verbally, even if they just looked at the screens on our prototype they would have seen that we had thought about X. Frustrating, right? But I guess even that’s preparation to the kind of clients you’ll face in the real world.

I keep going back and forth about how much to say about this project. Because yes, this blog is for me, but it also could determine how I choose to remember the project (and of course, this is one of those ‘public’, ‘internet’ things*). And since I committed so much time to it, I have a lot of thoughts about it! I think maybe it could be best described like dark chocolate: good overall, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Usability testing photo.

Computing for the Arts with Processing

Oh processing! Oh engineering! That’s kind of how I felt the whole time. Throughout the semester I felt like a hamster in a wheel chugging along trying to make progress, feeling hopeless, but that, every now and then I’d look back and see that I had actually gotten somewhere. So, it has a happy ending. My goal wasn’t to become the world’s best programmer, but to get exposure to it and understand a little of how it worked and how you have to think in order to create something. In that regard, I would say I’ve accomplished that. Will I ever be as tremendous as some of my peers? Definitely, definitely not. But I’m glad I pushed myself to try it and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Jim Roberts. I’m glad I snuck in the course before they re-structured. They’re chanign it to a python course–which I would rather have learned, I think, but Jim said he wouldn’t have gotten to teach it the way he did and you could tell that Jim really loved what he was doing and seeing what a bunch of art kids would create when they learned a little programming.

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One of my final projects for the class, a data visualization. 

Calligraphy I

What a wonderful and differently-challenging course in itself. I’m so glad I took it. I feel empowered by enough knowledge to keep practicing on my own and the teacher, Myrna, is the best kind of people. Jessica (who I took the class with) and I were both in love with her. I wish I could continue to level 2 next year, but unfortunately it conflicts with a course I want to take for my thesis.

When I took the hand-lettering workshop earlier this year, one of the famous hand-letterers made this comment that, ‘in order to be a better designer you must draw. Period.‘ Notice it’s not how to be a better calligrapher–but a designer. It’s something I believe. It’s all fine-and-dandy to read some articles about user-experience and affordances, but you need to stay committed to the craft and process of what you’re doing. One of the thesis projects this year (Mark Choi’s) talked about the difference between engineers and designers. In general, engineers are much more outcome-focused and designers are much more process-focused. And I appreciated that generalization. The reason you learn something like calligraphy isn’t entirely a vain pursuit. By practicing making things delightful (aka: beautiful letterforms) you learn about the process of making things go from ordinary to compelling. You increasingly work towards improving your composition and craft. You build upon your experience each time you start a new project you realize the dedication and care it takes, and it helps you be a better designer in all aspects of your life. Truly. I don’t aspire to letter dumb quotes to post on pinterest, I desire to learn all aspects of good design.

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One of the illustrations I made for our final project. 

So that was the second semester, how do I feel about the first year as a whole? I don’t think I can step far enough away to see the whole year. It has its ups and down, surprises and turns.** I have my opinions but I still feel like, you can’t go into a commitment like grad school trying to make it fit into your expectations, but rather I have to let what it has to offer support my personal goals. And from that perspective, it’s working quite well. I have learned many things this year that have changed the way I think about design and approach a problem—things that won’t go out of date. I feel better equipped to handle the messy nature of new technology, interaction, and ubiquitous computing. Challenges that might have been intimidating for me to work on otherwise. Importantly, I have heard enough perspectives to be able to question and discuss what I’m learning, not just take it at its face and adopted all new opinions as my own. I’m grateful for that.

Attending CMU has also afforded me opportunities unimaginable before. Close your eyes and think about all the things that might have contributed to where you are now…immense, scary, immensely scary?

I’m excited for next semester so that must be a good sign.


Yours Truly,



*And even if it wasn’t, #NSA
** Oxford comma omitted intentionally because they’re pairs. See why the oxford comma is the best for increasing understanding? It just is. 

Thoughts? Discussion? I'd love to hear 'em!

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