All posts in Reflections & Thoughts

  • Why rhetoric?

    A writing exercise of little importance.

    During my thesis review one of the advisors and I got into a back-and-forth discussion about whether rhetoric was the correct way we (designers) should thinking about and approaching design. He believed it should not, I believed it should. He believes in working with the “direct perception” or “embodied knowledge”  JJ Gibson describes in his work on ecological perception (designers, you know, affordances) as you approach your designs. I also think we should.

    I spent winter break balancing both philosophies in my mind. I can appreciate using rhetorical analysis as a tool to approach design and learn/discuss how it does work on people. I initially chose to use literally theory to approach design for vague, personal reasons. I have cherished how much my English background influences how I think about problems, people, communication, and design….the world really. I say it’s vague because I don’t know the specific way to apply what I felt I got from four years of English coursework into design.

    What I ended up ultimately doing for my thesis, I used different linguistic and rhetorical theories as a framework to analyze different elements of interaction design. How is our actions on device metaphorical? What kind of persuasive communication techniques might they be applying? How are they stylistic and what does that do to create identity? It ended up being an exercise in thinking critically about what design elements do and broadened the way that I thought these elements (or others) could be used. Whether it be visual, auditory, haptic, or whatever other kind of information that can be sensed.

    On the other side of things, the professor argued that this “languaging” of interaction creates a level of abstraction away from what our body inherently knows about an object. It takes it further from it’s context and its use. It might lock us into one perception of what and object is and can do. If we call something a chair, we are forever forced to think of it conventionally (what our learned patterns of interactions are with a chair) whereas it might have so many other possibilities. Or, things we don’t imagine to be chairs can be just as sitable. Design can have embodied knowledge by designing for the relationship between man and object/experiences. Chairs reflect certain needs that our body has: to bend at the knee, to have a flat surface a certain height from the ground and, for comfort, might have support for our backs—all working together to help the body rest. Compare this to poorly designed objects that might more function-driven rather than relationship driven. For instance, he described this cartoon of what an alien scientist might predict humans look like based on what our computers are designed like: A person with a hand that had one finger for clicking the mouse, a hand with like 84 keys to use the keyboard, one eye for staring at the screen, and just a giant bottom to sit on the floor while we used our device.


    I couldn’t find the comic but I came up with my own version.

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  • Reflection // post third semester

    So, I’m pretty sure standard protocol is to begin each post-reflection talking about how difficult the semester was and apologizing for not updating as much as I should have because of said trauma. Well, why change what we all know & love?

    It was especially difficult because, if you remember, I was leaving the heaven-on-earth that is Switzerland to go back into the trenches that is graduate school. I felt like I was working on a real project with a really great team and plenty of other designers to learn from and now I had to go back to school where most things were abstract. And I had to teach.

    I had been secretly pretty excited to teach since I had such a positive experience TA-ing for the class last year. I don’t quite know how to describe it and I probably shouldn’t since I have to teach again next semester. Overall it was still a good experience, but I didn’t realize how emotionally draining it would be. When I wasn’t in class I was constantly thinking about the class. What I could do, what I should do, what I did, what I didn’t do, what I will do…It took up a lot of space and didn’t leave much room for me to be concerned with my own classes.


    (interim critique)

    (interim critique)

    I ended up dropping a class I had really looked forward to taking: Time, Motion, and Communication. It was a class where our projects were in After Effects and created animated…stories, feelings, rhythms. I just was turning in work that I was ashamed of and I knew I couldn’t put anymore time into, because I had my other classes and thesis. The dream is someday I’ll re-do the projects I already turned in. I was glad for the amount of time I did have in the class though. Dan Boyarski is a tremendous leader of students and I got to see the depth of his kindness as a person too.

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    My Language & Culture class was really fun and interesting to me. I thought the repetitive format of the actual class kind of dragged on, but almost all of the readings were interesting and they settled on my brain nicely. It’s one of those moments when you’re realize with fear: I could have gone my whole life not knowing this perspective! What a scary thought. It felt a little indulgent getting to learn all this stuff not explicitly connected to design, but I ended up using the readings I did for my thesis (with questionable success, apparently).

    It is admittedly hard for me to separate doing well in academia to doing well in life since I am pretty academically driven, but I would say that getting the leisure to study linguistic theory was such a pleasure for me and there is no way I can erase the way it makes me think about the world now so :P. I’ve realized recently my favorite subjects are Design, English/language, and philosophy. I could read and talk about those all day. (Although, I’m actually really bad at reading philosophy, but if you lectured at me about it all day I’d be just as happy). PLUS, since I did so much independent reading this semester, I finally think I’m better at reading dense academic articles. I don’t know why people make their ideas so unpleasant to read. I especially remember the struggle or reading these kinds of articles as an undergrad.

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    You heard a little about my independent study. It was really rewarding project to work on since they were sincerely trying to make their project happen. But again, I felt a little constrained to find the time to work on it. When I did it was really fun to dive and I felt like I learned so much just by working on it and navigating through their issues. There are some aspects about this that didn’t turn out how I would have preferred, but I’m glad I worked on it. I ended working on their service system and creating business communication pieces for them. I also offered feedback on their user experience as they tested prototypes.



    ROUGHAnd my thesis, well, you know that happened at least. I ended up being really excited about it at the end, and still am even though the allure of sleep and my mother’s Vietnamese cooking are quite distracting. Getting feedback from other reviewers was a little discouraging. Part of it could have been my tense presentation where I decided to talk as fast as humanly possible…and part can be that people have existing ideas on design. Upward and onward, I suppose.

    SoThat was my review of my coursework, but school and life are obviously not the same thing. How am I feeling about design, me being a designer, etc, etc? 

    You know, I re-read my first reflection about what I wanted to get out the program and talked to my friend Igor over Thanksgiving (he is studying graphic design at Parson’s right now). He knew I was a designer and he knew, vaguely I was doing something different now. In talking to him, I realized what I was doing and was trained to do (and what I told people I do) was different than what I was used to do. It happened so slowly—creeped upon me realized—that when I suddenly looked around I saw that I learned a lot and I had these different skill sets, perspectives, and a desire to work on something else—Well, not to replace visual design, but to do something in addition to it. It was a weird and disorienting moment. When did this get away from me? Maybe during Confluence, our career fair. You tell your story so many times you start believing it. And then during your internship you realize it’s not just a story. But maybe also that you’re head is so down in graduate school and your’e trying to survive each each that you don’t get time look back and see what you’ve accomplished until you write a semester review blog post….So now I suppose I’m an interaction designer, I was hired as an interaction designer, and I like designing for interactions. But that’s not the whole story. I like getting my grubby hands on the whole user experience and design strategy, if I am being completely honest. I like doing everything from the high level thinking to comb out the tangles, to the moving and the shaking, to the painfully meticulous visual design work.

    I realized that not everyone likes this whole arch of design. I realize that some people really like the planning part and really hate the execution part (some of my students, for example ;) ). But I don’t. And I really don’t like that some (not all!) interaction designers look down on graphic/visual design. It really frustrates me because so many of the designers I admire are graphic designers. They do incredible work that is thoughtful and stunning. They impact and audience and make them feel something. They can incite behavior change through a static medium in the right place at the right time. The quality and skill that it takes to do what they do shouldn’t be undercut.

    All of design is hard.

    It’s noble and important to think about inciting change through design at the highest level: How a town, city, government can change by design perspective. But I still believe that design represents those ideas realized. So if you have a sloppy voter registration form you’re telling people that you didn’t think it was important. That care wasn’t taken into this experience for them. You’re telling them that design isn’t important. Does that make sense? Bringing design into the sphere of public conversation and governmental concern needs to trickle down into every aspect the public touches in order to speak to its significance. Because you read into the things you interact with. Nothing is neutral. That’s how I feel, anyway.


    Your favorite idealist,


  • Summer reflections on design

    I wonder if I should stop calling things “reflections” when I really mean: “I haven’t written in a while, but here are some thoughts I had over a very long period of time.”

    So I had a really tremendous summer as an user experience designer at Google. It was really nice experiencing what it was like to work on a team on a big project. Other designers, other stakeholders…all going through the design process together. I learned so much about business strategy and then, within in my team, UX strategy and refining user experiences. Thinking about the way our small team ran, I think it was nearly the idea working dynamic that most companies strive for. Everyone was active and engaged with each other, designers were intermingled with engineers and both opinions were respected. They touched based frequently on a schedule, but were also never afraid to start a new conversation when one arose–and more importantly, that other person also took the time to help that other person.

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  • 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:

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  • Mid-semester review

    Hi all,

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    I have done a pitiful job updating this blog semester, which is saying a lot since I wasn’t the best at updating it last semester either. I can honestly say it’s not from negligence. It has been an extremely busy semester where there has been absolutely no time for non-essential activity (this includes sleeping). I have not even been procrastinating, which tells you the severity of situation. :).  While difficult, it’s been nice to be so productive and I wouldn’t want to give up my two electives anyway (processing & calligraphy). I decided to stay in town for Spring Break, and have been absolutely adoring it. I don’t know that I’ve been so happy since school started. I accomplish one-two professional/school tasks a day, look for housing for the my summer internship, exercise, and spend the rest of the day reading. It’s like mundane heaven.

    But anyway, on to my class updates. Here we go! (You can see descriptions of the classes on my courses page).

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  • Reflection & 2014: second semester here I come!

    Ok, while I’ve updated various parts of this site to hint that yes, the second semester has started, I haven’t officially closed off on the last semester or offered the review as promised. I was so exhausted and brain dead after the last two weeks of the semester that I was pretty much a useless puddle as a sloshed through airport security to head home for winter break.

    And then winter break was as much as a break as I had hoped because I spent most of the time laboring over my new website. I’m happy I did, but when I found myself waiting in the cold for the the Pittsburgh buses again, I didn’t necessarily feel like my brain had been refreshed.

    However, that just what been keeping me. As I was working on and describing all my projects from last semester and I really the amount of things I have learned and worked on and how much I have grown. Even just being the TA for Communication Design Fundamentals made me think more closely about the way I design and organize information. While in the thick of it, it was hard for me to look past the kind of aches of the every day process of going to class, doing homework, reading until your eyes fall out. But working on my portfolio was a good chance to step back.

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  • First Reflection: What’s this about?

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    I know I already have a tumblr showing some of my in-progress work professionally, so why do I need an entirely separate website to document my process? I wanted to start this to get more specific—to show a lot of more of the details of what I’m doing—as I’m doing it. Besides, I consider tumblr a more visual experience that’s more difficult to organize. Now that I’m starting graduate program at Carnegie Mellon, there is a lot more of the process that isn’t visual and that requires more text, reflection, and maybe even boring stuff that most people don’t want to read.

    I hope for this to be a personal catalog of not just my work, but my thoughts. I love keeping memories and notes about my life and I think this would be a great way to catalog all the new things I’m being bombarded by (in a good way) in class.

    I think it only makes sense to start this off with a little reflection at the beginning and end of my experience at CMU and see how things change. I know I missed the pre-classes review, but I’m still pretty new to the program.

    — —

    Shall we?

    How do you define yourself now?

    I still think of myself very much in terms of my previous education and consider the two years of designing after work as a way to hone in on my skills. I love my English major and my professional writing minor and I can’t help but think about how much they have shaped the way I think about design and helped me understand the topics we’re going over in class now. I’m a graphic designer who always wishes I could bring more conceptual thinking into the work I do for my clients. I do a lot of print and digital work but find the complexity of designing websites intriguing. 

    What are you interested in?

    I’m interested in becoming more of a maker, or someone who is better at it. I understand that things are a multi-step process and you have to build out the idea first before you can work on the visual translation, but its important to make that I am  good at the practise of design as well as the construction of it. I am also extremely interested in design philosophy that we’re digging into in Cameron’s Design Seminar class. I love to think about things on the macro/micro scale when I usually only approach the problem at one or the other. I am also filled with despair that I know its not humanly possible for me to read all the books and articles that my professors have been recommending. I think it would take 10 years to read all the things they’ve suggested so far and it’s only been four weeks. I’m interested in everything. I don’t know how anyone finds the world boring.

    How do you want to change? What do you want to learn?

    This was something I reflected on recently. It’s easy to get swept up the in confusion of being in grad school and thinking about what your peers are doing and what’s required for class…but step back and think: Why did I come here and what do I want to take away when I leave? I was doing ok as a designer before I came, in fact I was really happy—so why leave it?

    At the end of the “day,” I don’t always want to be a practicing designer, even if I really enjoy it. I want the opportunity to think about what I have been calling “design strategy.” The role of design in a company, product, brand, etc etc. I wanted to think about design different and work at design different. Gain a new perspective and challenge myself in a way that I couldn’t assign to myself. I put my career on hold to shift directions. To be honest, I don’t know what job I want to get when I leave here (how it exists in the world now). I want to just learn everything I can about design, because—as I’m discovering in design seminar—design is the world and how we move in it. It’s so much more and I love it! When and where else would you get the freedom to think. It’s a luxury, let me tell you.

    What is interaction design? What is the role of an interaction designer?

    Directing the experience of a being in the its environment (?). It’s not limited to the computer screens. I think it delves into helping helping people have more positive experiences than not. In this instance, i think it’s better for me to say less than more because I feel like I can’t say something meaningful about it.What is encompassed by “making things user friendly?” What is “simplifying”? What is “good/bad”? So many philosophical questions :)

    What do you want to do?

    I want to work with complex problems, make them simple, design them to make them beautiful, and then give them to people and it helps them. What job does that?