Class Acts

Recently I wrote about a Bad Survey, exhorting design instructors to pay more attention to why and how surveys are being used by their students. I was reacting to a pretty bad example I had encountered and I ripped on it and offered some suggestions for improvement.

The students involved in creating the survey contacted me, thanked me for the input and asked if we could set up some time to talk. We spoke yesterday, and I was so impressed. Standard reaction when someone criticizes someone else (online, I guess) is to lash out. Ideally in as inarticulate a fashion as possible. But these four folks were awesome – they got on the phone with me with specific questions, not about just the survey, but about research methods in general (something they are obviously not getting from their program!), about careers, and identities when our skill sets span traditional disciplines (hello, it’s The Overlap). They asked me about my background, and shared theirs with me. They respected my time and they all sent thank you notes afterwards.

Their were no embarrassment on their part or discomfort on my part for having criticized their work. And frankly, they set that tone in how they approached it. I didn’t feel weird about what I had written now that I had names and voices to go with the work, because they sincerely expressed appreciation for the help in making improvements.

I’ve met with a lot of students, career changers, young designers, future researchers and so on. Most handle it very well, but there was something exceptional here, given how it started, and that they turned the whole thing into a win-win through humility and curiosity. They invited me to visit their school next time I’m in their area.

We couldn’t cover all that and get really deep into research, the philosophy, the tools, the approaches, and so on (and of course, that’s more than a phone call) – but they are working hard to understand how the different tools (say, an open-ended interview, and a closed-ended survey) can address different design questions at different phases of a project. One gently amusing moment was a discussion of leading questions – one student had assumed this meant a question that led naturally to the next one (and of course, that’s a good thing) rather than, as I explained, a question that presumes a certain point of view and ultimately makes it harder for the person to give a true answer (i.e., Aren’t you disappointed that Jon Stewart didn’t host the Academy Awards?).

Learning is not just the information and experience you have or don’t have (and it’s clear that there’s some crucial info these folks don’t yet have)…it’s an approach to the people around you, indeed the world around you, and I’m so excited by the approach that this group of students is taking.


About Steve