Category Archives: Teaching

Selling Design – an online reading list

TOMORROW, WHICH IS also my birthday, I begin teaching “Selling Design” to second-year students in the MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts, New York. Liz Danzico and Steve Heller created and direct the MFA program, and this is my second year teaching this class, whose curriculum I pull out of my little blue beanie.

In this class we explore collaboration and persuasion for interaction designers. Whether you work in a startup, studio, or traditional company; whether you design print, products, purely digital experiences, or any combination thereof; whether you’re the sole proprietor, part of a tightly focused team, or a link in a long chain of connected professionals, it is only by collaborating skillfully with others—and persuading them tactfully and convincingly when points of view differ and yours is right—that you can hope to create designs that make a dent in the universe.

During this spring semester, we’ll explore collaboration and persuasion from many points of view, and hear from (and interact with) many accomplished designers who will serve as special guest speakers. For our opening get-acquainted session, we’ll focus on texts that explore the some of the most basic, traditional (and rarely taught) aspects of design professionalism from the worlds of web, interaction, and print design:

Demystifying Design

by Jeff Gothelf – A List Apart

  1. Draw together
  2. Show raw work (frequently)
  3. Teach the discipline
  4. Be transparent
  5. Take credit for your wins

Design Criticism and the Creative Process

by Cassie McDaniel – A List Apart

  • Critique as collaborative tool
  • Presenting designs
  • What is good feedback?
  • Negotiate criticism
  • The designer as collaborator

Personality in Design

by Aarron Walter – A List Apart

  • Personality is the platform for emotion
  • A history of personality in design
  • Personas
  • Creating a design persona for your website [or other project]
  • Tapbots: Robot love
  • Caronmade: octopi, unicorns, and mustachios
  • Housing Works: a name with a face
  • The power of personality

Design Professionalism

by Andy Rutledge

You should read this entire brief book, but for now, sample these bits:

Do You Suck at Selling Your Ideas?

by Sam Harrison – HOW Magazine

Dyson is used as an example of a product that currently dominates the market, even though nobody initially believed in the inventor’s idea. Lessons:

  1. Tell a personal story
  2. Create emotional experiences for decision makers
  3. See what’s behind rejections

How to sell your design effectively to the client

by Arfa Mirza, Smashing Magazine

  1. Understand the nature of your client
  2. Have a rationale for every part of your design
  3. Show the best design options only
  4. Defend your design, but don’t become defensive
  5. Solicit good feedback and benefit from it

Money: How to sell the value of design – an email conversation

by Jacob Cass – Just Creative

Narrative of standing up to new-client pressure to do something against the designer’s self-interest, or which devalues design. Story told here is about money but it could be about any designer/client conflict in which the designer needs to gently educate the client. (Some designer/client conflicts require the client to educate the designer, but that’s another matter.)

How to choose a logo designer

by Jacob Cass – Just Creative

Basic article outlines ten background materials any designer (not just logo designers) should prepare to encourage confidence on the client’s part:

  1. Experience
  2. Positive testimonials
  3. A thorough design process
  4. Awards won/published work
  5. A strong portfolio
  6. Price
  7. Design affiliations
  8. Great customer service
  9. Business Professionalism
  10. Appropriate questions

Our Jobs In Cyberspace: Craft Vocabulary vs. Storytelling

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS designing websites and applications, I still don’t think in words like “affordance.” And when my colleagues use a word like that, my mental process still clatters to a halt while I seek its meaning in a dusty corner of my brain. (When someone says “affordance,” there’s always a blank where thought stops, and then I see a mental image of a finger pushing a button or stroking a surface. Somehow that one image stands in for everything I know about what “affordance” means, and I’m able to jump back into the discussion and catch up with everyone else.)

Should you ask B.B. King if the lick he just played was in Lydian Mode, he could probably answer you after stopping to think about it. But after all these years playing blues guitar, B.B. King doesn’t say to himself, “I’m going to switch to a Lydian scale here,” he just plays blues. Scales and vocabulary are necessary when we are learning the craft behind our art. But the longer we practice, the more intuitive our work becomes. And as it becomes more intuitive, it disconnects further and further from language and constructs.

This is why young practitioners often argue passionately about theory while older practitioners tell stories and draw pictures.

Of course any practitioner, green or experienced, can create a word to describe the work we are inventing together, just as anyone, young or old, can have the next great idea. And it is most often the young who come up with exciting new ideas in UX and design and on the internet—possibly because they are still exploring theories and trying on identities, while those who work more intuitively may shut themselves off from the noise of new ideas, the better to perfect a long-term vision.

But the nice thing about the experience arc I’m proposing is that it allows younger practitioners to use words like “affordance” when working together to create a website or application (and soon we will stop distinguishing between those two things), while the older, storyteller practitioners use simpler, down-to-earth language to sell the work to clients, investors, or users.

We need both kinds of practitioners—theorists and those for whom everything has become intuitive second nature—just as we need both kinds of communication (craft vocabulary and storytelling) to do Our Jobs in Cyberspace.™ Don’t you think?

Where are you on this arc? Are you the kind of designer who gets fired up from reading a new theory? Or do you sketch and stumble in the dark, guided only by some Tinker Bell twinge in the belly that tells you no, no, no, no, hmm, maybe?

Teaching at School of Visual Arts

Mike Essl at School of Visual Arts

I teach a class called “Selling Design” in the MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts in New York.

Although the class’s name focuses on persuasion, it’s really about learning where great ideas come from, recognizing and fostering our best ideas, choosing the right partners to collaborate on those ideas, and finding and growing an audience/market. Persuasion is a key part of all those phases, but we focus on the entire process.

Guest lecturers from various backgrounds contribute their experiences and insights each week.

My students are amazing. They’re about to become the first group to graduate (is that the word for it?) from SVA’s fledgling program created by Liz Danzico and Steve Heller. Hire them if you can. Watch them make their mark.

Teaching at School of Visual Arts is a small but growing set on Flickr documenting our class—and the nearly two years I spent waiting to teach it. (I’m the last faculty member in the two-year program to actually teach a class, as my class is the last in the sequence.)