Educating Designers

Teaching. Mentoring. Curriculum Design.

Maximizing the DNA of Design

Teaching made me a better architect, designer, and person. In the beginning, it was about figuring out how to teach. It became about mentoring students and helping them figure out who they were as designers and how to realize their potential.

Over my 12 years of teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses I worked with more than 800 students. I taught everything from drafting to design studios. I created a class that focused students on their design process and how they think, and I revamped the dreaded Creative Collaboration class to actually foster collaboration.

Teaching rebuilt my thinking about what it means to design and the role architects and designers play in society. In a world that is changing faster and faster, design needs a broader range of ideas and insights to draw from to stay relevant and have meaningful impact. As an educator, this meant helping individual designers value and trust their ideas and provide mentorship on how they can be developed to their fullest potential. My job was to get students to design like themselves, rather than someone else. Doing this meant I was doing my part to maximize the range of ‘Design DNA’ available to the world.

The work shown below is by two talented students I had the pleasure to work with and learn from. I served as their Graduate Thesis Chair. We met once a week for 30 weeks to discuss their projects and set goals and schedules. The images shown below are excerpts from their thesis books.

Above: A project by Jennifer McElroy from my Design Process class.
She ‘unwrapped’ her paint scheme for a space and turned it into a composition that dealt with color, pattern, and material.

Maura Lynch

Maura’s Master’s thesis was about creating spaces that relate to people’s emotional and functional needs. The vehicle she used to explore these ideas was a branch library. Through user interviews, field observations, and other research she built an understanding of how a range of user groups utilize and feel about libraries. From this, she developed a concept of the library as a piazza — a space that served a particular function, but was open enough to invite a range of ways for people to occupy it and suit their needs.

Lauren Paradise

Lauren came to interior design from performing arts. Her thesis focus was on creating spaces that speak to people and tell stories. She also had an ongoing interest in understanding how designers work. In her thesis she explored both of these ideas through the vehicle of a hotel. The endeavor took on the conceptual form of a Russian Nesting Doll. The inner most layer was the design of the hotel itself, including programming, planning, and furniture layouts, etc. The next layer was a study of how to tell the story of a place, in this case Chicago, through interior design. The outermost layer was an exploration and attempt to understand her own process and how she thinks through design problems and develops concepts. For example, one of the tools she used was conceptual photo collages to create a mood for a space. It was a lot to bite off, but Lauren’s fierce work ethic allowed her to pull it off.