Designers and Cocoons

Recently, I discovered the joy of work. It might not be the best-paying job out there, nor should I worry much about what my future careers will be. Normally, my principles would shake. I ask questions whether I am on the right path, whether I am building myself a ‘good’ career. I would project myself as a better visual communication designer: extraordinary portfolio, rich experience, better education, better reputation. Do you get joy of work during that process? That’s uncertain.

During my tenure at ThinkQuest, my main job is visual design. I design interfaces, I design promotional materials. These are for the sake of helping teachers and students worldwide to acquire 21st century skills through project learning, using a platform we build. Normally, I would only sit behind the desk, connected to the little world of emails, intranet systems and design work. I sometimes wear earphones. Sometimes I talk. Most of the time I don’t. I don’t have any counterpart locally, which means I work alone all the time. My other half of the two-men team is in the other part of the world. Three years working here and I only met him once.

Two months ago, I received a chance to look at this job pretty differently. I began to get assigned to conduct courses teaching users of our program (teachers) on implementing project learning with the program, in their schools. These are 7-hour courses, and I conduct them almost twice every week. Most of the time I’m just assisting the main instructor. I got to visit schools in Jakarta and around, met with their teachers and absorb directly the experience of knowing how end users appreciate our product.

It is overwhelming. First, I was instantly plugged in with almost daily trips and schedules I’ve never had before. This is not easy. With computers, you can always be sure. With people, you just don’t. Think Indonesia. Second, I got to visit places I never knew of, and meet new people I seldom met before. I never knew that I could just hit a taxi and drive off to some peculiar end of the big metropolis, to find a secluded school which, despite its usual look, has superb internet connectivity and aspiring people. Third, learning how to teach people. How does it feel, after a very long time, to teach people to use your products; and to begin to think creatively how to best make them to actually use it. It’s definitely beyond technical terms. You are talking to actual people here. Do you imagine how to teach technology products to a technologically-inept audience who don’t always speak English? More than that, do you know how to grasp beyond technology, and hit to the bull’s eye to the realisation that “I’m not teaching just about how to use it, but how to actually use it in learning process.”

Designers often just sit there in a back office and forget the world. Do they meet the audience? Not always. Do you think they will use our product efficiently? Sometimes you just work based on values you create your own. Do you appreciate, despite how much monetary value they pay you to do the job, the extra mile you need to go to make your commitments more meaningful?

I think it’s about time for designers to think about the impact their works have done, and to come out there and meet their audience. Feel the heat, not just the cool air of your air-conditioned working cocoon.