Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great ideas from Valenciennes

Do any of you teach?

I mean undergraduate and post graduate students. I teach. I teach MBA's at SAID, University of Oxford (don't you know) and Industrial design students at Valenciennes University. I also teach at Coventry, once at LSE, once in Norway and Italy and the list goes on. My topic is ethnography but I don't just expect students to believe everything I say. I run a a full blown exercise with them. And then tell them how well they have done compared to other groups I have lectured to - such as Oxford.

Last month I decided to set my own task for the design students at Valenciennes. I set them all up on EthOS and then briefed a project which was all about how young people clean their homes. Especially young people living in shared houses. i.e. Themselves! It wasn't really a brief. It was a task: watch and film each other cleaning (naturalistically including snatched cleaning) and then conduct analysis in order to arrive at a design brief for cleaning tools. Note I wasn't looking for concepts, I was looking at parameters - what should't they be designing.

Design students being design students, it was very hard to persuade them not to sketch or draw. And design student or not, it's very hard to watch an event and to try and think about what didn't or could have happened. And before even setting the tasks, I had the tough job of convincing them that being designers was not the most important thing in the world. That if they didn't know how to watch consumers - users - and generate meaning and implications, then they were nothing more than stylists who would remain at the drawing board until they retired.

The other complication was that they are all French! However, it is an English speaking university as dicatated by the head of the school who issued an email stating that all briefings, debriefs and written material, such as emails, were to be conveyed in English from that day on. Only the email was sent in French. Seriously. So although English speaking, I still had a very hard job to explain myself. The net result was a series of talks that went from politely trying to be interested in what I was saying and showing to not paying any attention to me at all. And then I briefed them and set them loose for 3 weeks of ethnographies armed with thinking tools learnt over many years and shared with them .

To be honest I felt quite depressed. Thirty six students with no interest in what I was talking about. Lots of puzzled looks. And a cheer when I finally said they could go and start their observations. One card I did hold was that I was marking their work. Marks which would impact their final year results.

Then followed a few days of waiting by the project I had created on EthOS for the forst entries to drop in. And nothing came. A few days after that there was a trickle. And by week three we had a  flood (relatively speaking) of 70 entries from 4 groups.

And let me tell you, the briefs they generated, backed up by their films and interpretations, were outstanding. So good that I finally caved in and asked them convert their briefs into designs. I felt quite emotional as I realised the quality of their concepts was so good that I wanted to take them to appliance manufacturers. I sincerely mean it.

Would you like to see the outputs? Call me.


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