An insider’s view of Cooper U

From the perspective of Cooper intern, Nikki Knox

I recently became Cooper’s first design education intern, and my task this summer is to contribute to the development of Cooper U courses. Last week, I sat in on the Interaction Design course when it was taught in-house at Cooper. I have a background in healthcare architecture and medical products, so Cooper U’s curriculum felt familiar to me and resonated with my own motivations for becoming a designer. What was new to me were the tools for guiding the creative process and the ways in which the instructors encouraged collaboration and discussion. I jotted down a few thoughts to share with anyone who is considering taking the course.
I know what it’s like to feel stuck on old ideas, so I appreciated the “Pretend it’s Magic” exercise. It’s intended to spark creativity in unexpected ways, and to kickstart the generation of big ideas. In the class, we were asked to consider what a “magic” entertainment system would look like. My group explored “disappearing” TV entertainment modules that only leave a 3D projection to engage with. We also imagined a screening system that gets jealous when other viewing devices are present. No more watching TV and using your laptop at the same time – it might make the TV angry! These ideas may seem silly, yet they can help any team overcome self-imposed limitations and reconsider the range of possibility.
We also got in-depth experience in creating personas, providing a way to keep the end-user involved in the product from start to finish. Our team’s persona, DeAndra, is a 35-year-old photographer from Portland, Oregon. Her quote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I have many eyes,” summarizes her perspective and beliefs about the photos she takes. She played a vital role in guiding the design of Photo Book, a project that is part of the class. Features such as editing and tagging were designed with DeAndra in mind, helping us avoid designs based on our own preferences and experiences.
Overall, I found that curriculum fostered curiosity, created a sense of community, and invited storytelling based on design experience. We were encouraged to reflect on our own design processes and to inquire about those of others, which enabled us to learn from Cooper as well as each other.
Of all the conversations we had, it was the questions about the designer’s role in product development that intrigued me the most. In comparison to architecture, interaction design is a new and rapidly expanding field; designers and companies both struggle with determining the relationship between design, business, and engineering. How do engineers and designers work together? What can company executives contribute to the process? How are product managers and marketing departments influencing design? In the class, we explored techniques to help facilitate conversations, as well as tools to help drive and focus design.
Ultimately, Cooper U isn’t about providing standardized answers; it’s more about providing a safe platform upon which big questions could be explored in a group setting. The class reinforced my belief that design extends far beyond implementing creative ideas. The designer’s role can be that of a facilitator — navigating people, resources and ideas through a complicated web of possibilities and responsibilities. I was inspired, and I think you will be, too.
Upcoming IxD (Interaction Design) Courses:
Nov 6-9; Dec 3-6 in Sydney, Australia; Dec 4-7; Jan 15-18; Feb 19-22

Nikki Knox

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