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Lessons Learned from My First Semester

Student Blog

IXD student Alex Frankel working on his tree stump project for class. Photo was for an article about time management and expectations when going through the interaction design program.
IXD student Alex Frankel working on his tree stump project for class. Photo was for an article about time management and expectations when going through the interaction design program.

When I was home over winter break, my dad asked me if I had spent more time working in my first semester at SVA then I did in my entire four years at Lehigh. I told him that it’s close, but probably SVA.

When discussing the time requirements with Liz before I accepted admission to the program, she explained to me that most of the classes are at night, but most of your work will be done outside of class. I heard her say that, but I don’t think I really appreciated it. I even told my boss that if I got into the IxD program, it should be easier to work for him part time. Semester one was a wake up call.

So with that, here are my tips for all those that follow me.

1. Be wary of your free time

In the first month, you can probably get away with getting most assignments done the night before class. This luxury will vanish almost instantly. It might be easy to say something like “I don’t have class for two days, I’ll just hang out at home, see some friends, etc.” While your free time is incredibly valuable (see point 2), just be very aware that your doing it.

What this means is, when taking free time, know that it is an alternative to something else. What classes are coming up? Are there easy things to knock out early? Are you lining yourself up for a shitty Sunday? The work starts to stack up so quickly that it’s absolutely vital to triage your tasks and do meaningful work throughout the week, not sub par work an hour before class.

2. Take free time!

Precisely because there is so much work ahead of you, make sure you block out time for you. Don’t get caught in the trap that there is an infinite amount of work ahead of you and therefore you have to spend all your time in the studio to get anything done. That’s a lame excuse.

Even in the heart of finals you should be able to spend an hour or two a day to watch your favorite show, exercise, or whatever it is that allows you to recharge. Just block time in your calendar for yourself every day and stick to it.

3. Make your teammates accountable

The IxD program is almost all teamwork. You will have very little individual assignments. I’m not going to repeat the standard fare of how to work in teams effectively, I will only say that it will make your life much easier if the work is clearly laid out, with names and dates attached to them.

Who is responsible for doing the mockups? When can we look at them? Who is reaching out to that patient? Is that going to happen today? Do your best and stick to these dates to the best of your ability. Things will always come up that will slow you down. Make sure you add a buffer for the unexpected.

4. Be wary of group brainstorms

IxD requires that you be aggressively creative. Generating ideas and designing solutions around them is incredibly draining work. You will be tempted to set up a two hour brainstorm with your teammates. “Surely if we lock four smart people in a room, we will pop out with a great idea.” You won’t. You will get locked in group think and pop out with a medium idea.

My recommendation here is to brainstorm separately — encouraging quantity over quality. Once you have the ideas, get in a room and evaluate them on their merits. Time-box this work or you will be arguing for hours.

5. Shitty first drafts (SFD)

I read this term in a book called Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design. There’s a lot of pressure in this program to output great work. This pressure will force you to hold your work close to you until you think it’s perfect. This is a recipe for disaster.

I’d argue instead for getting something completed that you know needs work — a Shitty First Draft. Show it to two people, get feedback, then use that feedback to make something you’re proud of. It will always, always turn out better and you’ll save hours that would otherwise be spent trying to perfect something that probably has fundamental problems.

It’s much better to be called out by a classmate or instructor than be called out by an investor or possible employer.

6. Don’t get a puppy six months before you start school

I imagine my classmates are starting to get sick of me mentioning my dog. I love the crap out of McKinley. That being said, he’s an enormous consumer of my time. So, you know, be careful.

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