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Seven Questions for Gary Chou

MFA Interaction Design: How would you describe your course “Entrepreneurial Design” in one sentence?

Gary Chou: It’s like a reality show: what happens when you take a bunch of Interaction Design grad students and challenge them to launch something of their own to real people in the outside world in a semester’s time?

MFA IXD: What were the top three take-aways your students had at the end of your class?

GC: You would have to ask them, but I would hope that they would say something like the following:

  1. Most successful entrepreneurs had no idea where they were going when they began. It’s OK—and often good—to be lost. 
  2. Forward progress over perfection. You can’t learn if you don’t release something publicly. Our creations are a negotiation between our aspirations and the desires of our audience, and the only way to examine this is to release things.
  3. We are often the best saboteurs of our own success.

SVA IXD: How did you own perspective evolve over the course of the semester?

GC: Designers are becoming increasingly self-aware that they have the option to work on their own ideas versus simply those of others. What surprised me is the rate by which that sense of awareness is growing. As a teacher, that tells me I can set the bar higher for the students in terms of what is possible.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how an MFA program is really the perfect place to be for a creator. Most entrepreneurial programs (incubators, accelerators, etc.) have the added constraint of aligning people towards a fundraising path. Success in the program is binary—either you raised a round of financing or your didn’t. But if you fail to pull together a round, that doesn’t always mean you have a bad idea, or that your creation isn’t worthy of existing. I think it is hard enough just to create without having that as an added constraint.

SVA IXD: Could you give one example of things students made in the course?

GC: I can’t just point to one thing, because it’s the breadth and range of creations that stands out in my mind.

Last year, we had Instagram photos on coasters and maps of cheese. This year, we had feminist superhero underwear, sticky notes for prototyping mobile UIs, and laser cut wood business cards, postcards from the future, nail art, and many other wonderful creations.

There is so much soul in what the students have made. We don’t teach any skills in the class, either. These are all things that they were able to do on their own. I would be so depressed if all they produced were iPhone apps mimicking what you see on TechCrunch or attempts at overdetermined systems. I really can’t wait to see what they all do next.

"What happens when you take a bunch of Interaction Design grad students and challenge them to launch something of their own to real people in the outside world in a semester's time?"

SVA IXD: What book(s) would you recommend on entrepreneurial design?

GC: I would choose the Internet over a single book any day. In fact, the class syllabus consists of links to publicly accessible stories and lessons on the web in the form of interviews, blog posts, videos, etc. It is Creative Commons licensed, and I encourage people to copy it and remix it.

SVA IXD: If you could go back and cover one thing you didn’t have the chance to cover, what would it be? Why’d you leave it out?

GC: Just as much thought that goes into the design of an interaction (how someone uses your product) needs to go into the design of your team and the design of the business model. In fact, as our ability to wield technology becomes easier and easier, it’s in these areas that I think we will see the need for innovative solutions.

Luckily, everything you learn in solving an interaction design problem applies here as well, except instead of moving pixels around, you may be moving bodies around.

It’s also more a process of aligning the interests of all of the actors in the system and less about optimizing sheep through a funnel.

Ultimately, you need to have a clear understanding of what your values, beliefs, and fundamental principles are, and that’s not really something that can be taught.  But through the stories shared in the readings and from our guest speakers, I’m hopeful that this came through.


seven questions for gary chou 1


Photo credit for Freddie Wong, left, Wikimedia, and for Gary Chou, right, CAAMedia

SVA IXD: Which actor would play you in the movie about your class?

GC: Either Randall Park (check out Ikea Heights!) or Freddie Wong.

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