Note to design students.

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Image by Mark Skrobola

Professor Eppinger, one of the instructors of the Product Design and Development course I took at MIT asked us one day during my final semester of college to sketch a new concept that would bring new technologies and existing products together (we were given specific options, which were written on the board). Everyone – engineering, business and design students – took about five minutes to come up with something. He then asked us to show the class what we had just sketched via overhead projector.

Nearly everyone who ran up to the projector was an engineering or business student. The sketches were (from a designer’s point-of-view) poor and the ideas were vague, but they were confident about their concepts.

Very few of the design students went up to the projector. Why?

Most likely, it was because many of them didn’t feel like their ideas were presentable (along with the additional fear of public speaking). Design students spend an awful lot of time perfecting their work. The director of RISD’s Career Center even mentioned to me once that he sees lots of students perfecting their portfolio, but never really finishing it or taking a ridiculous amount of time to finally put it online. Designers prefer to show their work when it’s reached a certain stage, and five minutes isn’t that stage when there are seventy-five other people looking at it.

Therein lies a problem.

If you don’t present your idea because you don’t think it’s presentable enough, your AMAZING idea will be bypassed for someone else’s so-so idea, because they spoke first.

In school, you’re often given an assignment in school where you can thrash out ideas by yourself first before you discuss them with anyone. You then form a way to visualize your idea and you “present” it in the sense that you already know what ideas you’re offering before you speak. You make sure everything looks perfect. Sketches and models, are they stunning? Good.

Real life involves coming up with ideas on the spot and communicating your concepts effectively to people who might not understand exactly what you do. You can’t wait until midnight when everything starts clicking. You don’t have a lot of time to digest everything.

So what do you do? You have to practice thrashing your ideas out around other people, with other people. You have to accept that not everyone is a visual person. Some people are primarily verbal and understand through words alone, which is why they feel that powerful words alone can do the trick. You have to put yourself in situations that you might fear at first but will grow accustomed to with time. You’ve GOT TO SHIP YOUR IDEA, because everyone deserves to see what awesome things you have to offer.

I say this, because it’s true. Show your work. Show it loud. The real world is at your feet.

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Role Models of the Future

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Image by Steve Snodgrass

A couple of months ago, I heard Kipp Bradford talk about racism within the science field at TEDxProvidence. He spoke about how he grew to love science from an early age, how his teachers actually discouraged him from taking the science route as an African American child and the lessons he learned from this experience.

The truth it that it’s not simple, because there are few role models in the science field that African American children can look up to. Bradford mentioned that black football players are often portrayed as warriors on TV while black scientists are represented by …Steve Urkel (remember him?). Everyone wants to be the popular athlethe, not the geeky nerd. That is the stereotype that’s constantly being reinforced throughout the media.

When I went back to my elementary school yearbook, I counted how many kids said they wanted to be professional athletes vs scientists or engineers when they grew up. The ratio was 3:1. Despite all the math and science classes my elementary school actually offered, sports won.

I thought about this some more and well…it made a lot more sense than I thought. Sports can provide you with concrete goals, something to reach for whether it is a championship or best time. A win can grant you with an immediate happiness. If you are the best of the best, you get fame and money. The same cannot be said for a lot of jobs people hold as adults, even though those jobs may be of greater value to society as a whole.

But it doesn’t mean that we can’t show kids how important those jobs are to everyone. We need more role models, the type of role models Kipp Bradford had as a kid (astronauts, physicists), because they can show us what we can be.

The reason why people don’t think of themselves as a teacher, doctor or scientist is because no one like them has done it before. It’s so important for people to realize this. It’s why Obama’s presidency means so much to the African American community. It’s why Jeremy Lin means so much to us Asians. It’s why Lisa Randall, the first tenured female theoretical physicist at Havard and MIT, is so important.

We need people to continue to create paths that don’t exist yet, not just for themselves, but also for the community they represent. That’s how “impossible” becomes “maybe I can.”