Making t-shaped people

“The product of design labs is designers.”
—Andrew Carle

I must admit, I found my conversations with Andrew Carle (@TieandJeans on twitter, and author of the TieandJeans blog) initially deeply discouraging. I mean, here was a guy who is runninga program similar to mine, but they’re building stuff, and my classes are not. Part of it is the difference in our training. I’m originally a philosopher and a Latinist and a teacher and a failed minister — and he’s a tried-and-true geek. He grew up in the age of BBSes and high nerd culture, with some practice building and making stuff, and learning to code, and I didn’t. It was hard not to believe, as we went to MakerFaire in Queens together, and I watched him navigate this community of makers and builders and creators, that my school had hired the wrong person to do this job of running the design lab. My bias is toward thought, not action. Andrew’s a deeply thoughtful guy, but he reflects of the learning after the action, not before.

But in the few deep conversations I had with other people, I realized that design is the bridge that joins the humanities and the sciences, and I think there’s a place for me here, between the teachers who say, “write this paper, this way”, and the teachers who say, “build is project… No, I have no idea. Figure it out.”

This “portfolio trade” game that I’ve developed has real potential to help both sides of the equation. Young makers in schools can build models and machinery and simulations of both the problems and the solutions, but humanities students and humanities teachers can help show how the solution is or isn’t human scaled. F. Buckminster Fuller said something like, I always consider many solutions in the course of finding an answer to a problem, but if my solution is not beautiful, I know it is the wrong one. (italicizes because I’m drinking bad coffee in a coffeehouse that is not my own, and has for-pay Internet, and so I can’t look up the exact quotation).

The goal of a design lab, as Andrew Carle says, is to create designers. And all the designers I know are what Dave Gray (@davegray on Twitter) calls t-shaped people: people who have deep knowledge in one subject area (the vertical of the T), and broad knowledge across many other subject areas (the crossbar at the top of the T). And real designers work with other t-shaped people to find solutions to big problems.

And that, I think I can help with.

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