November 3, 2009

A Recent Design Lecture, An Opportunity to Doing It Better

I recently lectured to a class at Harrington College of Design. The class dealt with “Design Issues” and was taught by Alma Hoffmann. I was referred to her by a mutual colleague, Jeffrey Jensen, who happens to also be a fan of Design Feast. After my poor presentation to a “Design Ecology” class at the Art Institute of Chicago, I had no inclination to do the “lecture thing.” But when the opportunity came to present to Alma’s class, it was a strong hint to reconcile my bloated overpass to the “Design Ecology” students.

Before, I aimed for broad coverage of topics, resulting in a thin lecture and diluted focus. This time, I strived for a compact set of topics that were essentially tips. Tips on being and staying creative; some about being and staying professional. Graphic designer Frank Chimero said, “Tips are easy. And shallow.” Frank’s absolutely right. This was why personal experience backed up each of my tips. The sole hierarchy dictating these tips was when I wrote them. Tips can drip a lot. They were kept to a handful such as these:
  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • Not engaging the web is stupid.
  • Defending your thinking is hard.
  • Referrals rule.
  • The cool people are those who build an audience
    and care about them.
  • Good designers write.
  • Honoring your spouse, parents and loved ones is more important than anything.
The format of tips enables a presentation. It proved to be in an ice-breaker in what to share in a lecture. Making them sound enlightened was an easy temptation. I gave into it, resisted, then backed out and honed in on ones that were worded in a straightforward way.

To supplement my presentation, I brought along one of my rare design books for show-and-tell. It never hurts to bring in presentation-props. In this case, the prop was Bauhaus teacher Herbert Bayer’s “World Geo-Graphic Atlas” published in 1956. The book’s wealth of information-design demonstration mesmerized the audience. Like the Q&A following the lecture, the object provided another Q&A in itself.

Afterwards, I solicited feedback directly from the audience. One student replied: “Personally I thought you did a great job. Thorough reinforcement of the concepts and practices you presented.” Alma expressed, “It was WONDERFUL!!!”

The only gripe dealt with my pace of delivering the presentation: “…you pushed right through your 10 tip title screens, was trying to keep notes and some of them just flashed before I could get them down.” Slowing down is hard once one gets into starting the presentation and talking it through. I’ll try to treat transitions as pauses in the next opportunity to speak to an audience who proved captivated this time.

Speaking of the audience, Alma’s class consisted of only two students. I assumed that there would be more. But I’m glad that this assumption was debunked. No matter the size of the audience, whether the members consist of two or two thousand, each deserves the presenter’s complete attention. One’s lecture, including the Q&As and props, is only a success when the audience is a success.

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