Tag interconnectedness

advocating for a { liberal arts } education

Liberal Arts…*

I am returning today from my 5 year college reunion, and the weekend has left me nostalgic for the wonderful experience I had at my small liberal arts school. I am a biased advocate, not just for liberal arts but for small colleges in small college towns. My time at Colgate University reinvigorated my love of learning, and the small close-knit, isolated town in upstate New York was the perfect environment to cultivate focus, passion, and community.

IMG_6174As Patrick Awuah explains in his TEDGlobal talk How to educate leaders? Liberal arts — the liberal arts education instills

the ability to confront problems, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.

My coursework at Colgate prepared me to be a critical thinker and a strong writer. The community empowered us to ask questions that people weren’t asking, to learn with skepticism and a critical eye.

Interconnectedness...*

Another strength of liberal arts is that it emphasizes the interconnectedness of our world. As Liz Coleman talks about in A call to reinvent liberal arts education,

The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus, learning more and more about less and less; this, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things.

Coleman argues that the true liberal arts education is dying, but at the root of it should be social activism and a breadth perspective.

I love this idea because it relates to my recent post about rethinking passion. Rather than narrowing down to just one thing, the liberal arts education is well-rounded, mandating that learners take courses in many different departments. As an undergraduate Psychology major, I took courses in English Literature, Astronomy, Geography, Women’s Studies, Economics, Education, and Art History. I also fulfilled a core curriculum including a course about the Middle East and the class about the fallibility of memory that inspired my love of research – Science and the Malleability of the Mind.

Community…*

Best of all, as Alexandra Rice explains in her article Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Liberal Arts College, liberal arts schools create a more cohesive community among faculty and students. Small classes invite more discussion and – at least at my school – a lack of graduate students led to more research opportunities for undergraduates. By the time I was a senior in college, I was a lab manager with three years of research experience. I developed close relationships with my professors, who opened their homes to us for the occasional dinner and some of whom I still keep in touch with today…*

More pictures below. Isn’t my alma mater beautiful?

IMG_6209

Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing…*

 

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing...* | rethinked.org

Slide from Paddy Harrington’s Creative Morning Talk

 

“For me, if we talk about art and technology, I think that those are the two parts of design but the design is in fact the technology of art. And so what do we mean by that?  I personally think that this is the definition, it’s a working definition, it’s a fluid definition because in fact we are designers, we like to live in a fluid world, but this is really the synthesis of the definition of art and the definition of technology with a little thing added at the end: “Design is the application of scientific knowledge, creative skill, and imagination for practical purposes”, and the piece that I’ve added is, “in service of better outcomes”.  And so, for me, there’s sort of the technical side of this which is how we think, how we operate, how we produce things that we make as designers but the exciting part is when we focus it on something, when we actually give it a purpose. Because you can design anything but if you do it with purpose, then that’s when I think we start to get into something really interesting and that’s when we start to see a solution to all the questions and the challenges that we face today.”

Enjoy this insightful Creative Morning talk by Paddy Harrington, Executive Creative Director at Bruce Mau Design. Harrington highlights the cultural gap between art and technology, briefly outlining the history of the split and its effects on contemporary wicked problems. He then offers design as a critical factor for bridging the gap between art and technology to bring the two into a harmonious whole that contributes to more sustainable and human systems and experiences.

“To me, what design can offer, in the end, is this idea of holistic thinking. We don’t think in columns and rows. We think about first of all the entire spreadsheet, but also what’s beyond the edges of the spreadsheet and so for me, that’s the kind of key thing for us to focus on, is try to encourage more holistic thinking because when you do that you start to understand how things are interconnected and when we start to think about things in interconnected ways we realize that every action that we take has an impact somewhere else and we can start to consider the whole system.”

Harrington puts forth three big principles that we should focus on in attempting to apply the potential of design as a bridge for more holistic thinking and living:

START WITH DESIRE ~ I think this is a key dimension of design. Most processes, if you’re following a more logical, linear process—Where’s the insight? What’s the audience? What’s the key performance indicator? What’s all that sort of stuff—especially when you get in the business world, into sort of MBA educated process, it’s a very linear structured process that doesn’t have a whole lot of room for things like beauty, intuition, magic. What I think design should do is actually kind of bridge that gap and the first thing to do in that process is to start with the desire. So don’t start with the sort of local immediate thing around you, start with the vision of where you want to go. And that, I think, is most likely to get you to a better outcome because it sets the ambition at the outset and lets you build to that place in a way that gets rid of things like feasibility and viability—Will it work? Can we afford it?—those things, frankly, are sidetracks when you’re that early in the process and so the idea is to start with desire.” 

DESIGN THE EXPERIENCE ~ “I think that design often gets tripped up by thinking very locally about what is the physical object—what does it look like? What’s the shape? What’s the material?—all those sorts of things. When it gets really exciting is when we start to think about what’s the kind of start to finish and go further upstream and further downstream. And so, for example, working on a stadium we did in NY, we talked about the street to seat experience, so what is everything that the user, or the human being, experiences from the moment they are standing on the street with their ticket to the minute they’re sitting in their seat. And that’s a different way of thinking, it’s not a conventional way of thinking but it really leads you to different places because you’re actually considering all the facets.”

THINK BY DOING ~ “What this means really is that again, if we follow the linear model– we put strategy and then we go into some research and then we do design and design has kind of a point downstream—that’s a way of doing things and it’s not that it’s invalid; I’m not here to say that Microsoft Excel does not have a place, because it absolutely has a critical place, it keeps us organized. But what I’m saying is there’s an alternative way of thinking about things that’s a little more integrated. Thinking by doing means that you can actually develop strategy by producing design. And so by making tangible things, you’re actually able to accelerate the thinking and so when you sit down and design a logo or a building, a space, a website, anything, we, naturally as designers, tend to produce things to think through them and that’s a skill that we don’t recognize as being quite valuable. It’s actually a very rare thing in business for people to think that way. They tend to think in words first, try to get to a point where it makes sense and then build it out when we all know that you cannot build some things out with words, you have to draw it and that’s a really critical part of the process for us.”

{2012 / 06 Paddy Harrington from CreativeMornings/Toronto on Vimeo.}

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