Department of Art and Art History Design

Undergraduate Design Student Zach Beasley wins YouCanNow Award

Thu. July 30, 2015

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Undergraduate Design student Zachary Beasley received a 2014–2015 YouCanNow (YCN) Student Award. The YCN Student Awards recognizes "emerging creative excellence." Beasley's project was assigned in a course taught by Associate Professor of Design Kate Catterall. His project proposal responded to a creative brief that aimed to "get people visiting and talking about theguardian.com”.

Beasley described his process:

I started with a research phase in which I learned more about The Guardian newspaper, its US-based competitors, and the "young (under 40), progressive, multi-screen, highly social" audience that they wanted to attract. I examined different papers' tone of voice, choice of subject matter, and branding.

Then armed with a greater understanding of the brand and what they needed, I set about establishing criteria to guide my campaign proposal.

The creative brief explicitly stated that they envisioned the campaign as "a guerilla marketing campaign, one that can be executed for minimal budget, in several cities, and generates conversation."

My understanding of the brand and the brief, however, led me to the conclusion that "guerilla" was not exactly what they needed. Instead of focusing on the getting readers to visit, I decided to focus on increasing reader retention with my proposal rather than increasing traffic with a guerilla campaign. The campaign I developed is a plan to build relationships with young potential readers on a new channel (snapchat), direct them to content on theguardian.com, and then increase brand recognition and return readership with interaction branding on the website.

Beasley is designer, entrepreneur and student at The University of Texas at Austin. He focuses on design as a worldview and way of thinking rather than a profession; he is interested in the connections between design and other disciplines, particularly business. Much of his design process is framed as problem solving, and his work traverses and combines experience, visual, and product design disciplines.

Connect with Beasley on LinkedIn

Visit the YCN Award site to view the awards, winners and creative briefs.

Design Workshop Principal Steven Spears joins the American Society of Landscape Architects Council of Fellows

Wed. July 15, 2015

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Steven Spears (MFA in Design, 2009), Design Workshop Principal, was elevated to the American Society of Landscape Architects Council of Fellows.

Joel Weber's tiny house featured on Huffington Post

Thu. June 18, 2015

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Joel Weber (BFA candidate in Design) and his tiny house construction project has been featured on the Huffington Post.

Q+A with Shrankhla Narya, MFA candidate in Design

Thu. May 21, 2015

woman looking over her shoulder at camera with beach behind
Image courtesy of Shrankhla Narya.

Describe your design practice.

Shrankhla Narya: My practice as a designer is rooted in the belief that future designers will have to critically examine the theoretical, philosophical, and social aspects of design. My formal education in engineering, social science, and aesthetics has allowed me to develop an interdisciplinary approach towards design and examine its relationship with human needs and environments.

I believe that human-centered design, backed by in-depth research, can open doors for innovative solutions to real world problems.

What attracted you to the graduate Design program at UT Austin?

SN: The graduate Design program at UT Austin was an excellent mix of research and skills. I wanted to spend two years doing a course that would not only allow me to do studio work, but would also let me conduct research in areas that truly interested me. The program at UT Austin has been an excellent mix of making and thinking. The fact that we can take electives from any department makes it all the more valuable in terms of the variety of thoughts and experiences that we are exposed to.

What is your current research focus?

SN: My current research work seeks to investigate alternative narratives of technology use that are not driven by the prevailing consumerism of the privileged quarters of the world. I am beginning to streamline my research to investigate and suggest technological interventions for underprivileged people, currently focusing on day laborers in Austin.

Although I acknowledge that policy change and changes in the social structure are very likely the best methods of empowering marginalized communities — in the absence of enlightened legislation — I believe that technological interventions, deployed with an understanding of the social context, can support and complement this process of empowerment and inclusion.

Projects such as Krama and MissU and my ongoing research with day laborers in Austin can be taken as responses, in their own contexts and via their own perspectives, to the larger question “Who do we talk about when we talk about users?” Whether dealing with the most vulnerable sections of the society or engaging small and isolated communities to better understand the many dimensions of inclusion and exclusion, my work describes encounters with technology informed by different cultural, economic, political, and linguistic constraints.

What issues were you trying to solve in your Krama project?

SN: Krama is Sanskrit for progressing step by step towards a desired goal. This project is a speculative system for the future. Krama's aim is to build an alternate economy for the lower caste people (regarded as untouchables) in India by fostering upward mobility for them, both socially and economically. The lower caste people in India have faced extreme discrimination for centuries, and were denied access to public water wells, places of social gatherings, temples, and schools.

Krama creates 3D-printed DIY solar energy kits and portable water purification units for them and helps them learn how to produce resources for themselves, eventually leading to the possibility of an alternate economy for them to function in.

And MissU?

SN: MissU is an app that allows for communication through subtle visual cues displayed on physical objects around the receiver. The idea was born out of my need for long distance communication with my mom, where the time difference between our geographic locations and her lack of exposure to technology and English were the primary hindrances. The app communicates with the night lamp at the receiver’s end (who does not need a smart phone) through arduino and wireless shields.

In the future, we wish to develop 3D printed lamp shades with screens to display the icons and change color based on the sender’s mood.

How has your research or work developed over your time here so far and what are you looking forward to in the next year?

SN: My work has undergone some significant changes since the time I joined this program. I was a fresh chemical engineering graduate from India with no prior work experience. The past 10 months have been an excellent learning experience, along with a rigorous process of unlearning. I have found the area that interests me most, which is at the intersection of interaction design and social design. Arriving at a research area that one can commit to for a long period of their life is never easy, but I am glad that I have been able to find something that brings together my interest in technology and certain questions about our society that have troubled me for a long time.

I will be spending the next few months talking with day laborers in Austin and organizations that work with them. I hope to take my first significant step towards understanding a culture that is alien to me.

Interview with Brent Dixon (MFA in Design, 2015) as he prepares to begin work at the United Nations

Thu. May 28, 2015

fake hands coming from wall with wired gloves on with three screens in back
Image courtesy of the Visual Arts Center. Photo by: Sandy Carson.

Describe your background and what lead you to the MFA Design program at UT Austin.

Brent Dixon: I was a round, jowly, and gassy baby. When I was two years old my parents put me in a baby beauty pageant, and I won "Champion Chubby." As a kid I drew on everything and did science experiments in my room. One time I set my bed on fire by trying to electrify Nickelodeon Gak.

Fast forward: After finishing my undergrad in journalism, I co-founded a web and mobile design shop with a couple of friends. We always designed our first prototypes around a table with our clients, using markers, paper, tape, and hot glue before making something digital. From there I started working in consumer finance, eventually using some of the same design processes to help create financial products for people with limited access to credit. I also led design workshops for business people, and realized how much I enjoyed teaching. A friend and I started a group that organized pop-up hacker spaces for kids, which brought me back to hot glue and science experiments that set things on fire. I came to the UT Austin Design MFA program because I wanted more of that in my life. This program opens up the entire university as one giant playground.

In how to listen: 2015 Design MFA Thesis Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center, you displayed your educational work with children and focus on bringing technology into the classroom in an easy way for teachers. How did you begin working with this age group and thinking about education?

BD: One of the best ways to learn is to teach. I wanted to learn more about things that will have a big impact on our future — technologies like synthetic biology, robotics, digital fabrication —but that felt far outside of my realm of expertise. Designing hands-on workshops for kids provided a system to distill these big topics down to something learnable, fun, and usually messy.

Organizing the workshops helped me meet parents, teachers, and other people working in education. Austin, in particular, has this amazing community of people working to bring hands-on, curiosity-based learning into classrooms. I had actually avoided schools early in organizing these workshops because I was afraid of red tape, but spending time with educators who teach 6 year olds to solder and use power tools opened my eyes to the universe of smart, inspiring people as well as the huge amount of work to be done in formal education.

For the how to listen exhibition, each designer contributed sound clips for a compilation of influences on your projects. Can you tell us more about your selections? Number 41 (a first-grade girl scratches a turntable for the first time) and 58 (a third-grade girl describers her experiments and inventions) and particularly good.

BD: Number 41 was from a one-day workshop at Travis Heights Elementary. We had an extremely amazing of artists, scientists, and educators who volunteered their time to lead workshops with the kids. Three of those mentors were from Dub Academy, an Austin-based DJ and music production school. They taught kids at Travis Heights about new and old school DJ technology. That clip was from a little girl learning how to scratch a record for the first time.

Number 58 was a girl from Walnut Springs Elementary, one of the schools I worked with during my MFA research. In addition to the inventions she describes in the clip (which are amazing) she also helped write a grant to get the school a 3D printer. Later in the interview she encouraged other kids in Austin, saying that if they wanted something like a 3D printer or a community garden at their school: "Just write a grant! You can do it! It's easier than you think!" I was blown away by her.

You recently accepted a position with the U.N. What will you be doing and how did this opportunity come about?

I'll be working with a new group designed to help Secretariat organizations use emerging technologies to address challenges. A mutual friend introduced me to the head of the group and we've spent the last six months brainstorming and getting to know each other. I'm extremely excited to get started.

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