Department of Art and Art History News

Alumni Spotlight: Adrian Parsons, BFA in Design, 2010

Wed. April 29, 2015

man in blue plaid shirt posting for portrait

Gloria Lee: It's been a long time! I will confess that I occasionally do check in on people via social media networks (yes, lame non-FB-embracer I am) and so I was really happy to learn of your move to New York and your design evolution these past five years. I last worked with you during your senior year, when you were working with both Donoho Designs and League of Technical Voters — both tech-oriented internships and rather radical for design students at the time.

How did your experience in the undergraduate program lead you to both those internships, and what relevancy does your experience as a student relate to your current position now?

Adrian Parsons: The program was really open to me following my curiosity and asking questions about the design of governments and constitutions. That investigation and research led me to discover the League of Technical Voters. I needed an internship to graduate, so I cold-emailed their founder and asked if they needed a designer. It was a slightly sneaky way to get involved in something I care about: "I'll make things pretty for you!" I ended up helping them create a coherent story about how they wanted the government to change — and I got to present it at SXSW, which was really cool!

One of my senior year projects involved designs for an iPhone app. The iPhone was really new at the time, but the design instructors were enthusiastic about integrating new technology and new kinds of interactions into our work. That project led me to working on an iPhone app at Donoho Design Group. When I moved to New York, the app we released at DDG served as a primary portfolio piece while I was job hunting.

One of the more useful things I learned as a student was how to work creatively with a group of people to solve a problem. I came out of school thinking everyone knew how to do this, but it's a rare and valuable skill. The critical thinking skills I developed and the ability to ask fundamental questions like: Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve? — are hugely important. In addition, the ability to see the possibilities in a situation — to look beyond the obvious and to question assumptions — is something I use every day. The mindset of embracing process over outcomes hasn't filtered into many communities and is one of the most important things I learned.

GL: Have there been any major changes or constants in your methods of practice over the years?

AP:
I've really expanded my technical expertise (most of my day is now spent writing code). I love the problem solving aspect of it but also the power that comes with being able to build digital services from end to end. The creative potentials are endless.

From a design perspective, the thing that has surprised me about the workflow in startups is speed. We deploy changes to Meetup.com multiple times a day. We can iterate incredibly quickly. The other surprise is data, and how it informs the design process. We have 20 million users at Meetup, and about 1 million visitors to the site every day. We do a ton of split testing (A/B testing), and our design decisions are informed by patterns we see in these millions of interactions. It also makes testing very low-risk. If you have a crazy hunch that something would work better a different way, you can deploy it as a test to a few thousand users, get immediate feedback in the form of behavior and data, and iterate on it until you've confirmed or denied your theory.

GL: It sounds like you have found a really interesting way to start a 'side-project' with Orbital Boot Camp. Can you tell me more about your project, and also why you choose to go with Orbital — what was appealing (and different) about this think-tank/accelerator (I know, they really aren't an accelerator in the commercialization sense)?

AP: Absolutely. We're not sure what to call it either. "Pre-accelerator" is somewhat accurate, but it's hard to pin down. I had heard of orbital through friends — but it was ultimately a blog post by Fred Wilson (co-founder of Union Square Ventures) that convinced me to apply.

Gary Chou, the founder of Orbital, is really well regarded in the tech community. He's friends with John Kolko of the Austin Center for Design and an advisor there. Gary teaches Entrepreneurial Design, an MFA course at SVA in New York. We share a lot of the same values, and his deep understanding of the intersection of design, technology, and entrepreneurship is compelling.

My project is called The Lazy Philanthropist, and its an easy way to donate regularly to nonprofits. I found myself wanting to donate regularly, but not knowing where to donate (and not wanting to do the research to find out). I also found the process of donating — especially in smaller amounts — unfulfilling. I assumed other people had the same desire, so I created a subscription donation service. I'm still developing it, but it's been a really fun project and I've learned a lot from it.

GL: Any advice you would give to the undergraduates in the Design program, and in particular to the seniors?

AP: I never thought I'd say this, but it's been incredibly valuable to work in the business world, especially the technology sector. Partially because the landscape is shifting so quickly, but partially because the values and the working methods of the sector are so smart. You can have a lot of positive effect on people's lives and still make money.

Overall, I've had a lot of success working with people who are smarter than me. When I say smarter, I don't necessarily mean raw intelligence, but smarter in a particular skill or category. One of my colleagues at Meetup has an uncanny ability to distill difficult technical details down to important and actionable facts for engineers and non-engineers alike. Some people are incredibly good at conducting user interviews, motivating teams of people, generating press coverage, etc.

As far as overall career advice, I think it's important to understand and utilize your networks (and to facilitate new ones). You have a built-in network with the Design program, which will help a lot when you graduate (in New York, UT Austin Design alumni meet about once a month). Additionally, I went to a lot of tech Meetups when I lived in Austin and after I moved to New York. People I met at those events are still good friends, and have had a huge impact on my career. More than that, though, I've been able to find "my people", the people who care about the same things I do and who deal with the same problems. My network is great for my career, but it's even better for my creative growth.

Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler present Sound Speed Marker

Tue. April 28, 2015

Two people in gallery space watching three panel film
Installation image courtesy of Ballroom Marfa

Teresa Hubbard, professor of photography, and Alexander Birchler present Sound Speed Marker at the Blaffer Art Museum. The exhibition will be on view May 29 – September 5, 2015.

Hubbard / Birchler discuss the exhibition as part of an interview in BOMB Magazine. The exhibition was reviewed in Art Forum and Art in America.

Sound Speed Marker was previously on view at:

Ballroom Marfa: February 14 – October 26, 2014

Irish Museum of Modern Art: November 28, 2014 – May 3, 2015

 

Alumna Rachel Simone Weil collaborates with Rhizome

Fri. April 24, 2015

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white overlapping hexagonal and cube shapes on green background

Founder of FEMICOM Museum, Rachel Simone Weil (MFA in Design, 2014) works with Rhizome to preserve work by Theresa Duncan. The project and work was featured in artnet news.

Sandra Fernandez presents work at Arte Giappone

Fri. April 24, 2015

white overlapping hexagonal and cube shapes on green background
 

Assistant Professor Sandra Fernandez presents work in an exhibition, Integrations, at Arte Giappone in Milan, Italy. The exhibition will be on view April 23 – May 8, 2015.

Assistant Professor Jeff Williams' exhibition is what is reviewed by Glasstire

Fri. April 24, 2015

metal sheet with green fuzz hanging on hallway wall
Photo: Sandy Carson

is what is, on view at The Courtyard Gallery through May 2, 2015, features work by Jeff Williams. The exhibition was recently reviewed by Glasstire.