Crowdfunding Design Education

This Soapbox has come and gone!

  • Jared Spool, Founder UIE

We hope to see you at the next Soapbox. We'll update this page soon with interesting tidbits about the event plus the podcast!

About Jared Spool

The 1906 earthquake and the fire that followed left San Francisco in rubble and ash. But there wasn't many tradespeople who could immediately work on rebuilding the city. So schools formed to train those people. A similar demand, sans the earthquake, is needed in design, urged Jared Spool at a special evening edition of Soapbox.

Jared told us about his vision, evolution and creation of his new school, the Center Centre, which trains design students as if they were part of a working agency rather than in traditional academia.

grayscale photo of Jared Spool

Listen to the Jared's Podcast

iTunes RSS

Too Many Design Grad Need Training

Jared said traditional academia has two important gaps in how they prepare students for work. First, Jared and his Unicorn Institute partner Leslie Jensen-Inman found a huge demand for designers — but there aren’t enough designers graduating. On the order of 500 graduates vs. 24,000 job openings.

Second, hiring managers told them that designers they met didn’t have relevant skills — they were missing key skills to start and be productive. IBM, Jared said, set up its own school to train graduates on practical design in real-world environments.

The accredidation process is part of the cause. The organization that approves curriculum takes at least three years to process new courses, meaning everything taught is at least three years behind — sometimes more. Contemporary issues in responsive typography, images and workflow are still years from entering the scholastic realm.

Anything a school’s allowed to teach is at minimum three years old. … We’re just now seeing the first courses in responsive design.

Another problem, Jared said, is that schools’ structures, created a hundred years ago, was designed to produce more teachers, not practicians. At first, he elaborated, there weren’t enough teachers to cover subjects like writing, math and science. Schools were not designed for vocational studies or to produce tradespeople.

At any given time, students are working on three to five projects. They’re all due the same day because instructors need to grade projects at the same time. That’s efficient for universities, perhaps, but it doesn’t reflect real-world situations.

In addition, the average school project lasts 20–30 semester hours. But in practice, 20–30 hours isn’t a lot of time in a 40+ hour work week. Students aren’t being prepared to last through a 80+ week project.

(In the real world) 20-30 hours gets you through Thursday.

Hiring managers find that graduates don’t know how to work on projects of “regular” length — or even “regular” eight-hour days — from 90-minute classes.

Project: Insanity

Jared said that he and Leslie came at the problem from different angles. People were asking Jared for help in finding designers, but unable to provide any names. Someone suggested he solve the problem by starting a school. Crazy as it sounded at the time, he called it “Project: Insanity.” But the more people he talked to, the more the idea grew.

I was hoping that someone would be a really good friend, take me aside, and say, ‘do not do this project — it’s insane.’ What I learned from talking to dozens of people … is I have no good friends.

Everyone he talked to insisted that it was a good idea, including visual designer Dan Ruben, who introduced Jared to Leslie. Within days of that conversation, Jared read a tweet from Leslie that she was leaving her job at the University of Chattanooga, and looking for projects to pursue. It became clear that her ideas for an industry-based web curriculum matched Jared’s ideas on how to produce product designers ready to enter the workforce. Bingo! Over the next eight months the two compared notes, developed their ideas, and —  as Jared put it — tried to talk each other out of what he called “Project: Insanity.”

He and Leslie knew that contact hours were key to traditional education. Contact hours are the “Higgs-Boson particles of education,” Jared said. No one knows how they work, exactly, but they seem to be everywhere. He discovered that they were originally designed to calculate how much pension teachers should get upon retirement.

Their program would offer 1,750 contact hours as mandated by the state of Tennessee. Meanwhile students take one course at a time for three weeks. Normal design schools, Jared said, give students three to five classes in a 13-week semester. Jared and Leslie’s school “inverted” that pattern. Each class lasts eight hours per day for three weeks — about 120 hours in total — and students take about 30 such courses in a two-year program.

Students, he said, don’t look to big corporations for jobs, but that’s where jobs are. For example:

  • GE wants to hire 400 designers “right now.”
  • IBM said they need 600 designers “this year.”

He and Leslie asked these companies and others exactly what they needed. The answer: Designers who know the latest techniques, who can begin working on day one. Hiring managers didn’t care about accreditation, so their school would not be accredited. This allowed them to avoid the three-year waiting period. And although that meant their credits couldn’t count towards Masters degrees, few students they talked to said that mattered. Students wanted the skills more than the degree.

The people we want to attract are those who want to learn design in order to get a great job.

So one of the school’s novel approaches would be to develop curriculum directly with hiring managers. If managers need designers who understand gesture-based interfaces, for example, then the school would change its curriculum to fit. In fact, Jared said, part of students’ curriculum remains intentionally undefined when they sign up in prospect of changing needs and technology.

But there are established tracks, including:

  • information architecture
  • interaction design
  • user research
  • information design
  • copywriting
  • design process management
  • editing and curation (which Jared described as “saying no to features”)
  • domains and analytics
  • social network design
  • HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, and MySQL
  • Critiquing and presenting
  • Sketching
  • And whatever technologies become relevant during their two years of studies

Kickstarting the Unicorn Institute

They used Kickstarter funding to develop the curriculum — a necessary step before they could ask for tuition. Jared said he’d been on “both sides” of Kickstarter projects: those that didn’t get funded until the last minute, and those that got funded early on. “Both of them suck,” Jared said, because it’s a matter of waiting and refreshing one’s browser all too often.

We told our friends, Kickstarter is the hipster word for begging. For the next 30 days, we are going to beg. You can shut us up if you and all your friends donate $1. We thought that would get us to our $21,000 goal.

To his amazement, they met their $21,000 goal in only three hours. “It was insane,” Jared said. He related how they had discussed stretch goals “next week.” But funding took off, and they scrambled to invent new goals before the first day was out. Eventually they raised $133,000, and this surprise boost in funding allowed them to bring in their faculty early; extra money they put towards scholarships.

Other hurdles took longer to overcome. To legally call one’s self a school in Tennessee and other states, one must receive authorization from a state program. In Tennessee, even advertising a school is illegal without proper authorization. Not wanting the exorbitant $1,000-per-day fee, Jared and Leslie patiently waited about nine months to earn the right credentials to adopt the school’s formal name: the Center Centre. It refers to the center of the design world and a place for people to congregate and discuss emerging design practices.

Meanwhile, knowing that “Project: Insanity” had poor marketing value, Jared and Leslie’s project came to be informally known as the Unicorn Institute — a play on turning “mythical” creatures into reality. Jared scribed buying “” as “the best $9 I ever spent.”

So Jared said they decided their school that would act almost like a real agency. To produce graduates who were ready to work upon graduation, the school would emphasize projects with real-world constraints with real stakeholders and end users. Design students’ grades would hinge on how well their work improved the lives of others. This was difficult, if not impossible, in an online school, so a hands-on, in-person, brick-and-mortar school was the obvious first step. Lectures alone wouldn’t cut it — students needed practice. Up to 75% of students’ time would be spent working on these projects.

Each team of six students would have their own room in which to work, a mini-headquarters within the school’s 7,200-square-foot facility.

They need to put their designs up on the wall. They need to be able to conduct user research. They need to have a place to leave their stuff, come back the next day, and it’s right where they left it. The space is dedicated to their project.

Unlike real jobs, however, the school would dedicate a full-time facilitator — a.k.a. “unicorn wranglers” — to work alongside each team of six on their work. The instructor would be able to “press the pause button” on their project and discuss how, say, a recent lecture directly applies to the students’ work.

These teaching moments within a project gives everyone a moment to reflect upon what’s happening, what needs to improve, and what’s working well.

Jared believes that these ideas and others will help their school to produce up to 500 students per year, each ready and eager to start working on their first day of employment.

The Center Centre has been officially authorized by the State of Tennessee to give students diplomas in UX Design & Technology.

The state wanted the ‘and Technology’ for some reason, I don’t know why. And we said, sure.

But the real benefit of graduation would be students’ portfolios of real projects, and the ability to discuss each project as they would in a real-world environment. That, Jared said, is what hiring managers really want to see.

Our discussion with Jared continued with questions from the audience. We'd like to thank him for sitting down with us and to those who attended the event.

Don't Miss Out on Our Next Soapbox


Ryan: Well, welcome to our first evening edition, a special evening edition, of ZURBsoapbox. Jared Spool has been practicing usability before there was even a term to describe it. He is now a master educator in the field, spearheading user interface engineering. Now he is teamed with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman to meet a gap in design education. They Kickstarted their idea for a brick-and-mortar university to help prepare designers to be industry-ready. So far, they've raised over $130,000. We want to get into all that, but please give a warm welcome to Jared Spool. Thank you very much, Jared, for joining us, all the way down here in Campbell, California.

Jared: Thank you.

Ryan: I know you've come from back East, so I appreciate you coming out here.

Jared: Yeah, yeah, it was 14 degrees Fahrenheit when we got up this morning, so when they said it was 70 degrees when we got off the plane, it was like, "Wow. I didn't know numbers went that high."

Ryan: Awesome! Well, glad to have you here in California and here in ZURB HQ. I just want to dive right in. You and I have chatted about the design education-gap, and you told me there were basically two gaps in traditional academia. Could you elaborate more on that and what that gap is, and why it is important to meet this gap?

Jared: You could think of the world as being two big problems that we are seeing with academia. The first is when we, Leslie and I, started working on the school, which was more than two years ago at this point, what we found was that there was this problem with there being this huge demand for designers. Right now, in the Bay, companies are going to extravagant lengths to get designers, they just buy up design firms because they want the designers in them, and that's happening across the US.
So there is this issue that there's just not enough designers being put into the world fast enough. If you look at all the design schools in the US, they are going to graduate this year less than 500 students, and there are more than 24,000 open design positions. So, even if every single one of those students was an awesome designer . . . Could someone get that? Tell them I'll take a large with anchovies. Forgot what I said. Oh yeah. If all of those folks, it would just basically make a small dent in the demand for designers. That's the first problem.
The second problem is that the hiring managers are telling us that the students that they see don't have the right skills, that they are missing key skills to be good enough to start in the jobs and be productive. This has gotten so bad that companies like IBM have actually set up a school. So IBM has a school in Austin, Texas that takes designers that graduate from design school and for six months trains them on how to do design in companies, in particular in IBM, because they cannot get students out of school who can actually function in IBM as productive designers. So, it's those two problems that are really causing us to sit back and say, "We need to look and solve this."

Ryan: And what is it that academia is actually producing? Because I know that when I did Journalism in my undergrad, I went out to work in a real newsroom, and found out that everything that I was learning was 10 years old.

Jared: Yes! And part of that is the accreditation process. To be an accredited school means that there is an organization that approves the curriculum of what you're teaching. That approval process takes a minimum of three years. That means that anything the school is allowed to teach is, at a minimum, three years old. That means, for instance, we are just now seeing the first courses in responsive design, because it has finally gotten to the three-year-old point. And anything new, like responsive typography or images, anything about workflow, all of that stuff, there are no courses on that because the accreditation process really stops you from putting that out. So we need to rethink that process, so that's one piece.
The other problem is that schools are structured in this format that was created more than a hundred years ago, not to create practitioners, but to create teachers. When the modern university was first constructed, it was constructed in a society where we did not have enough people to teach reading and writing and math and science and all those things. The original program was to teach people who could teach, and academic courses are basically about preparing you to be a teacher or professor. So there is a lot of rigor, there is a lot of history, there is a lot of provenance, there are all of these important things, but they are important if you are going to be teaching. The schools have never been designed for vocational studies, for actually teaching a trade or craft.

Ryan: So it's almost like too much theory and not enough pragmatic practice.

Jared: Yeah. Understanding theory is critical, but the problem is that most of us spend most of our days not working in the theoretical, but working in the actual and the actual work is craft. It's producing, it's actually taking something from concept through outcome, and that is not taught. The average design school has a 10 or 13 week semester. A student going to the design school will take three to five classes. Because design schools these days are very much project-based, every class will have projects. That means that at any given time, the students are working on between three and five projects. All of those projects are done exactly on the same day, they are all due on the same day.
The reason that they are all due on the same day is not because that is the way the school teaches students the right way, the reason they are all due on the same day is that's the day the professors have to have the grades in. So they are all due at the exact same time, which means you have students working on five separate projects that are all due at the same time. That's not real life for anybody. The average project in a traditional design school course, the student is expected to put in 20-30 hours to complete the project. Now, that seems like a lot because the course is probably 18-24 hours. So an additional 20-30 hours on top of 18-24, that seems like a lot of work. But think about real world projects; 18, 20-30 hours, gets you through Thursday, right? That's not a real world project.

Ryan: Or tomorrow here at ZURB.

Jared: Yeah, right. Oh my God. You're hiring, right? So it doesn't get you through a full week. Real projects go on for 12, 16, 70, 80 weeks, a hundred weeks, right? Students don't learn to work on something for a hundred weeks. So the problem that the hiring managers have is that these students come out of school, they don't know how to work on a long project. In fact, they don't even know how to work in a long day because the way schools are set up, it's a conditioning process. You are conditioned to learn that if you can sit still for a 90-minute class, you can go play Frisbee, right? "Sit still, go play Frisbee, then come back, sit still, and then go play Frisbee." That's how schools are set up. The students don't learn to sit for an entire day. They don't learn to work on a continuous project for an entire day. So the hiring managers are telling us that they are really struggling at finding people who can really do the job in the context of work.

Ryan: Right. And it's also because in the school setting you get out and you don't know how to prioritize and manage your work load and kind of force yourself into a time box, because everyone else is forcing the time box on you.

Jared: Exactly.

Ryan: You don't have this kind of rhythm to how the work day should unfold.

Jared: You don't know how to plan the project; you don't know how to work. The collaborative projects that you do in school tend to be this sort of surface collaboration. When you're working on five projects simultaneously and they're all due on exactly the same day, and you can put in at-most 30 hours on one or 25 hours, how much beyond just the surface level are you going to do?
The other thing is that a lot of the projects that are assigned in school don't represent real world projects. They are what we call "Greenfield Projects" they have all of the constraints removed. And the main reason they have all the constraints removed is not because design is best learned when there are no constraints, in fact exactly the opposite, design works best when you have lots of constraints. The reason they remove all the constraints is because it is easier for the professor to grade, right? So there are all these things built in that make it easier for the school to graduate the student, which is actually not producing the quality of students that the industry needs because the schools were never set up for industry. They were set up to produce professors.

Ryan: Right. In that, you kind of mentioned that there were these two confluences of ideas there. What was the spark where you and Leslie said, "Something has got to be done about this? What are we doing to do this?"

Jared: Yeah. So Leslie and I came at this from completely different angles. I was dealing with the problem that we were not producing enough designers, because I get phone calls and emails almost every day saying, "Please help me find a designer."

Ryan: We get the same calls.

Jared: Yeah and I'm just like, "Take a number, and get in the back of the line. I don't have designers for you." So I was sitting just trying to figure out what to do about this and I was whining about the fact that there weren't any schools that were producing designers in a volume that were big enough to sort of serve this need. So I was actually whining about it to Molly Holzschlag, who was actually one of the first people to really sort of take standards, HTML full force, and she was behind the HTML 5 stuff and CSS and has written like 30 books. She is an amazing woman. She just looked at me and she says, "You have to start a school." and I'm like, "That's crazy. You're insane," and she says, "That may be true, but you have to start a school." So I just thought that was an insane idea.
So the original project that I created was called Project Insanity because I thought it was an insane idea. And the whole reason that I named it Project Insanity was, my thinking was, that I would go and talk to my closest friends and tell them that I have this idea which I think is completely insane and I was really hoping that one of them would be a truly good friend and take me aside and say, "Whatever you do, do not do this project. It's insane."
What I learned after talking to dozens and dozens of these people is that I have no good friends because everybody said, "You have to do this project. You need to do this." And I was like, "That's insane." One of them was a guy named Dan Rubin. Dan is a visual designer and again, been in the business forever, he was the creative director for; he has just done amazing things. And Dan said, "Have you talked to Leslie?" I knew Leslie, I had worked with her on some committees around WaSP, the web standards project, and some other things and I said, "No" and he said, "You need to talk to Leslie." and so I was like, "Okay."
Like a day later, Leslie tweets that she had just given notice at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga where she was a professor and she didn't know what she was doing next, and I sent her a DM that said, "We have to talk," and that was like 30 seconds after she posted her tweet. And we talked, and it turned out that while she was at UTC, she was a professor teaching web design, she was also getting her EDD, which is the education equivalent of a PhD and her thesis was on creating an industry-based web curriculum.
So we started talking and it turns out that my ideas for what I thought the right school for the industry would be were the same ideas she had coming out of her thesis and her work, and she had done all this work and we matched up one hundred percent. That's how we sort of started this project together, it just seemed like a perfect fit, and we worked for about 8 months just comparing notes and talking to people and trying to talk each other out of this thing.

Ryan: You were trying to be good friends to each other.

Jared: Yeah. Then finally I said, "Okay, we got to put some money behind this." I found some money and we put it in and we made a job for her out of it and we've been going ever since.

Ryan: And from that, getting Leslie onboard, you guys went to Kickstarter for some of the beginnings of the funding here.

Jared: So parts of it that we had already started funding but what we needed to do . . . So the way the curriculum works is we have inverted the standard design school. Whereas in a standard design school you take semester-long classes, 13-week classes, and you do three to five of them at a time, and then you have winter break, and then you do another three to five classes that may or may not be related to the previous ones, and you have professors for each class, and the professors don't talk to each other, so there is no coordination in the material for one class to the next. Not all schools are like this, but most of them sort of fall into this pattern.
We decided to invert that. So the way we came up with this is, it is a two year long program, it's a bricks-and-mortar program, it's going to be housed in Chattanooga, Tennessee and each class is three weeks long, 8 hour a day for three weeks. So each class is actually 120 hours. So when you start to work in education, one of the things I learned, which I did not know until I started this project, was at the center of education is this thing called the contact hour. The contact hours are the Higgs boson particle of education. They are these things that have to be everywhere but nobody knows how they work or why they are there.
It turns out they were originally created to calculate how much pension a teacher should get when they retire and everything is geared around contact hours. So we take the idea of contact hours and turn them on their side, so our program offers 750 contact hours as certified by the State of Tennessee and the students will work for in essence 120 hours on a course, and they only take one course at a time for three weeks, and there are 30 of them in a two-year period.
So the Kickstarter was basically created to design each of those 30 courses, it was to fund the curriculum because we have to have all of that done before we actually open school and we can't charge tuition until we have the curriculum done, so we used the Kickstarter money to do that. It wasn't a lot of money. We have other funding, so we decided to just make it a small goal of $21,000 and we met it in three hours.

Ryan: Wow.

Jared: And we ended up raising 133,000 which is 600% higher than our goal, and it was really funny because we are 6 hours in and people are like, "Okay, should I donate? Do you need any more money? Do you have stretch-goals?" and like it's only 6 hours we have not been doing this for an entire day yet. We had had a meeting and we said we should have stretch goals and said "Yeah, we will do that next week," and like no . . .

Ryan: You got to do it now.

Jared: Three hours in. It was just insane how quick this thing kicked in. Part of it came in because we got a big donation right up front from MailChimp who has been a big supporter of the program. They have told us they really want to support it. We've gotten some other huge corporate support which is really nice. But yeah, the Kickstarter was there, so our stretch goal was, if we got enough money, we could bring our full time faculty onboard earlier to help with the curriculum development and that would allow us to open school in September, and we made that stretch goal, and that was at 122,000 and then once we got to that, we declared that everything we raised after that was going to scholarships. So we ended up getting another $20,000. I guess 112,000 was what we shot for the stretch goal, so it was another $20,000 on top of that that we now have for scholarship money for the students.

Ryan: Cool, in the first few hours I haven't seen anything, something that quick on a Kickstarter.

Jared: No, it was insane. So we had all these emails that we had written that we were going to send to all our friends that basically said, "So, I know you have been a friend of a Kickstarter funder before. So here's how Kickstarter works. Kickstarter is the hipster word for begging. So for the next 30 days, we are going beg, from you. It's basically just hipster bake sale, so we are going to beg, and you can shut us up if you donate a dollar. That's all we ask for. If you donate a dollar, and get all your friends to donate a dollar, we'll shut up that much sooner."
And we thought that would get us to our 21 grand two weeks in and then three hours later, it was like, "I haven't even sent the email. What am I going to do? Oh, what am I going to do?" Kickstarter, I have been on both sides of Kickstarter, ones that didn't look like they were going to get funded until the very last minute and ones that get funded very far up front, and both of them suck. It is a miserable experience to do a Kickstarter project because all you can do for an entire month is "refresh, refresh, refresh" I think I wore out a whole portion of my screen. Because that is how Kickstarter works, "refresh, refresh, damn it. Why didn't someone donate since the last refresh? Damn it."

Ryan: It's like constantly waiting for that update. Give the next shot.

Jared: It's like when the Kickstarter ends I'm like, "What am I going to do with my day? I don't know what I'm supposed to do now; I just cut out all that refreshing." I think for a day and a half I just kept refreshing just to see if it would change.

Ryan: It's like you just came out of a university design program and you don't know what to do with yourself.

Jared: It is, it is, it is just like that.

Ryan: So with the Kickstarter, you're using that money to help build this curriculum and get a staff. What is it, the curriculum you and Leslie are building? You guys are building it from the ground up. What is the novel approach there that you're taking, and how does a designer achieve mastery in your program?

Jared: So one of the things that are novel about it is that it's a generalist curriculum, so it is a UX designer, what we call an industry-ready UX designer. So it is designed with partner companies that are basically the companies that are looking to hire all the designers. So GE has told us that they will hire every designer that we can produce, Disney has basically told us the same thing, and Marriott is very interested.
We decided pretty early on that we were really going to focus on companies that are really struggling at hiring designers out of school because everybody is struggling to hire designers, but the students are going to the Facebooks, the Googles, and the startups in the valley. They're not looking at Sears Holding or Bloomberg or the New York Times or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They're not looking at these organizations. So we went to those organizations because they really want designers.
GE wants to hire 400 designers right now; IBM has open positions for another 600 or so designers for this year. So we went to them to find out, "Well, what would you need? What is it you want?" and part of it is they want designers who have the latest techniques, that aren't constrained in their studies because of the accreditation problem. So we are going completely unaccredited. When we talked to the hiring managers, they told us that they didn't care about accreditation. Now that means that students who come to our program may not be able to take the credits from our program and put it towards, let's say a Master's Degree.
But when we talk to potential students, and we talk to the hiring managers and it didn't seem to be a worry that anybody had. The people who we want to attract are people who want to learn design in order to get a great job, and the hiring companies want to give these people a great job. So the fact that those two years may not be applicable to a future Master's Degree, because the Master's Degrees are not aimed at getting you a better job, that doesn't seem to be an issue for a lot of folks. It will be for some, but I think the students that we are going to attract it's not going to be an issue.
So one of the first real novel things is that we are working directly with the hiring companies that tell us what the curriculum is they need. So if the curriculum over the next year evolves and they need things that is more gesture-based, that is more focused on responsive work-flows and dealing with designer-developer pairs, for example, pair design techniques, then that is what we will teach.
We have actually structured the course-work, and again this was really hard because we had to figure out how to do this in the universe that starts with the basic atom as a contact-hour, we designed the coursework so that part of the school was actually undefined. We can't tell you when you sign-up what the full curriculum you will study is because we have left as much as six months at the end to be filled in as we get closer to make sure that you have those latest skills.

Ryan: You're laying track as the train is approaching.

Jared: Exactly. It's a very Gumby Train model. Gosh, most people probably have no idea who Gumby is. I watched it when I was 5 years old. I watched the original program when I was 5 years old. Yes, it's very retro. But the idea is that that track is getting filled-in, three quarters of the curriculum, we know what it is. It's a UX design, so it's information architecture, interaction design, user research, visual design, information design, copywriting, design-process management, and what we call editing and curation, which is basically saying "no" to features. It's a fancy word for saying "no" to features. No more features, keep it simple.
So those are the basic skills, then on top of that we have layered domain knowledge and analytics and social network design, and we have put in some programming. Everybody is going to learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, some Ruby on Rails, understand how MVC, Model View Controller works, understand how to do some basic MySQL. The whole idea being they need to be able to prototype things very fast to get them up and running.
We have got some really important soft-skills: critique, facilitating, presenting, sketching, leadership. All of these things are core skills that the students will come out with, in addition to whatever the next thing is like responsive design or learning how to program for Glass or the subsequent, actual thing that Glass becomes or car-interfaces, or whatever it is that we need people to be able to do.

Ryan: Right. You have described that it's more kind of like a holistic approach. I think you've even . . . Unicorn Institute, right?

Jared: Yeah.

Ryan: The unicorn. We like call it ZURB the product design, right? The person [inaudible 00:29:03]

Jared: Yeah, so the Unicorn Institute is the research project that Leslie and I have been working on. So we realized that Project Insanity had real poor marketing value, so somebody said, "Well, you should just call it the Unicorn Institute," and we were like, "Okay, that sounds funny." So we did. We looked it up and sure enough was available for $9. Best $9 I've ever spent. I still can't believe it was available, and that became the research project that we did.
Part of that was, in order to call yourself a school in Tennessee, you have to go through authorization. Turns out you're supposed to do it in California, too, so a lot of these hack schools are not doing it and they're going to get in trouble. But in Tennessee, there is this organization called the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In California, it is called BPPE it's a Postsecondary Education authorization program, and in Tennessee, you aren't allowed to market or advertise that you have a school until you have been authorized by the state, which for us took 9 months. And the fine for marketing is a thousand dollars a day. So if you market when you are not authorized, you will be fined a thousand dollars a day and they will go back to the first moment you marketed and just send you a bill.

Ryan: Tally it up.

Jared: Yeah, so we decided we did not want to get the bill, so we just ran with Unicorn Institute until January 31st, when we got authorization. But the actual school name is Center Centre, which is That's the official name, Unicorn Institute. It's amusing that we call them unicorns now because I don't think five years from now, if we do our jobs right, they will still be unicorns.

Ryan: Or if we do our job right here at ZURB, right?

Jared: Yes, of course, you guys are going to do awesome too.

Ryan: That was just for Brian in the audience.

Jared: Unicorns are mythical, rare creatures. We don't think they are going to be mythical or rare. They're not really now, you can find them, but I think that going forward the name "unicorn" is not going to stand the test of time. We wanted a name that 10 or 15 years from now still made sense.

Ryan: I have to ask you because you sort of mentioned it a little bit while we were all having food, Center Centre the American then the British spelling, why that name?

Jared: So we chose the two names because we wanted to be talking about the center of design, the design world, the students that are coming out are sort of emerging from this hub, the sort of center of that. But when we imagined the school, when Leslie and I first thought about it, in order to keep the hiring companies, what we call the partner companies, involved we wanted to give them a reason to come to the school. So we wanted to make it a center that people would come to, so the sort of thinking of it as a place where people congregate to talk about design, to talk about how design is done, and a place where what is new and important in design is emerging, that was sort of the thinking behind the Center Centre name. We were fortunate that all four versions, all four possible combinations of URL were available, and we have them all.

Ryan: That's 9 bucks you spent, or 6 bucks?

Jared: That's 36 bucks, but yeah.

Ryan: That's a little pricier.

Jared: Yeah, it was, but we got it, so if you type it in wrong, you get Center Centre in different combinations it will get you to the same place.

Ryan: Very smart. And I have to ask you since you guys are doing a brick-and-mortar school. We have seen this resurgence of online, Treehouse, Codeacademy, etc., etc. Why is it important to be online? With us, we do both online and we also do it in-person? But you guys, you got like, a place.

Jared: This is a two-year program; this isn't a 10-week program. This isn't the course you take for 15 hours across a bunch of weekends; it is a two-year program, 1750 contact hours. We are looking to create people who, when they leave the program, they are ready to start work inside companies. They don't need another 6 months of training to be ready to start work. The only way we knew how to do that was in-person. The bulk of the work, 75 percent of the time, the students are working on projects. They are working on projects with real-world constraints that have real stakeholders and real end-users that are run almost like and agency in that the projects come into the school and the students do the design work and they work with a development team and the work is deployed and the grade they get is basically "Does that design make the people who use it's lives better than what they had before?" and they have to work with legacy systems and fix budgets and all the constraints that real-world projects have. We did not know how to do this, how to do collaborative project work in an online space.
Frankly, the more we get into the curriculum design, the more we realize how difficult it is going to be in a bricks-and-mortar environment, when we have all these hours to play with. We felt it was really important for us, if we were going to design this thing from the ground-up to get it really right in this bricks-and-mortar thing if we were going to move into online. Just firing up a chatroom and calling it a classroom is not working. It's not a thing.
At User Interface Engineering, my other company, we produce online webinars, what we call web seminars. We just launched a whole library of them, there is 120 of them, called "All you can learn" and you can sign up for that, get 30 days free, and if you like it, 23 bucks a month from that point. That's the online space, and we think that that's fine. But that's listening to an industry expert for 90 minutes tell you about responsive design or designing touch-friendly interfaces or creating great user research or all these different things, but that doesn't teach you the craft or the trade. You have to then go off and practice and create your own curriculum around that. We think that for the people we want to produce, we have to create a curriculum that includes the practice, includes the collaboration, and includes all that stuff. Because that is what the hiring managers are asking us for.

Ryan: So what you are trying to do, it sounds like, is you are trying to recreate the actual industry work in that environment. And I think you mentioned it when we were talking beforehand that the students will be broken up into teams and they would have their own war room.

Jared: Yeah, so the facilities that we have, we have for the first cohort, which we are hoping to start in September, we're pretty sure it'll start in September, we have 7,200 square feet which is about two thirds of what you guys have here. There will be 36 students in the class, and we are going to break them into teams of six and then each team of six will have their own room that they will do their project work in. They will have these long-term, three to five month projects that will come from our partner companies, they'll come from grant-funded community projects, and there will even be some projects that we, at the school, will create.
They'll work on those for three to five months, they will work with development teams, they'll have real stakeholders, and they need to put the designs up on the wall. They need to be able to conduct user research. They need to be able to have a place where they can leave their stuff and come back the next day, and it's right where they left it, and it is dedicated for that project.
Two thirds of their time is working on these long-term projects, and they are applying their classroom work to that. For that purpose, it is a work-day. It's 8:30 to 5, it's an 8-hour day, 40 hours per week. What's different between our work day and real work is we will have full-time instructors whose job it is to sit with the students and watch the projects happening and do things like press the pause button and say, "Okay, let's just talk about what we just did. We did this unit, we had Jason Santamaria come in and he talked about typography and now we are finally applying type to this work that we are doing. How did what Jason talked about . . . What were the lessons he brought in? Let's walk through his stuff, let's look at what we did. Did we do good? Did we produce crap? What is it that's happening here?" and have a teaching moment in the project lead by an instructor who is watching the project all along and then says, "Okay, you guys have it, you have mastered it" Hit "start" again and the project kicks-off and they keep moving again.
That ability to press the "pause" button and reflect on the studies, reflect on the interpersonal stuff that is going on, or the project management stuff, reflect on frustration that is happening within a design, reflect on the fact that they need to get a little bit more help with their CSS because they're not looking at this the way they should because they are just being sloppy in their code. All of those things, we can do in this space, because we have this nice, physical, two-year program. We have a centralized space and we can sit there and watch what is going on.

Ryan: So the instructors are there to kind of insert a feedback loop during the workday. Are they the lead of the project? Or are they outside the project?

Jared: No, they are project leaders, and this is going to be a hard role, so we just posted today the job description for the . . . We call these positions facilitators, that's the official name we got approved from the state, though very early on someone nicknamed them unicorn wranglers and that name sort of stuck. So if you go to the job listing, it says unicorn wrangler, but the official title, as approved by the state of Tennessee is facilitator.
The facilitator plays this really interesting . . . The job is very complex; it is unlike any sort of job in the design space. To some extent, they are unicorns in their own right in that we are going to have to find people who have multiple talents because they are going to be project-leaders, so we need somebody who is sort of project leader-creative director because we are intentionally creating junior designers. That's what the folks we talked to at the hiring companies, that's what they are missing the most.
A lot of these programs are trying to produce the next Jony Ives or Milton Glaser or Paula Shara [SP]. They are trying to produce these incredible high-end designers, and that is great. The world needs all these high-thinking, incredible designers. We are trying to produce all the people who are going to work for those people. Who are actually going to execute the projects, who are going to actually produce all the wire-frames, and get the prototypes done, and do the user research and conduct all the stuff. So we want to create all those people. We do not expect them coming in to have project management skills. That is something they will learn as they go, but someone needs to manage these projects.
So the facilitator, one of their roles is to manage the projects. It's to do that work. But it is also, they're monitoring every student's progress. Each facilitator has 12 students that they are paying attention to. They are monitoring each student as they are going through it and if someone is starting to fall behind, they can do something like, "Hey, let's brainstorm, what if we did some Treehouse? And you could go and study some CSS on Treehouse and catch up there. What if you read this book? Or what if we did a little one-on-one coaching? Or what if I take this other student who is really good at it and I make them a teaching assistant and I have them come and work with you and tutor you?"
So we can do that sort of mix-and-match stuff right there. They are also going to be working with the industry experts, the people coming in every three weeks to kick-off with a two-day workshop these courses and basically sit down and say, "Okay, here are the students. Here is where they are with their projects. Here are the things they need to hear from you." So all the industry experts will tailor their industry-grade workshops to what we are doing in the program and where the students are at that moment. And the facilitators are going to be monitoring the program and they are the ones who create the curriculum that we use in that last six-month period.
So they have to sort of pay attention to what's happening at the hiring companies, work with those partner companies, and coordinate with them to say, "Okay, what do we need to have in what we call the 'special studies section' of the program?" and they're going to do it. So these people have to have all these different skills and be able to think about all these different things. We have to find people who are good project leaders, they are really good at teaching, they are really good at identifying the skills that someone has and coming up with ideas on how to make those skills better. They have to come up with the rubrics for the assessments. There are all sorts of pieces of this they need to be involved in.
And they'll work as teams. There will be a team of three in each cohort and as we get going we are hoping that within five years we will have 12 to 15 cohorts running simultaneously. So all the cohorts will be collaborating and that will allow us to produce about 500 students per year, when we get to that point, and that is what we are shooting for.

Ryan: And about the students that are going to go through this program, and there is no accreditation, or [inaudible 00:44:58]?

Jared: Right.

Ryan: What is it like at the end? Do they still get certification?

Jared: So they get a diploma. We have been authorized by the state of Tennessee to give out a diploma in what we are calling UX Design and Technology. They wanted the "and technology" in there for some reason, I don't know why. We said, "Sure." So it is UX Design and Technology, they are happy that we are giving it that. They will get a diploma in that, but really what they are going to get is this portfolio that talks about the 30-plus projects that they will have worked on over the two years and because these are real-world projects that have real-world constraints, they will be able to talk to those projects in a way that someone who has been in industry three or four years can talk about their work.
That's what the hiring managers are really interested in seeing. They want to see them be able to talk to a portfolio. There are schools that produce portfolios, but the students can't talk to them. "So what was your . . . Well, I got an assignment, I did the work, I handed it in, I got an A." "Okay, so, did you try alternative designs?" "No." "What challenges did you run into?" "I didn't really run into any, I just did the assignment, I got an A." that's the level of conversation that students have with the program.

Ryan: They don't have any presentation skills. They can't back up their decisions. They can't speak to it.

Jared: Exactly! They can't say, "We went down this path, we thought this was brilliant, we put it in front of users and the users just barfed all over it, and then what the fuck do we do?" Right? That's what the hiring manager wants to hear. What did you do when the users told you, "This design will never work"? That's the interesting part of the project. How do you then move forward? How do you then create something that gets you the real experience of designing?
So those are the things that the facilitators are going to bring out. "Okay, we are at this moment, don't get discourage, let's talk about it. What other things could we do here? Let's brainstorm," and work the students through a process of both divergent and convergent thinking, being able to tackle big ideas, bring them together, try out, refine them, put together quick experiments, understand how to do things in a lean format and make it work.

Ryan: One last question, before I throw it out to the audience, because I'm pretty sure they have a ton of questions, especially this gentleman right here. Do you see this type of education as the future? What is going to happen, in your mind, to traditional academia?

Jared: I think traditional academia has a place. I think we need to teach teachers. I think we need to really push the theory. We have some theory about how design works. But for example, 15 years ago, if you talked in design school about emotion and design, they would sort of look at you and say, "Well, we build delightful interfaces, but you can't really measure that." Then, people like Daniel Kahneman come along and they teach us that, in fact, using behavioral economics techniques, we can in fact measure happiness. We can measure delight. We can start to look at how the brain functions when people are delighted and when they are happy and we can start to look at the bad decisions people make when they are unhappy or the good decisions they make when they aren't. And we can start to look at that theory, and now there is this body of knowledge that we did not have 15 years ago about how to measure emotion and how to actually create experiences that project emotion and that allow us to help people make better designs and more delightful. I think that theory has to keep being pushed, and I think academia is a perfect place to do research, to do studies, to think about that type of work.
At the same time, I think there is going to be resurgence in vocational schools. One of the first vocational schools in the United States happened here, in San Francisco, right after the 1906 earthquake. The city was demolished by fires and the earthquake and needed to be rebuilt. There weren't enough people to rebuild the city here. So somebody said, "Well we are not going to be able to find these people someplace else. We need to train them." So this little building that is now down on Sutter Street called the Mechanics Library was founded as a place to teach people to be the mechanics to build buildings, to actually rebuild the city. And it was really the first vocational school in the US.
There has been a long history of vocational training, and after World War II, and during World War II, we needed people to deal with the rise in technology in the industrial age. We needed people to build airplane engines and repair air conditioning and be able to do construction work and do [inaudible 00:50:36]. So this whole slew of vocational training came out and it was really a golden era of vocational studies. There were secretarial schools, all sorts of great things. Then they have sort of taken this hit and become this place where scam artists live and all these other things because, "We promise you will get a great job if you come and sign up for school," which is why now all these states have these agencies that have to authorize this, because all the agencies are all about dealing with the scammers who are promising jobs that aren't there and promising that you're getting skills that you're really not getting to get a job.
So, in the last 20-30 years, vocational studies have taken this reputational hit as this thing that only the stupid people do, that it's for suckers, and they're all scam artists. I think that we are going to see resurgence in vocational studies, because what we are doing is teaching craft. We are teaching people to be able to do craft work. Fine grain, master craft work. That's what we need to do. And the best way to do that is through experience-based learning and the best sort of format for experience-based learning is a trade school, a vocational school.
I think these are going to take different formats. When we know more about how to do them online, I think that will really thrive. I think right now, there are lots of experiments, some of them are better than others. We are paying attention to everything that is going on there. I think a lot of these short-term programs, these "Pay $12,000 for seven weeks" programs are interesting, but in seven weeks you don't become a master designer. You get enough vocabulary to talk your way into it, but that is only going to get people so far and the hiring companies, they are not quite falling for that.
So we need something that's going to be there. So I think there is going to be lots of different shapes and sizes. Just like everything else in our field that has lots of different form and shape and sizes. There won't be one solution that fits everything; we are creating a particular type of program for a particular type of student that's going to produce a particular type of designer that is going to go to work for a particular type of company. It's a niche thing. But it is a huge niche so we are going for it.

Ryan: Going to fill the niche, as well as fill the gap.

Jared: Exactly.

Ryan: Very good. I would like to now open it up to the audience for any questions. Yes, sir.

Armando: Hi, my name is Armando. I am really inspired by everything you have been talking about. It's great to hear. I was interested in learning more. It looks like you guys are teaching hard skills and soft skills?

Jared: Yes.

Armando: Is that the two?

Jared: Yeah, we are teaching both hard skills and soft skills. We can't really separate them. We can't really do eight months of hard skills and then eight months of soft skills. You sort of learn them all together. So the way the curriculum is coming out, is we are going to do a unit on user research, which is a hard skill, going out and doing usability tests and going out and doing field studies, learning how to interview, doing all those things. Then we are going to do a class on critique. Being able to talk about the design in an affirmative, constructive way. Being able to receive critique. Being able to, in a room of people who may have never been introduced to decent critiques, actually bring them through the critique process so that it is a productive, affirmative, constructive process. That's a soft skill.
We are going to intermix it because something like critique, we want the students to practice it over and over again, so it is going to be taught very early. Here's the thing, there are a lot of programs that use critique. I have been doing some work recently studying architects coming out of architecture school and you talk to them and almost all of them say, "Yeah, we have had studio programs, we have learned critique, we have done critique." "So what was critique like for you?" "Well, the first year is hell. The second year is better because you can make the first year students' life hell. Then it just gets easier as you go."
One of the students said to me, "What it really is about, if you can master, early on, post-talk rationalization, you can learn how to succeed at critique." Post-talk rationalization basically means making up why I did it, after I did it. Rationalizing why I built it this way, because the professor is going to say, "Oh, why did you make it curve that way?" "Well, I needed to meet the design and . . . " You make something up, right? It wasn't ever a thought they had during the process, it's just something you made up. If it sounds good, you get through critique.
We are teaching students the wrong way to do critique. Critique is not about being able to explain yourself afterwards. Critique is about putting your design out there and getting feedback that lets you move the design forward towards the goals of the project. So teaching people to be able to do critique in that form, that is key but that is a soft skill. You don't get much softer than critique. Well, email writing. We are going to work on email writing. But yeah, that's it. Those are the soft skills. It's going to be both.

Armando: If I can ask another question in regards to that.

Ryan: Sure.

Armando: When you were talking to companies out there, was there like a balance between the different skills they were looking for, or I'm trying to figure out, were they really interested in soft skills? Are people already bringing the craft from their school work or whatever? Maybe they've done design work and they're really interested in doing that craft work. The soft skills, it seems to me, it's something that's really hard to learn because it's not really being taught anywhere. Did you get any information like that?

Jared: So the question is, when we were talking to hiring companies in our research, did they favor hard skills versus soft skills. And yes, absolutely. What they feel was missing the most right now are soft skills; that is the thing they were struggling with the most. The students were coming in with mastery with how to use Photoshop, they were mastering their HTML or CSS, or they were mastering the ability to design to a problem, but what they were missing, they were missing a whole variety of soft skills. So some of the soft skills were stuff like critique and being able to facilitate or present to peers, or being able to just sketch. If you don't come out of an MFA-based design program, if you come out of, like, CMU's engineering program, just basic sketching is something that folks can be lacking. So those are soft skills.
But there were also soft skills around collaboration, because group projects aren't really group projects. It's just dividing up the work and getting together on the last day to combine it and hoping it works together. So collaboration skills, there is a soft skill that involved going into a project where you don't understand the domain and asking questions until you understand the domain so you can actually come up with insights and designs that the people who have been working that domain for a while had never thought of. That's an important set of soft skills that aren't taught. You can teach those things. But in order to teach those things you have to have a lot of practice behind it.
Then there are just simple things like being able to sit in a meeting without looking like it is killing you. I can't tell you how many folks, hiring managers, say, "Yeah, they can't sit still. They don't know how to sit. And they just slump in the chair and they go 'ugh' through the meeting. Or they sit there with their phone, and it's just like 'there is a vice president in the room, you don't do that!' right?" Being able to write an email that is not a novel, but is just a short little email that asks a question and gets it out of the way, it doesn't give you the entire history of the project. There are all these soft skills that are just missing.
I had a guy from Disney say, "Jared, this is what you need to do. What I want you to do is, first week of school it's got to be like Army boot camp, you just got to rip them down to nothing and then build them back up piece by piece to make them the ultimate designer." Disney! Disney is so frustrated they are resorting to military tactics!

Ryan: While we recover from that one, next question please.

Woman: My question is, so students are [inaudible 01:00:33] from different backgrounds and college facilitators that you bring also will be adding different experiences that they're bringing. So have you figured out ways of how you're going to level the playing field so you kind of build a really positive collaborative culture?

Jared: So the question is that we have students coming from different backgrounds, we are going to have facilitators coming from different backgrounds. How do we level the playing field so that we can build something collaborative? I think the trick is you don't level the playing field. I think in the real world, playing fields aren't level. You've got people who are good at something, but they don't know anything about something else. You assess what they're capable of, then you let them work in their comfort zone, then you force them to work outside their comfort zone. So you take the people who are really good at something.
We think a lot of the folks who are going to come into the program are people who are trapped by the UX glass wall. The UX glass wall is this thing where you work for a company and you've been doing, say, visual design, or maybe you're an interaction designer, or maybe you're a user researcher, or copywriter, and you do that, and you're good at it. But you're really intrigued by doing other things, but because of where you work, you can't do those things. They have other people who do that, or they just don't do that work there and you keep saying, "Well, what if we did information architecture. I'd like to work on that." "Yeah, no, keep writing your copy; keep working on your user research." So there are these people.
Then they try to apply for jobs that are more broad and the people say, "You don't have experience in these other things." So they are sort of in this catch-22 where they can't get any experience where they are and they can't get jobs that would get them experience because they don't have the experience to get the jobs. We are aiming a lot of the admissions stuff at people who are in that situation. Those people are all going to have skills.
We think we are going to find folks who are reaching where they think they can get in print design and want to come into more interactive digital design. We are going to get folks who are good at visual, good at graphic communication but probably don't know anything about user research, probably don't know anything about interaction or information architecture. So we're going to bring them in.
That's why we have one facilitator for every 12 students. The goal was to constantly be assessing who is good at what and use the folks who are good at certain things to bring up the folks who are not doing so well.
Here is the deal; you don't really learn something until you teach it. It isn't until you have to stand in front of someone and actually explain it to them that you really learn the subject that you are talking about. So one way to get these folks that are really good at something to learn more about their thing is to have them teach it to someone else, and there will be people in the room to teach it to. We'll take advantage of their skills and their experience and let them get something even more out of it in those dimensions. I think this is going to work very well.

Ryan: Cool.

Man: I like that you were talking about real-world constraints, and one of the things I'd be interested in is how well you work in real-life situations. Great, you're the best designer ever, but you have engineers who can't execute on that design, or they'll LOE your design out the window.

Jared: Right. So the question is: how do we get real world constraints into the projects? The funny thing is the projects come with them. We don't have to do anything special. Let me explain how the projects work and I'll tell you the funny thing. The way the projects work is there are three sources for projects. One is what we call Grant Funded Community Projects, so one of the advantages to choosing Chattanooga, and there are a ton of advantages to choosing Chattanooga, but one of the advantages is that gas this week in Chattanooga is $2.74 per gallon. I can say that in California and everyone goes, "Ooh." Here is the other thing I can tell you, because I am in the Bay, you can get a two-bedroom house for under $50,000.

Ryan: What?

Jared: Yeah. Okay. So we need housing for our students, Chattanooga is a beautiful place for us to get housing for our students. So there are a lot of advantages for us to be there.
One of the advantages of being there is, it turns out, and Chattanooga has all of this old Coca-Cola money. Chattanooga was the place where the first bottling company for Coca-Cola. I didn't learn this until we started this project. But to this point Coca-Cola was basically just done at shops, right, at soda fountains. These three dudes in Chattanooga figured out the most important thing was how to get bubbles to stay in a bottle, and once they figured out how to get bubbles to stay in a bottle, they could sell soda in a bottle. So Chattanooga became the first Coca-Cola bottling plant. All the other bottling plants were basically licensing their patents. As a result, there is all this Coca-Cola money in Chattanooga and it is dying to be spent on things in Chattanooga. So we got support from these different foundations that basically sit on this money.
So imagine there is a women's shelter. The women's shelter has this problem, particularly this winter, where they have women and children coming into the shelter. These are people who often are coming in with only the clothes on their back. They need temporary clothing to get them through the next few weeks while they get resettled because their home situation is untenable. The shelter's current way of tracking the inventory of the clothing they have to supply to these folks is, they have a big closet and they open it up, and there are the clothes and they look inside and say, "Yeah, it looks like we have enough." But when they run out it, it takes six weeks in order to get a clothing drive set-up to get more clothing for, say, an 8-year-old girl. So we need more clothing that will fit a range of 8-year-old girls, how do we do that? It takes six weeks to do that. So they would like an inventory system that is going to predict that they are running low on clothing for a particular age-group and be able to issue a call to the various churches and things that do clothing drives to be able to start collecting that stuff up so that they don't run short during the particularly cold winter months.
So that is a project. The way it will work is one of the foundations will open up a grant; the women's shelter will apply and win the grant. The women's shelter will then keep a small amount of the money in order to make sure that the stakeholders can work the students in order to be able to do usability tests, or review designs, so students can actually come in to see how the shelter works. There will be some funding to provide for that. But the bulk of the funding will actually go to professional development team, and that professional development team will actually work with the students to actually develop the inventory system.
It's fixed money, there will be a fixed time schedule. So the students will have to work on fixed money and a fixed time schedule. They will work with real stakeholders, real users, real developers, fixed time, fixed money, that's an important project. That is an incredible set of skills. The stories that they are going to be able to tell when they are done with that project will be incredible.
That's one type of project. Another type of project comes from partner companies. One of the companies we have been talking to is actually not a company, it is a museum. It's the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They also have a giant database system; it's the database that contains all the artifacts that are stored in the museum. We talked to them about taking some project that was basically a back burner project. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I didn't know this, has 68 designers. It's a huge design team, and they can't get enough designers who come in, and they are very frustrated with the ones coming out of school, just like everyone else. They want students who can be able to actually work in the museum and get stuff done.
We said, "Okay, let's give them a project." We said, "Okay, well what is a project you guys just never get around to, you would love to do it, but you are never getting around, a back burner project. Probably not something that your patrons or your donors will ever see?" Oh, yeah. I know exactly the project. It's this database. It has every artifact the museum has ever collected, every fact about that artifact. It has all the information that the curators need to put on the exhibit, all the information the exhibit planners, who actually have to design the cases and how much space things are and what the temperature of the room is. All that stuff has to be there. It has everything the restorers use. It has everything the insurance company uses to appraise these artifacts. A lot of companies have old databases that store new things. This is actually a new database that stores old things.
Apparently, everybody at the museum uniformly hates this thing. It was designed by IT seven years ago. It has a horrible user-interface, they have been meaning to redesign it, but it's never bumped up to be the top project that they work on because they always have more important things to do. So they are like, "Well, let's slice off a piece. Maybe the piece that the exhibit planners use." We will give that to the students, and the students will come in, learn what exhibit planners do, they will figure out how to learn what somebody does within a domain they know nothing about, understand the key questions, they will create sketches, run them by them, they'll do usability tests, they'll do this and, if during this three to five month project, at the midpoint the museum likes what the students are doing, the deal is they will commit the IT resources to build some piece of what the students are working on.
So now they will get to work with the IT Department at the museum to build this thing out with all of this seedy, horrible underbelly of working with an IT Department in a major museum is like, right? So they are going to learn all of that part of it, and at the end they will have something to show, they will have learned how a museum works. They will have learned how that museum works and some of them will go, "Well, that was fun, I'd like to work for those guys," and that is what we are hoping will happen.
So here's the funny part. We are sitting in this meeting and I am explaining this to a group of hiring managers. They go, "Wouldn't it be cool if this was like a reality show? If it was like Survivor and you could just introduce things like the lead developer just quit, and what do you do now?" and Leslie and I look at each other and we go, "We are not going to have to design that at all! That is going to happen." This is real world. They are going to have to deal with it. That's the project. That's it. We don't have to create the constraints, the constraints are there. We just have to surface projects that have them and not strip them out so that it's easier for us to grade the work.

Ryan: All right.

Man: One question now, what's your proof to the companies that the designers are in fact juniors or rock star ready [inaudible 01:12:44]

Jared: What is our proof to the company that they are junior? Here's the deal, the companies are going to be involved with the program for the whole two years. In a lot of design programs, companies come in just at graduation time, or maybe at the capstone project and they watch what's going on at the last semester. They don't pay attention to the students' growth. They don't see the vector. But, more and more, smart hiring companies want to understand. They are less interested in a specific project that a potential candidate is working on; they are interested in, "what is the growth vector of that candidate? Where have they gone in their career?"
So a company that is good at hiring, particularly designers, wants to see how their projects progressed over time. So we are going to have the hiring companies evolve with the students from day one. Part of the enticement is that every three weeks we have these industry-experts coming in and teaching these industry-grade workshops. So the partner-companies can participate in those workshops. So they will be with the students, learning from these industry-experts, getting their own skills up on responsive design and typography and visual design and all this stuff. So they will be able to get their own folks there.
At the same time,

Learn from Past Influences