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7: Part one - An Underground Cohort of Design Professors, with Kody Dahl and Nick Morrison

Published 1/14/2015

On today's episode, I talk with Nick Morrison and Kody Dahl, both students about to graduate from the design BFA program at Georgia State University.

Kody and Nick are both incredibly hard-working folks who happen to also work at Whiteboard.

In part one, we start a discussion on formal design education.

The interview went quite a bit longer than we expected it to go, so I've decided to split the interview into two parts, which will both be released this week.

A big thanks to Nick and Kody! Follow them.


If you enjoyed this episode, please consider buying me some tea.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hello everyone and welcome to Developer Teaepisode 7. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, I'm your host and today we're going to be talking with Nick Morrison and Kody Dahl. Nick and Kody are finishing up their formal degrees in design. I'm really excited to talk with them about what formal education for design looks like. I think it's really important for Developer To be constantly in communication with designers because we collectively are the makers of whatever digital thing it is that we're creating. So it makes sense for us to know a little bit about each other's field and really I think that the definition of design encompasses what Nick and Kody do as well as what most of the listeners of this podcast do and that is, you know, it's not just coding and it's not just pushing pixels around. It's creating things that have compelling experiences and provide value to the people who are using them. So I'm really excited to talk with them. Nick and Kody both work at Whiteboard with me so we have personal relationship. In fact, they're actually staying at my house tonight. So I thought it was a really good opportunity to talk with two very smart individuals who are just about to get their degrees. So Nick and Kody, thanks so much for being on the show today. Thanks Jonathan. It's good to be drinking actual tea on Developer Tea. Yeah, I think we all have some variety of green tea. And I'm Nick and here. So thank you. You're welcome Nick. All right. So let's get started since the podcast is only meant to be about 10 minutes as you guys know. We might break this out into two sessions just depending on where the conversation goes. For listeners, this is really kind of an informal interview that we've set up. The guys actually don't know the questions. Honest to God. They don't. I didn't send that to them. And the reason for that is because I really, I think that people in interviews, oftentimes they kind of prepare and they have these little jab kind of quotes ready. But I wanted to kind of get the gut feeling from Nick and Kody. And if you listen to the podcast, you know that I'm a big fan of subjective things. And I think a lot of times if we are given these questions for interviews, we don't really have subjective responses. We have more calculated and thought out responses. So I wanted to make the responses more gut feeling from Kody and Nick. Don't get scared. Anything crazy. All right. So you're finishing up your degrees and design in a few months, right? How long is it? What is it? Five months? Five months left. Yeah. So how long is the program? It's about a two year program and we're in the fourth quarter now. Okay. So the final stretch. Cool. All right. So I know there's a lot of controversy these days around whether or not a formal education makes sense for designers, especially kind of in the age of communicate or the age of digital, like all the online classes you can take for free and treehouse and that kind of stuff. A lot of the people in the industry have a loud voice. But I figured that you guys would have a unique voice because you're just now getting done with your program. And a lot of the voices that we hear are coming from people who are hiring rather than people who are trying to get hired. And obviously you guys aren't trying to get hired. You work a whiteboard, but a lot of your friends are probably trying to get hired. And I think it'd be interesting to hear from your perspective about what they think about formal education and the value of formal education when it comes to design. And for the listeners for this podcast, when it comes to making digital stuff, like a lot of people I don't think understand the value of formal education. So you guys are just fresh out of this. And I'm really interested to hear two things. One, what do you think is the biggest value that this formal education gave you? And then the opposite, what do you think the worst part of formal education actually is? Because I know I've heard some horror stories about like how professors don't understand the digital age or they don't understand what's going on in the web world specifically with a lot of design schools. We hear a lot of, I hear a lot of designers coming out and saying like their professors are out of touch with specifically like the internet, which is a big thing to be out of touch with. So you guys can answer that. You want to take it? Well, I can start by saying that my favorite part and most valuable thing to me in the program was just being able to network with the professors who have like years and years of experience in the industry. And I think that's something that's really important and a lot you can take from them and what they've learned just like putting in the time and gaining experience at like really high, like really good companies like we had a professor who worked at CNN and we've had professors who work for NBC and they travel the world doing all sorts of really interesting stuff. But as far as the thing that is the worst about the formal education that we've received so far is like you said, the out of touch aspect of like not teaching a lot of digital things. So there's no formal education on app development in our program or web design. So there's really a more focus on print and traditional design than what is new like digital stuff. And I know Kody has a lot of opinions on that too. I'm having worked at Lightboard even longer than me and being more immersed in it I think. Yeah, I'd like to I'd like to hear it because it's really interesting to me because it seems like it's so overwhelmingly obvious right that like designers should be doing digital stuff you know. And there's still this massive cohort I guess of like underground design professors who think that print is going to like rise up and kill the internet or something. Maybe this is just crazy of me to think that there's like it's almost like a conspiracy. I don't know. It's the same way that I feel about how much Spanish I had to learn. So when I was in college I literally had almost enough Spanish for like a minor and that was necessary for all communication degrees. I didn't understand it. I had zero computer classes in my undergrad but I had like 15 Spanish classes for ridiculous. You're fluent in Spanish right? And I use it every day. And no offense to anybody who's getting a Spanish degree but ultimately I just there was very little value in that other than maybe things that I don't understand like subconscious value maybe where I'm learning about language it like programming languages maybe my learning Spanish helps me learn programming languages in some weird way. I mean I mean I really really have appreciated a lot of the experience that our professors bring to the table but there is definitely like this underlying assumption I feel like of I don't feel like I think they ride a little bit on this notion that if you teach the concept like your students will figure out how to apply it in all sorts of different contexts I guess. So they kind of teach in the places that they're most comfortable and don't really bother to push past that in a lot of cases. I mean obviously they're you know hardworking intellectual challenged by modernity professors all over the place. And you honestly study under a couple of them but I feel like there's almost this understanding that or this throw people in and hope that they swim when they graduate mentality. So I guess probably the most valuable component of this for me has been the concept that they've taught. That is honestly a valuable piece of formal education to have to throw your work up at the wall and have someone tell you well this works or it doesn't and here's why without any real consequences. When you say concept are you referring to like theory or you're referring to like being able to look at a design and know what's good in it and what's bad in it based on some objective or something like that. I'd say more of the latter yeah like more of a you know whether your strategy applies well whether you've articulated it well visually. Sure. And honestly that's a that is a really really really valuable thing and I see a lot of designers who didn't have that and you can tell. Sure. Like they they have really solid technical skills or they're fantastic illustrators but they don't really know why they're doing what they're doing. Yeah. And that's something that I consistently see a lot of people coming out of formal education understanding. So that's what I would say would be a really valuable component of it. And on that point we've had a lot of experience with real world projects and real world clients through the program that we've gained through the connections that the professors had. So that really helps with the whole concept thing because we're able to take a real world problem and solve it using design and then get directly direct feedback from either the actual client or our fellow students and professors. And so it really helps shape how you tackle a project and how you interact with clients too. And a freelancer might not get starting out is like direct client interaction and how you're supposed to act in a client meeting and how you present your work. And that really goes a long way to showing your designs is knowing how to show them in their best light and how to sell yourself and sell your designs to a client. So I think that's something that you don't get on your own or it's harder to get on your own. You have to sort of build up through that but the program sort of throws it at you and you learn as you go along. Thanks so much for listening to the first part of the interview with Kody and Nick. I hope you enjoyed it and we're going to have the second part of the interview in the next episode. We'll call it part two of episode seven. I want to keep these as short as possible but there's just so much good content. I didn't want to let any of it go to waste. If you have any questions or comments, you can get at me at at Developer Teaon Twitter or developertea@gmail.com. Until next time, enjoy your tea.