In a recent meeting, my external examiner said that he could not see what is masterful about my Master’s project. This was a statement that I found to be quite painful to hear, especially as it was at odds with other appraisals of my work by my own tutors and my peers. During my reflections and conversations after the external examiner’s damming thought on my work, it was suggested to me that his statement may have been a challenge to explain and communicate the value of my work to him, a challenge that I may have simply failed to meet. It seems ironic that as a student who is studying the effective communication of information, in my meeting with my external examiner I may not have communicated effectively the nature of my Masters study.
My Masters study is wide and varied, with me looking at areas such as learning theory and practice, the role of new media in education and heritage, digital natives, Gamification, historical information relevant Vikings and illustration amongst others. It soon became apparent to me that it may be hard to see how all of the areas and theories I am investigating link together, I now understand how from the outside it may be hard to see the wood for the trees when looking at my Masters study, there is rather a lot going on but to me I can see the connections between the dots that maybe are not evident to those who are not directly involved.
There is of course another plausible explanation for what is going on, that are no connections and my perceived associative factors are part of my own delusion and I am in fact crazy? Hopefully by the end of this post I will be able to effectively communicate the nature of my Masters Investigation, highlighting the connections between the different relevant parts, and you will be able understand my Masters study or officially diagnose me as being a delusional.
Through my Masters investigation, I have been looking at the effective communication of educational information through new media digital devices and as an example of my investigation I am creating an Interactive App for the Ipad, to provide educational information about the Vikings.
Whenever I start a project or individual parts of projects, I find it very useful to create mind maps to try to expand and record my ideas and this may be a very useful way of showing the varied nature of my enquiry and its many investigational strands. See below:
These are just two of the mind maps I created and there are many more with differing strands of possible enquiry. Hopefully this helps enlighten those who may be struggling to see how everything fits into my project, but if not the rest of this post may also provide an insight into my thought processes within my professional practice.
Through my approach I can see how it could be argued that my study does not make me a master of my practice but it may make me a well-rounded jack of all trades.
Through a conversation with my peer Gareth Sleightholme, I reached a realisation that surprised me. There is a common theme to my master’s project that can be traced back to my B.A dissertation “Looking Towards the Principles of the Bauhaus as a Way to Improve the Relationship Between User, Designer and Digital Interface”. Although my dissertation was focused upon the design of digital interfaces, when opened up to include my practice and my own personal approach within it, there is a commonality that I had not been previously aware of.
In my 2011 thesis I explore different disciplines including Usability, Psychology, Human Computer Interaction, Cognition, Ergonomics and Aesthetics, in order to see how they can be brought together to inform the design process of digital interfaces. I draw on the example set by the Bauhaus in the early twentieth century:
“After the Werkbund period, an attempt to narrow the gap between the arts and crafts of the early twentieth century was made by Walter Gropius, a German architect who founded the Bauhaus; an art and crafts school that operated in Germany between 1919 and 1933. The Bauhaus originated a unique approach to bring together artists and craftsmen, to form a new breed of craftsman for a new time:” (Shakesby, 2011: p18)
Walter Gropius believed that narrowing the gap between what was known then as the arts and crafts would have a positive effect, on both sets of practices he saw how they could influence and enhance each other:
“Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!” (Gropius (1919), cited in Shakesby, 2011: p19)
In 2011, I saw the similarities between the divided practices that Gropius identified and the fractioned design practices that exist today:
“The arrogant barrier that Gropius mentions is similar to the divide between interface designers; those who follow particular design philosophies often have such confidence in their chosen viewpoint that it may obscure other possible theories. A joining of theories in order to create a utopian balance requires openness on all sides, to listen and learn from each other, in order to affect change.” (Shakesby, 2011: p19)
Gropius believed that by bringing the Arts and Crafts together to combine their knowledge in a pedagogy to be passed on to a new generation, the result would be a more well rounded generation of producers who had the knowledge to amalgamate Arts and Crafts theories into a more balanced practice. My 2011 piece discusses how interface design needs a modern day equivalent to the Bauhaus method of teaching, providing students with knowledge of many practices.
“Students at the Bauhaus were taught by masters of form and also by masters of craft, the Bauhaus was attempting to teach an all round production philosophy, well balanced in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, in order to create the new breed of practitioner, the craftsman of a new guild envisioned by Walter Gropius.
For Interface design to progress there is a need for designers to be students of different masters or theories, a well balanced design orientation is required in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, these new designers could be a new breed of practitioner that are equipped for the challenges and changes of the twenty-first century.” (Shakesby, 2011: p20)
In 2011 (p.23), I argued that through this type of union of design awareness “a new design theory could arise, suitable for today’s technology, bridging the gap between designers and users in the same way that the Bauhaus helped bridge the gap between producers and consumers in the twentieth century.” At the time I did not see the bigger picture in regards to my argument and now I would argue that not only would this approach benefit interface design, it would actually benefit my wider practice of interactive multimedia design.
The pace of technological advancement since the early 1990’s has had a massive effect on the world and it has changed our everyday lives, both professionally and personally. Computers, the Internet and mobile devices are just some of the technological advancements that are pervading society and becoming integral to the way many people live their lives. These new technologies present new challenges, and knowledge of differing design practices is required to have the information to work out the design equations, to find the appropriate solutions to the new possibilities that we are afforded by the technology. If you don’t understand what is possible, how can you be confident that the decisions you make are correct?
There is one problem with attempting to have knowledge of more than one discipline. There is a common saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”. This is a term used to describe people who are competent with many skills but is not necessarily exceptional in any particular one and it is often used in a derogatory way to devalue these people.
The potential problem for a “Jack of all trades” is that they may be seen as the saying goes, as a “master of none”. Outside perception may be that a specialist may have the ability to produce a higher standard of work.
This of course does not mean that your work will be inferior but there is a greater risk that a lack of knowledge may arise at some point causing a potential dilemma. This risk element is one of the main reasons that some people are put off by the “Jack of all trades”
Wagner describes the negative perception of the Jack of all trades. “Being considered a “jack of all trades” has always had a negative connotation. It implies that you dabble in bits of everything, but never achieve the expertise needed to be good at any one pursuit.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
Jeroen Van Geel explains how a little knowledge can lead us to become overconfident in our abilities:
“When we think we have an understanding of how things work, we have the feeling that we can impact everything. Of course this is great and we all know that curiosity should be stimulated, but at the same time this energy and endless search for knowledge can be a curse. Before we know it we become the jack of all trades, master of none.” Van Geel, (2013), http://www.tuicool.com/articles/U7RBNv
By following a “Jack of all trades” process, you will need to require a proficient knowledge of the practices you wish to work within and although you may be willing to put in the hard work and dedication needed to acquire this knowledge, others may not have the same level of professional commitment and this can lead to situations where work is carried out at a substandard level, tarnishing the reputation of all who follow the multi-disciplinary approach.
There are positives aspects of the “Jack of all trades”/multi-disciplinary approach and according to Wagner the judgment of people with a broader range of knowledge may be unfair, he offers an alternative point of view:
“Maybe a successful generalist should instead be considered a “Renaissance man” (or woman).” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
Wagner’s alternative description places the “Jack of all trades” as an individual whose skill-set spans a considerable number of different subject areas; it is a positive reference that recognises the capability of some to be able to work at a more than proficient level across differing practices.
“Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean that you are doing a million things at once. It means that you make sure that you are knowledgeable about and capable of doing the basics of any new innovations within your professional field of choice.” Dixon, (2012), http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/04/the-art-of-being-a-jack-of-all-trades/
The earlier negative views of “Jack of all trades” underestimate the capabilities of people in general, Heinlein explains:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” Heinlein cited by Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
Every day we prove our capacity to master more than one task and history has many examples of people who were masters in more than one field, the most famous being Leonardo da Vinci “Few would argue that DaVinci should have stuck to one subject.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
By being a “Jack of all trades” you can actually become more valuable, Wagner believes “If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength.” To turn the negativity surrounding the “Jack of all trades” into positivity, a balance is needed between a significant level of knowledge in one area and a small amount in others. Wagner agrees “To really be successful, I suggest you strike a balance between generalist and specialist.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
In football a player who can play in more than one position is a valuable asset to the team, that versatility increases that player’s value within a team but only as long as he is proficient in each position.
In design the same proficiency is required within any areas you may decide to incorporate into your skill-set, Wagner believes you need to “Go beyond “enough to be dangerous” This requires learning beyond the basics of subject areas, so that you can be proficient to a level where you can solve most problems and be capable of engaging in communication with specialists, if you do encounter any problems in order to identify a solution.
By being a “Jack of all trades” “You can be the person who sees the big picture and understands how all the parts interrelate.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/
There is another approach that allows us to bring together the knowledge of different design practices, this is collaboration.
Wigan (2009: p63) describes collaboration as “The act of working with others to create something.”
One advantage of working collaboratively is that there is less risk of problems due to lack of relevant knowledge; collaborations can feature specialists in the appropriate capacities/roles.
Sometimes, collaborations may produce a result like an attempt to mix oil and water but others can produce mixtures that complement and enhance, like the ingredients in a good recipe. Over time practitioners can identify and form collaboration’s that are recipes for success rather than disaster.
Working collaboratively can be frustrating, as each practitioner may have their own methods and beliefs and these differences of opinion need to be mediated.
Compromise would be one possible solution in this situation but a successful outcome for this circumstance cannot simply be the ability to make a decision, it needs to be the ability to come to the appropriate decision for the task at hand.
Who would be qualified to make such a decision, if each practitioner has a differing opinion on what is appropriate?
In interactive media, the person responsible for making these decisions would be the ‘Project Manager’.
“The Project Manager is responsible for the successful planning and execution of a project. He or she decides what work needs to be done, who will do what, and when it must be finished.” Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp
As part of their role, the ‘Project Manager’ will be responsible for the organisation of the project as described below:
“The project is usually divided into a number of stages that are often dependent on each other; the Project Manager must work out a schedule and ensure that the right people are available when needed so that each stage is completed on time and does not hold up any of the others.” Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp
The ‘Project Manager’ will have to plan the project, taking into account any potential issues that may endanger the success of the project.
“A large part of the job involves identifying risks and assumptions that might adversely affect the project, and working out ways to ensure they do not – for example, by making contingency plans and by being rigorous in ensuring specifications and deliverables are properly documented.” Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp
One issue that the ‘Project Manager’ needs to be aware of in a collaborative effort, is the potential interpersonal disagreements that may be spawned from both personal and professional differences of opinion, “He or she may need to brief and manage specialists, ensure open communication between team members and resolve interpersonal conflicts.” Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp
My master’s project is an individual pursuit and thus I can see how my personal approach may be seen by others as a “Jack of all trades” styled methodology but it could also be argued that my approach is a wider reflection of my industrial field.
In 2012, as part my Professional Practice module I wrote a piece entitled “A Perspective of a Deeply Ingrained, Integral but Often Misunderstood Practice in the 21st Century.” Within this essay, I highlight the difficulty in defining my professional practice, saying:
“I have experienced people attempting to pigeon hole my practice into a definition that only includes part of my practice; it sometimes feels like I am a square peg being pushed into a round hole. My practice involves elements of other practices and this is what in my opinion causes a lot of the confusion, Creative Skillset also recognise the overlapping nature of interactive media practice with other practices, their website says “The interactive media industry is a very fluid sector with many overlaps with, and blurred distinctions between, other sectors”. (Creative Skillset, 2012, http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/industry/article_6838_1.asp)”
Due its multi-disciplinary nature, Interactive media is hard to define effectively but there is a definition provided by the authors England and Finney in the ATSF White Paper—Interactive Media UK 2002:
“Interactive media is the integration of digital media including combinations of electronic text, graphics, moving images, and sound, into a structured digital computerised environment that allows people to interact with the data for appropriate purposes. The digital environment can include the Internet, telecoms and interactive digital television.” England and Finney, (2002: p2), http://www.atsf.co.uk/atsf/interactive_media.pdf
Since that definition in 2002, the mediums and possibilities have further developed but even then the multi-disciplinary environment within the field was more than evident. As an interactive designer, there is a requirement to have a broader diverse range of knowledge to be effective and I believe this validates my approach when looking into what others may call specialist disciplines. To be a master of my discipline requires me to have a high level of knowledge of different areas.
To be a Master of interactive media you need to be a master “Jack of all trades”, a “Renaissance Man”. There may be some specialists who see this as an encroachment on their practice but this is not the case, it is a requisition for my practice to acquire this knowledge and any feelings of distain towards the perceived intrusion, should not lead to them denigrating practitioners of multi-disciplinary fields through terms such as “Jack of all trades”. By using urban terminology I would say to these aggravated practitioners “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game” and for those who don’t understand that saying, there is a definition below:
“Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.” Urban Dictionary, (2005), http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Don’t+Hate+The+Playa%2FPlayette+Hate+The+Game
Technological advancement has created new possibilities, genres and practices; this is part of an evolution and others practices may need to evolve too, in order to not become obsolete.
Everybody has the right and the ability to expand their own knowledgebase but this does not mean you must become a “Jack of all trades”; expanded knowledge is a powerful tool, especially to those in the creative industries.
Combinatorial creativity is a theory that believes “To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
The 20th Century Fox Television show Touch (2012), features a young boy described below:
“Jake possessed an extraordinary gift – the ability to perceive the seemingly hidden patterns that connect every life on the planet” 20th Century Fox, (2012), http://www.fox.com/touch/about/
The show also features other characters that have the natural ability to see connections in different elements of life, connections that the rest of us are oblivious to. I personally fall into the latter bracket, I am unaware of any natural ability I may have to see patterns that others don’t but I am naturally inquisitive and I do look for patterns, answers and reasons when sometimes others blindly accept.
Popova explains that throughout time illustrious creative’s, scientists and inventors have embraced the building blocks of combinatorial creativity:
““Stuff your head with more different things from various fields,” Ray Bradbury encouraged students in a 2001 address. “You should stay alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide with one another,” Brian Eno advised. “Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs proclaimed. “Science,” Darwin recognized, “consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.” “Substantially all ideas are second-hand,” Mark Twain observed, “consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them”” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
These people could see how new juxtapositions can be created through a bricolage of existing practices and philosophies, combined in ways that are different to the intended purposes of the individual original.
Combinatorial creativity is a process that combines the existing elements to form a new, but this means that nothing is truly created but instead repurposed or remixed:
“Implicit to this idea of combinatorial creativity is the admission is that nothing is truly original, at least not in the sense of being built from scratch, and that can be hard. There’s a lot of resistance in the creative ego to that idea.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
Popova provides a paradigm of this idea that nothing can be truly original because it will always be informed by our previous knowledge, in the form of an anecdote about Picasso and an interview with Paula Scher on the creation of the famous Citi logo, in summery of these examples she says:
“Both of these stories captures something we all understand on a deep intuitive level, but our creative egos sort of don’t really want to accept: And that is the idea that creativity is combinatorial, that nothing is entirely original, that everything builds on what came before, and that we create by taking existing pieces of inspiration, knowledge, skill and insight that we gather over the course of our lives and recombining them into incredible new creations.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
Lego is an example used by Popova to illustrate how the combinatorial creative process works:
“The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become. Because if we only have one color and one shape, it greatly limits how much we can create, even within our one area of expertise.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
Popova also offers an alternative description “We can, however, optimize our minds for combinatorial creativity – by enriching our mental pool of resources with diverse, eclectic, cross-disciplinary pieces which to fuse together into new combinations.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
The gathering of information is an important part of the combinatorial creative process. All information can be considered useful in one way or another but when you have specific goals or desired outcomes, it is important show restraint and not run around like the proverbial headless chicken, gathering every bit of information you can find. A conscious decision is required to tame inquisitive desires and focus upon the area that is more likely to yield the informational results you require.
“Curiosity without direction can be a taxing and ultimately unproductive endeavor. Choice is how we tame and channel and direct our curiosity, where we choose to allocate our time and energy, and ultimately, what we choose to pay attention to” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/
Popova is explaining that to truly create, to connect the dots, see the patterns, find the answers of even the right questions, then the relevant knowledge needs to be procured. At that point a cross-pollination of ideas from a range of disciplines can occur through recombination’s that become new creations in their own right.
It is my belief that to flourish as an interactive designer requires an element of the jack of all trades persona; it requires a level of curiosity that drives enquiry beyond the obvious, in order to be informed to a level where it is possible to find connections and correlations that others cannot. The ability to be innovative requires thinking not only inside and outside the box but also thinking through the box.
Projects like mine are appropriate for collaborative approaches but they are also appropriate for interactive designers who have taken the time and effort to investigate and acquire the knowledge to produce such works, without the need for collaboration but there also needs to be a realisation that situations may arise, where a higher level of knowledge is required in a specific area and willingness to collaborate when appropriate is needed. Pride is the enemy of many designers when it comes to collaboration, collaboration is not an admission of the inability to perform a certain task, it is an admission that some things can be done better by working with others.
Interactive media is a multi-disciplinary practice and as a practitioner of this field I am required to have knowledge of more than one practice. Interactive media is also a developing field that is in a constant state of flux, due to the pace of technological development and thus, the ability to adapt to the possible and potential developments and affordances that may arise is also essential to prosper in this field.
Combinatorial creativity suggests that my attempt at accumulating knowledge through my investigational process should aid me in my creative endeavours, both now in my Master’s study and in my future practice.
There is a saying that “Knowledge is power” and I believe that the knowledge that I am procuring during my masters study, will strengthen my proficiency within my practice.
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