Saturday, June 23, 2012

Understanding Designer

My mom is amazing. She is a teacher by profession and she is, I am convinced, the best teacher in the world. She was encouraging and loving yet tough on us as we were growing up, like many moms I'm sure. But the best thing she has given us is a lifelong attitude for finding joy in learning. That the pursuit of knowledge and finding applications for anything we read or studied could be a pleasure and passion in itself.

From my mom's example, I know what it means to be a good teacher - understanding concepts and subject matter so well that you could break it down and re-assemble it in a way that would make it easy to understand. Not like those teachers who only knew how to read out loud from the text book, or the ones that handed out A's for memorization. Even if her own specialization is Math, my mom could teach us any subject we were having difficulty with because she knew how to extract the essential understandings and teach those to us instead of the formulas or facts that our teachers were dishing out. From her own understanding of French, which she speaks (formally) pretty fluently, she explained to me language structure and was able to teach me Spanish. With not nearly as much knowledge, but complete understanding.

Even if I work in a completely different field, I feel like our work is now very similar. She needs to get people to understand concepts, I need to get people to understand brands X, Y and Z. Not just to know that they exist, but why they matter. What I would venture to call both of us is Understanding Designers - not just purveyors of information (academic facts for her, market data for me), but strategists for essential understanding.

And lately I think it has been my turn to infuse her understanding through my knowledge of the digital space. Even if she is pushing 60 and is completely devoid of any social media accounts, she is well aware of the changes happening in the education world, in students' world as a result of digital, and the possibilities now available to facilitate and operationalize learning. She opens many breakfasts, when I am usually still half asleep and unwilling to enter any intellectual conversations, with questions like, "What are the big ideas of digital?" - that seem too big to answer but do me the valuable service of helping me processing this space that I try to be fully engaged in.

It seems futile to answer a question like that about a space that changes too fast, in too many variables to even be aware of. But maybe the trick is to distill into essential concepts... That, guided by my mom's great questions, I one day I hope to be able to answer for myself.


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