Introductions workshop with undergraduates at the Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Mon, Feb 24, 2020

We were invited to run our Introductions Workshop with undergraduates at the Carnegie Mellon School of Design.

Introductions workshop with undergraduates at the Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Photo by Dan Lockton

As designers whose work often doesn’t fit into an easy-to-understand category, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to talk to people about what we do. Our first introductions workshop, prototyped at the Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium in Chicago in October 2019, was an exploration into designing our introductions with the designerly mindsets we bring to our work in general. For us, this meant taking a critical, caring, collaborative, and iterative approach to talking about our work and our ways of working.

Dan Lockton from the Carnegie Mellon School of Design was in attendance at our RSD Chicago session, and he invited us to CMU this February to facilitate the next iteration of our introductions workshop with the students in his and Silvana Juri’s undergraduate Persuasion course. In the week leading up to a large career fair, the workshop was intended to help the students generate thoughtful approaches to their introductions and how they speak about their work as they interact with potential employers. You can read Silvana and Dan’s course blog to hear about the workshop from their perspective.

Tara facilitated in-person, and Ariana joined remotely, which felt more natural as a collaboration experiment than we expected! We have posted our slides here and a brief description of our activities below.

Standard Introductions

When we can introduce ourselves any way we want, how do we do it?

Screenshot of the collected categories of information that were included in standard introductions

We asked students to pair up and introduce themselves to each other as they might in a professional setting. In a discussion after, we heard what types of information people volunteered when asked to introduce themselves without any parameters. The types of information were typical of many “standard” introduction categories: name, university, field of study, etc.

Using the categories everyone had volunteered, Ariana introduced herself for the first time. The students all knew each other, but Ariana was someone who they had never met, whose work they knew relatively little about. After her introduction, we asked the students what types of information hadn’t been heard in an introduction based on the standard categories. Ariana’s values and motivations, her everyday practices, her skills, her personality, etc. The categories we discussed here are those often left out of standard introductions, yet they highlight some of the elements of our identities and our work we often find most important.

Verbing the Introduction

A selection of the students' self-descriptions of what they do

Introductions often rely heavily on nouns and titles like “designer.” But these nouns can mean so many things to so many different people, even within the same field. We drew on this quote Ariana found by Stephen Fry for inspiration for an alternative way of constructing an introduction:

Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.

If we emphasize the verbs of what we do rather than the nouns of what we are in our introductions, we can choose each time we introduce ourselves what is the most exciting, relatable, important, or compelling thing to share. We introduced ourselves as Superorganism to the students both as nouns and then as verbs, illustrating how much more descriptive and specific the verb version allowed us to be. The students then wrote down their own verb descriptions and shared them on the wall for everyone to look at.

Introductions As _________

The second half of the workshop focused on frames for thinking about introductions in new ways by playing a game! We developed a set of Design Your Introduction cards based on our session at RSD8 last October. Using Superorganism as an example, we introduced ourselves in different ways using each of these prompts as a template. The students were able to see how designing our introduction in certain ways presented different types of information, different tones, and different ways of relating with our audience. In groups, the students used the cards to practice different versions of their own introductions. We ended the workshop with a whole-group discussion of what it was like to use these different prompts and how the students might think differently about their own introductions moving forward.

The slide deck and materials for this presentation are available with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license here for you to download and use yourself. We would love to hear about your experience using them!