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- Alumni Spotlight Audrey Desjardins
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Alumni Spotlight Audrey Desjardins
Audrey received her Ph.D. from SIAT in 2016. She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Art, Art History, and Design at the University of Washington in Seattle. In this alumni spotlight, Audrey reflect on her past and new design research projects.
Why did you choose the School of Interactive Arts & Technology over other programs?
Because of the wide variety of perspectives this school has on how humans live with technology. I had a background in industrial design and I was looking for a place to better understand how people use, live, co-exist with things that are computational but also physical. It seemed to me that the interdisciplinary approach had the most to offer! Also, the mountains, the West Coast (I grew up in Montreal) and the possibility to live in a different city in Canada were really attractive to me.
(Ok, if you want the real honest answer…. Here it is: I honestly didn’t know where to go study interaction design because I didn’t do my homework properly when looking for programs. I found SIAT’s website a couple days before the application deadline… so I rushed to put my application package together and then crossed my fingers. It was a process that was way more spontaneous than what a lot of students go through today I think, but I was very fortunate that it worked out.)
What was the area of your graduate studies and what is your current job / career?
My grad studies centered around design research, particularly using design as a way to investigate how people live with things and computational things in the home. I am now an assistant professor of interaction design at University of Washington, in the School of Art + Art History + Design. In my research, I continue to use design as a way to ask questions, and I still am curious about people’s relations to domestic things.
How did your experience as a graduate student influence your career path?
It had such an immense influence, I don’t know how I can put this into words. When I applied to SIAT, I thought I wanted to learn about interaction design to become an interaction designer. I didn’t know that design research was a field, or that people could have a career as a design researcher. It is only once I started to do research, with my advisor Dr. Ron Wakkary, that I realized I wanted to be a researcher more than a designer. From that point on, the way I learned how to do research in the Everyday Design Studio has definitely shaped how I continue to conduct research but also how I advise students here at University of Washington as well.
What are the most important skills that you acquired as a PhD student that helped shape your current success?
One of the skills I learned was to gain the confidence to know what research opportunity to tackle. There are a multitude of possible projects out there, but during my PhD I learned to trust my instincts in choosing what project to do. I learned that if you already know the answer to a research question, it probably won’t be very interesting. I learned to go for the projects that felt more risky, uncertain, but also more engaging and the ones that sounded more exciting.
I also learned that writing is a form of thinking. Through the writing process, a lot of my ideas and thoughts get more precise and gain finesse. Before grad school, as a designer, I didn’t write a lot and I felt very intimidated when I arrived at SIAT: not only had I not written a lot, I had never written in English since I grew up speaking and studying in French. Through practice and really incredible mentoring, I was able to embrace writing as a tool to think. I now see writing as a form of design, from early rough sketches where ideas get formed to the polished final way of communicating an idea.
What was your most valuable grad student experience while at SIAT?
Working as a team member in the Everyday Design Studio. Getting a sense of belonging in a lab was definitely central to forming my understanding of academic research. And I got to do that with a group that was supportive, fun, creative, and that was able to give great feedback. As a group, we learned to build research products, to write, to set up field studies, and to analyze data. We also learned what worked well and what failed. This long relationship with an advisor and colleagues was something that is very hard to get in a setting different than grad school.
Do you have any advice that you would like to give to current grad students and / or recent graduates?
TRUST THE PROCESS. And enjoy the process! It is so easy to get caught in anxieties about the end goal, but I feel like grad school is a place where you should experiment, get lost, explore something new, and eventually find your center.
Also, please, please, take some days off. Take every weekend off. And take a few weeks off every year at least. These are days where you are not reading a research article ‘for fun’, not ‘doing just a couple emails’, and not ‘just finishing a quick draft’. These are days where you are with friends and family, where you play outside (or inside) and where you have time to reflect and recharge. Grad school is intense. The only strategy I found to stay positive, healthy, happy, and productive during my time at SIAT was to ski a lot, camp a lot, and cultivate a marvellous circle of friends.
What are you currently working on and/or excited about in your current position?
I am continuing to work on research through design investigations for how to conceptualize the Internet of Things for the home in ways that are more open and diverse. I am continuing to ask questions around what ‘the home’ is and pushing back on the stereotyped view of the home as a way to broaden perspectives towards designing connected devices.
What I am most excited about, through this process, is that I get to work with amazing students at University of Washington, both undergraduate and graduate students in design. While I learned so much from my mentors at SIAT, it is now my turn to share what I have learned with students who are just learning about design research. This has definitely been a fantastic experience.