Lessons Learned

On September 20, 2010 I wrote a blog post projecting what I would learn.

What Will Thesis Teach Me?
I want to learn…

  • how to go very very wide in my research.
  • how to make decisions about where to focus my research.
  • how to be more efficient in my working habits. (I need to be able to sleep!)
  • to become intimate with an area of interest.
  • how to clarify my thoughts and present them to others in a way that makes my audience as enthusiastic as I am.

The Outcome

My first list was pretty accurate. I learned all of those things, but as I look back at it now I see that it was too narrow. Perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned is that I can think bigger – bigger than myself, my ideas, and my scope of understanding. I’ve learned that I almost always need a push to get started, and once I get it I’m able to travel farther and faster than I ever imagined.

Some Other Lessons

Hard Work

As it turns out a masters thesis is quite a bit of work. And it’s hard work, but in the end I’m satisfied knowing that I’ve taken a deep dive into something I really care about.


During the synthesis phase I learned the value of meticulous note taking during research. At many points in my process something I discovered early on turned out to be a significant insight for another design decision. It’s essential to document everything and look out for unexpected connections between focused research and the experiences outside of projects.

Too Much Empathy

In his closing keynote at Interaction11, Bruce Sterling accused user experience designers of having “Stockholm Syndrome” for their users, shaming us for having too much empathy or caring too much about the user’s benefit over our own well being. I experienced Sterling’s hypothesis during my work with teachers. They’re an endearing, passionate bunch of people and I often found it difficult to separate my enthusiasm for education from my integrity as a designer.

The Value of Time

In this project, as in many others during graduate school, I again learned the value of planning. There are unexpected challenges in any project. A thesis project is particularly prone to such divergences, with advice coming from all angles outside and inside of my head. It’s important to save time for critical questions, reflection, and testing. I was surprised to find these things don’t always happen at one time. I found use for reflection and questioning at all phases throughout my thesis work, at moments when I least expected to be challenging my own ideas.

Going Deep

Taking a dive into the deep end of education research and experience design proved to be more rewarding than I thought. I’ve gained a vast body of knowledge about the lives and motivations of teachers. They’re a fascinating group of users and one that I’d like to continue exploring in my future pursuits.

I will always be interested in education and the changes occurring across the field. I look forward to seeing how my detailed knowledge of the subject matter will contribute to the conversation as the culture around education shifts in the coming decades.

Further Reading

Recommended Texts

The Life and Death of the Great American School System, Ravitch, 2010
By Design, Caplan 1984
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink, 2006

Thesis Blog

Katie Koch Portfolio

Project: Interaction Blog

SVA MFA in Interaction Design