For our penultimate class for the semester last week, we asked the students to pair off and perform root cause analysis on a failure they experienced this semester. They summarized the conversations they had with the rest of the class, and these were the themes that emerged:
1. Perfectionism - This is the most predictable problem for a group of design students to have, and it was a stumbling block for almost everyone around the room. The students struggled with the tension between the desire to control every detail and the messy reality of product releases, the gap between an idealized product vision and one that could be executed. Those working on things that were lifelong passions found it difficult to create a scoped down or crude prototype of something that could be important to their career, and others just wanted too much data before making a decision. The best way to manage these fears turned out to simply be deadlines, internally and externally enforced (and practice). One of the biggest parts of the class is just kicking projects out the door whether they’re ready or not, and learning how to build and iterate in public.
2. You’re Not Your Project - There’s some major overlap here with the first problem. Our students grappled with emotional obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of public derision, facing criticism from strangers, and generally untangling their identities from their projects.
3. Thinking Out Loud - Learning how to work (and stumble, and fail) in public is extraordinarily difficult. Some students found it very hard to express their half-formed ideas, or converse rather than broadcast to their target audiences. Others failed to reach out to people early on and entered a vicious cycle of not getting feedback. They also learned that getting attention online for your projects or writing required much more than simply putting out good content.
4. Prioritization - If perfectionism was the biggest mental block, this was the biggest logistical one. The very short timeline of the class forced students to do some very aggressive scoping, which is particularly tough in the presence of ambition and curiosity. Students not only had to prioritize within the class’ many demands, but also on a wider scale—with the rest of their schoolwork, and lives in general. As first-time entrepreneurs, some students struggled with threading and figuring out dependency chains as well.
5. Real-Life Research - Soliciting and processing feedback from research proved much harder in reality than in concept. Many students regretted not doing more initial research, or not incorporating research into their design processes more closely. Others had to learn the balance between trusting one’s own intuition, understanding the perspectives of strangers, and the hard truth that it’s impossible to please everyone.
Other less common (but equally interesting!) challenges included:
- Learning how to collaborate
- Learning how to make decisions by yourself
- Understanding what you wanted to get out of the class at the start
- Money changing the tone/implementation of an idea
- The class’s own reputation as “the class where you make money” shaping ideas coming in (this is an interesting one for us to fix!)
None of these challenges are surprising to veteran project do-ers, but they really are best learned by living (and fighting and giving up and reiterating) through the process. It’s rare to have an opportunity to stumble across so many hurdles in so short a period of time—we hope it’ll be a memorable and valuable experience for many years to come!