Hello. What do you do?

This weekend I went to a birthday dinner for my great aunt.  When I showed up, I found out we were a party of twenty.  This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to polish up my answer to the ole “so what do you do” question.

I have found that my attitude has recently changed about answering this question.  I used to cringe when people would ask me what I went to school for.  A stumble of words would pour out of my mouth trying to explain the difference between industrial design and what I do in school.  This usually would just result with whoever was listening in saying “so you make boxes for stuff?,” “so you are a consultant?,” or my personal favorite which is just a blank stare paired with an “oooooh.” One day, I am going to be employed and I am going to need to tell people what I do so they can understand it.  The evening progressed, we found our seats at our table, and the inquiries began.

“So what do you do?”

“Well I’m in graduate school for design.”

“Oh. So what do you expect to do with that?”

“Well my work currently involves observing people and how they work in systems and developing solutions to minimize inefficiencies in those systems.”

“Hey Tom! You need to talk to this guy.”

Instead of continuing down a road of confusion, the conversation continued on a normal, constructive path.  I soon found out that Tom works for SEPTA and there apparently are a lot of opportunities for design interventions.  We spent the next ten minutes talking about SEPTA, commuting culture, the people that work at SEPTA, and Philadelphia’s infrastructure.  This was the best follow up conversation from my response of “what I do” I ever had.

I have to credit the success of the conversation to the fact that I never said the word “industrial.”  My last encounter before this one was at FOX design week where I introduced myself as a student of industrial design.  Unfortunately, one of the people I was telling this had a relative attending SCAD for industrial design.  I then had to try to explain how what I do is not traditional industrial design and I think I just ended up with an audience of people who either think I am a complete fool or that UArt’s is guilty of false advertising.

It also helps to have spent more time in the program.  I now have a much better understanding of what design is.  I think from now on I’ll just continue to leave out the industrial part of the title.  Now if I could get my parents to understand what I am doing I will really be onto something.


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