Consciously incompetent

Sitting with a couple of my peers at the Oliver and Vasiliev talk on Tuesday, something came up that we were told freshman year. I turned, saying, it hasn’t been more apparent to until now that I may not be smart enough for the school, and what I do in my every day academic life seems so minute and unimpressive, and that perhaps I didn’t fully take advantage of the resources and tools available to me here on campus. Three years ago in the freshman studio, we were told by our professor as a class that we were unconsciously incompetent, that we would become consciously incompetent, with the goal to be one day consciously competent (I believe that was the order of things). In our starry-eyed bushy-tailed naiveté, we thought we knew what we were doing as designers, and what we wanted to do in the future. A complete 180 has happened, and in my final year as an undergrad, I loudly say I am consciously incompetent.

This was very apparent at the talk on Tuesday, surrounded by people I didn’t know, laughing at jokes I didn’t understand, staring at images and lines of text I couldn’t process, not asking questions because I didn’t know what to even ask or where to start. What was interesting to me was something they said at the beginning of the talk, about how they are very much engineering driven with a touch to art and design. A previous iteration of me would’ve rolled my eyes, an iteration which rejected anything entirely engineering-driven. Now that I’m older, and realized that design alone can’t solve anything, the idea of a critical engineer, a nomenclature unknown to me before this class, intrigued me.

Reading the critical engineering manifesto made me question the weight of the 11 points if the word ‘engineer’ were to be replaced with ‘designer.’ I was unaware of the difference between the critical designer and critical engineer, which Aisling touches on in her “Critical Multimedia” article. I feel that there is a fairly fine line between the two, divisions only made perhaps because of the backgrounds and skill sets of the different parties. From the critical design we’ve seen in class so far, the Forlizzi and Zimmerman project comes to mind, I feel that critical designers have a lot to learn from critical engineers. It was interesting looking at Oliver’s and Vasiliev’s work and the “hacky” nature of it. (Disclaimer that I hate the word “hack” in any shape or form as I find it somewhat offensive and badly-illustrated amongst the media.) This brings me back to being consciously incompetent, in that their work brings forward to the public that which they never thought would be a problem before, and I admire that greatly, no matter how frightening or intimidating it is to my psyche. It’s very impactful in that it seems that they go ahead and just do things, something that some designers seem to lack because of too much restraint or even technical constraints.

I think that it’s very important as a designer, or engineer, or artist, or really any human being to be capable of raising ideas and questions about the world around us in some shape or form. It would be great to see a critical designer to think in the way a critical engineer does, and vice versa.

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