The Iovine and Young Academy and the Future of “Design” Education
For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of working as an Assistant Professor at the Iovine and Young Academy. Having worked at numerous institutions across the globe, I was struck by the Academy’s founding story and unique vision for what design education can look like. Founded by two music industry legends, Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (AKA Dr. Dre), the academy is one of the first truly interdisciplinary programs in the world. As a result, students in both the undergraduate and graduate departments are graduating with some of the longest degree titles imaginable: bachelor of science in arts, technology, and the business of innovation and master of science in integrated design, business, and technology, respectively.
Historically, curricula in higher education has been developed in a strategically disciplinary manner. This makes sense, as colleges and universities existed for years to best prepare students for careers in specific fields that required specific areas of knowledge. However, thanks to emerging technologies and a changing culture of work, the majority of roles have moved from an expectation of specialization to an expectation of entrepreneurial thinking and adaptability. As a result, higher education needs a new model that breaks down silos in order to uncover a completely different way of thinking. Two students at the Iovine and Young Academy that represent tomorrow’s design stars are Vanessa Qin and Skylar Thomas. I sat down with each of these students to interview them about their work and unique perspectives.
How would you describe the Iovine and Young Academy to someone in one sentence?
VQ: The academy is a place for designers, coders, entrepreneurs, and weirdos to create.
ST: The IYA is where disparate mediums and people of disparate skills sets converge because a common passion is there, and this allows for the production of truly grand work.
Tell me about a recent project you’re particularly excited about.
VQ: This past summer, I had the opportunity of joining the design team at Twitter as a product design intern. I designed a consistent user experience for error states in the consumer app to be incorporated into our design system. This really pushed me as a designer because I had never worked on a project within a strict design system, let alone design a component for a design system. It taught me a lot about working within constraints, and considering every aspect of the design in the cohesive experience.
ST: Right now all my time is spent building 3D worlds. I’m finishing up a VR game (MVP) for the Oculus Store that places the viewer in a dying world wherein they are guided by a character who is his environment. The world is dying because creativity is dying, and the user is needed to build something before their guide dies. I’m working on an animated short that deals with the same concept and the paradox of attempting creativity in a vacuum. These projects have been pretty difficult to get a grip on because they involve animating “living” beings without control over where the user is looking (VR), and I know this is what I need to be doing.
Tell me about things you’ve done/are doing outside of the classroom.
VQ: I’ve been running a personal lifestyle blog on Instagram since high school that reflects my interests in fashion, travel, music, and food/coffee. At USC, I found an amazing entrepreneurship community through Lavalab, our student run product incubator, by serving the executive board as the Director of Community. In addition, I’m involved in a co-ed business fraternity and a sorority on campus.
ST: In 2014, I started working with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on a series of mobile games that would culminate in Paintball Hero, my 2017 platformer release that drops users into a voxel-style factory farm on a mission to save animals and eliminate corporate drones with “education paintballs.” The game tested my artistic, coding and collaborative abilities and was actually a success, landing a feature on NPR and some happy gamers. Since then, I’ve released iMessage apps featuring vector illustrations, hacked AR apps, and last week shipped the beta of the Adventures in Design network app with Mark Brickey (he works with Shepard Fairey, ABC, etc). Right now my main work revolves around the VR MVP experience I’m building for the Progressors show this fall and my animated short, mentioned previously.
What do you think is the future of the design industry?
VQ: I hope design will be a genuine bridge between technology and society. With technological developments that are making waves in the ways we interact with each other, I think design is crucial to maintain empathy in communication.
ST: We’re moving out of frames and into reality, virtual or otherwise, which means that all of a sudden designers and developers are orchestrating Skinner boxes that the world isn’t aware they’re living in. I’ve spent two years in VR/AR, and still daily I hit questions that, if answered incorrectly, can make the world I’m building nauseating or traumatizing- most days both. Put simply, the future of design is designers as small gods, and that’s something to run towards and fear simultaneously.
What is one of the biggest challenges young designers face today?
VQ: Personally speaking, I find it hard to even call myself a “designer.” Since I’m still in school, I feel like I can only call myself a design “student” or “aspiring” designer. More recently, I’ve learned to embrace the perspective that comes from my youth in my work. Now, I’m trying to find a balance between being a student and being a designer, but no matter my age, I’ll always be a student of life.
ST: I think the issue of the young designer is the issue of the young creator universally, being that I spend an equal amount of time in Illustrator and Unity (game engine) and the problem spans industries. My VR game deals with it in a general light: we consume more than we create, which is problematic when novel solutions drive humans forward. The issue is that we’re all looking at the same content in the same mediums without pause for contemplation, and that silence is where connections get drawn. Currently people are creating incredible things, but a great deal are surface level – they’re attractive but not purposeful, because the creator never looked up and let the pieces fall in.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
VQ: I think about my role models and mentors who are 10 years above me, and just hope I can make an impact on the world around me and inspire others the way they have for me.
ST: In 10 years ideally I’d be building something incredible with a team of people who consistently pour themselves into what they do and the endpoint we’re sprinting towards. I’ll keep building worlds and the characters that inhabit them until that point. Frankly, I’m always looking for interesting people to work with, and I’m going to keep building at the intersection of code and art- In 10 years I know I’ll still be here because code brings the art to life and art makes people’s eyes light up.
The future is clearly looking bright. Thanks, Vanessa and Skylar!