What enables artists, entrepreneurs, and activists to be successful in today’s networked world?

Students from School of Visual Arts MFA in Interaction Design go through an ideation exercise at the beginning of the semester.

From 2012 - 2018, we have explored this question primarily through our work co-teaching Entrepreneurial Design, a semester-long compulsory course for first-year students at School of Visual Arts MFA in Interaction Design program.

The course challenges students to:

  1. get comfortable with sharing their in-progress work online,
  2. observe and learn to give back to communities they’re interested in, and
  3. design an original crowdfunding project that can generate $1,000 by the end of the semester.

All of their work takes place in the real world, which provides students with the opportunity to learn a number of challenging lessons:

  • how to negotiate and embrace real constraints
  • how to design, not just for, but with communities in their work
  • that they—as designers—can’t control outcomes

Along the way, they also develop their own practices and rituals around peer critique, asking for and processing feedback, lightweight prototyping, and writing as a form of reflection. The instructors serve a coaching role—we cheer the students on, guide them around or through obstacles, and synthesize lessons along the way.

After taking over a hundred students through our courses, we have determined that there are two absolutely critical abilities for independent creators today. These are:

  1. The ability to confront and navigate uncertainty - The journey of creation requires sailing off into uncharted territory, with no preset right or wrong answers. Creators must develop practices for making decisions with incomplete data, recognizing the difference between an obstacle and a dead end, and reflecting on their progress honestly.

  2. The ability to sustain and grow relevant networks - Networks of people who can provide a creator with advice, support, information, connections, or capital are critical infrastructure. Creators need to be just as intentional about developing this infrastructure as they are about the work itself.

Below is a repository of course materials, reflections from the instructors, student testimonials, and lessons on teaching from our courses, as well as from related iterations run at Orbital.