Colleen Murray's Journey to and from ID

by New Idiom


photo by Miguel Cervantes

Colleen Murray opened the second day of the Design Research Conference talking about scenario planning. A strategic planning method that helps a team make smarter decisions can be applied to everyday situations. During her talk she mentioned Peter Schwartz’s book, The Art of the Long View and how it made her realize the importance and relevance of scenario planning. She discussed the five strategies of this method and how each could be reframed:

1. Focus on understanding the problem at hand Reframe: Look broadly to expand thinking

2. Uncover the most relevant trends that exist today Reframe: Where are the trends going?

3. Use imperative as a tool to guide ideation Reframe: Use ideation as a tool to explore solutions

4. Visualize ideas to make them tangible and increase impact Reframe: Develop rich experiences to give content to solutions

5. Step through process to reach great solution Reframe: Monitor trends over time Colleen’s presentation was refreshing, knowledgeable and succinct.

It was exciting to see such a confident talk from an ID alum. We spoke after her talk about her journey to ID and what she’s been up to since graduating. Upon completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois in graphic design, Colleen worked on in-house print design for a financial investment company in Chicago. Wanting to ride the dot com surge, she began working for an internet consulting firm in the city called Neoglyphics. Growing frustrated with those roles, she wanted to design for and understand the users and companies for which the websites were intended. After hanging out with the cognitive psychologists and HCI (Human Computer Interaction) designers at work, Colleen joined them in usability testing and information architecture. This was her first experience with research. While she loved this aspect of design, Colleen felt she did not know what she was doing.

After considering going back to graduate school for graphic design, computer science or social science, she realized she was looking for a multi-disciplinary education. Though Colleen wanted to move elsewhere, having been raised in the Chicago area, she decided to come to ID. When she first came to ID she thought, “Oh my god this is like a big deal”. Colleen was so impressed by the curriculum and the fact that students came from all over the world to attend. She completed the two-year Master of Design program focusing on design planning.

Colleen was very interested in the research and business strategy, having previously studied design. Graduating in 2003, she moved to San Francisco to intern at Method, where she worked as an interaction designer. While Colleen liked the detailed work of screen specs and wire-frames, she wanted to be involved in the front-end work of envisioning and setting direction. Through the ID alumni network, she found a job at Jump Associates.

Colleen started as an intern at Jump, conducting ethnographic research all over the world. After that first experience, she knew she wanted to stay at Jump. Now a project lead (after five years), Colleen works with a team of four people on projects that last an average of three to four months. Teams are fully dedicated to one project at a time and they each perform a variety of tasks within the design, business and culture spectrum. No one does just one thing. She sets the direction for a project, keeping the team on task and talking with the clients. Colleen also heads up the graphic design department and is involved with internal employee training. She says that when hiring Jump looks for individuals who have experience in two of the three areas she discussed in her talk: design, business and culture.

Colleen speaks fondly of her time at ID. She said, “ID is really strong at teaching process and methods”. She keeps all the frameworks in her ‘virtual tool bag’, often pulling them out during the analysis phase of a project. The business frameworks taught in Larry Keeley’s Design Planning course have proven valuable to her. Colleen also appreciates Vijay Kumar’s analysis tools and visualization methods. She mentioned how people coming from other educational and professional backgrounds are not armed with these methods. And while they can still cluster post-its, “there is an art to it”. That is the analysis and synthesis portion of a project. As far as ID graduates are concerned, “I love to have ID people” (at Jump). An ID education “brings a great perspective”. One thing Colleen did caution was not to forget empathy and the emotional side of design. We should always be asking ourselves if we are meeting needs.