Past IDer: David McGaw

by New Idiom


ID alumni David McGaw visited ID during intersession as an adjunct faculty member.

Please quickly introduce yourself in a sentence or two. Where are you from?  Where are you now?   When did you graduate from ID and which program?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived in New England and Orlando before settling in the Washington, DC area in 1999, and I returned there after graduating from ID in 2007. I’m currently using my MDes as a consultant at a large management consulting firm.

Married? No, but willing to entertain serious offers

Children? None of my own, but I’m “Uncle David” to lot of friends’ kids.  I currently aspire to have a dog, whom I will call Greg.

Politics? This is sad, but even though I live in DC and work a block from the White House, I have trouble getting too worked up about any political party.  When you live here, you also end up knowing people on all sides who are very involved and so you can easily the pluses and minuses all around.

Religion? I’m a Christian and enjoy a close relationship with an Anglican community at Saint Paul’s Church on K Street in Washington, D.C., where the music and liturgy has plenty to interest a designer.

Tell us about the class you’re teaching at intersession.

At first I had trouble figuring out what I would have to add to the rich offerings here. But then I realized that my experiences in management consulting have given me new insight into the challenges facing the clients will all will be serving, and the ways good management processes can both help designers meet clients needs, and keep life sane for design teams. I’m trying to make the class practical, but also inspirational; we spent the first few days exploring some ways that a free sense of creativity can delight and produce great work. I hope the class has been interesting and useful, and am looking forward to getting feedback—we’ll see what’s worth keeping and what could be improved or changed entirely.

What made you decide to come back to ID to teach this class?

I’m grateful to John Grimes and the ID community for indulging me—teaching design has been a dream for almost 20 years.  I had also enjoyed serving as a TA for Chuck Owen and Vijay Kumar in my last year at ID, so it seemed like a good fit.The other essential factor was the enthusiastic support of my current colleagues, who made it possible for me to take time off, in the middle of an important project, to spend time at ID. A special shout-out to Nora and Tracey for shouldering the load on my team in my absence!More...In which ways and dimensions do you think ID changed your career?ID was huge for me. I was coming from a brand strategy and communication design firm, and suddenly found a much bigger playground—helping companies and organizations make strategic decisions that would help them serve their customers better. The fit with my interests was so much better than I ever could have imagined. I also really appreciated the chance to practice working on projects with people at ID, in ways that directly transferred to my current role as a consultant. And of course, it was a fellow IDer, Derrick Kiker, who told me about the firm I now work for, and that has opened up a lot of fantastic possibilities for me professionally.

What are skills learned at ID that you are using in your current job?

You can’t make it out of ID without learning a lot about teamwork. Even though sometimes it seems like trial and error, you can still come away with greater respect for colleagues and a sense of humility about your own contribution. I also think that I learned a lot about making data and processes visible, both to help a team collaborate more effectively, and to help clients understand how a solution is being developed. I’ve even been able to use the InsightMatrix a few times.

What hard times did you have at ID while a student, and what got you through them?

When I look back now, the things that stand out were late night (or last minute) work, where you’re feeling frustrated about the quality of work you’re doing, and kicking yourself for not planning ahead better.  There’s not much you can do right then, other than take a deep breath and try to make reasonable choices within constraints.  Over time, I think I learned how to plan better to avoid those situations, but also how to ask for help earlier, so I didn’t get into that kind of trouble in the first place.

What was your favorite place to be creative while a student at ID?

When working by myself, I preferred quiet places like the 4th floor lounge, an empty classroom, or that weird little room on the fifth floor outside the old “makeout room”. The big studio always had a little too much noise for me to concentrate—except maybe on Saturday mornings.But it was far more fun and creatively stimulating to be standing at a whiteboard with colleagues, just riffing off ideas.  Good times—lots of laughter and flashes of insight.

If you could have changed one thing about your time at ID, what would it have been?

I was probably overly conscious of being older than other students, and having more at stake with a mid-career shift of focus. As a result, I think I obsessed about work just a bit too much, and traded off more fun time with other students.  Now I really value those relationships, and of course continue to meet up with people in Chicago and around the country, but I think I could have had more fun while here.

What other advice do you have for current and/or future ID students, (especially in light of the not so hot economy)?

There are always great opportunities for people who know how to solve problems. Don’t limit yourself to traditional design firms.  I came to ID hoping to work for IDEO, and found myself at a very different place… and I’m loving the challenge.But when you leave the Design Thinking community, you’ll have to work much harder at explaining what it is that we do.  From interviews straight through to when you actually start working, make sure you’re being “user-centered” in your communication: find out what kinds of problems people need to solve, and experiment with ways of explaining ID methods in terms that they understand.  And by the way, you’ll also discover that non-designers have great problem-solving approaches, too—it dramatically improves your capabilities if you continue to seek out learning opportunities—for example, did you know you can actually use Excel to manage numerical data, in addition to creating InsightMatrices???

This space is for anything else you’d like to share.

If you’re in Chicago for the first time while at ID, make sure you seek out and enjoy everything that’s wonderful and interesting here.  I’m a big architecture fan, and loved walking around the Loop looking at old buildings—and you should also take the Green Line out to Oak Park and visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Chicago is such a great town I just might move back.