What engineers can learn from dancing

When you hold a brush in your hand to paint or a pen in your hand to write a letter, what’s on your mind?

For me it’s the emotion I am trying to express, the image I hold in my imagination, and the relationship I am creating through the creative act between me and the source of my inspiration.

What role does the brush or the writing instrument play in my experience of painting or writing a letter?

The instrument plays the same role as my feet do when I am dancing. I pay attention to how my feet move to the music and rhythm and how my shoes enhance my sensation of dancing.

That is the perspective I bring when I think about human Computer interface. As much as a set of beautiful brushes or writing instruments can inspire people to create art, the real source of creativity is the human experience of the universe.

I brought this perspective to bear on my class in human computer interface design at the integrated innovation institute of the Carnegie Mellon university. My students were software engineers.

My focus during this class was to help students tap into their inner source of curiosity, empathy and inspiration. I also encouraged students to spend considerable part of their class in getting close to the real world ( as opposed to their tools) to understand what is meaningful, resonant, and impactful to people. Using my earlier analogy, Software engineers have learned the art of making shoes, my class taught them the art of dance. My message was- we don’t look for a dance that fits a shoe, we choose a shoe that suits the spirit, the moves, the culture and tradition of the dance. The tool is an enabler.

I inherited a purpose of design shaped by the Bauhaus school that was motivated to save humanity from the ugliness created by industrial revolution. Today I find myself educating the next generation of designers to save humanity from. the ugliness created by the information technology revolution.

My simple message to my students is, let us learn what it means to dance even if our job is to design a shoe.

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