Always Aspiring: Peer-to-Peer Learning in the Design Lab

Using Lego blocks to create moving type for letterpress printing

The Design Lab is an aspirational entity, always in the process of becoming. While this creates a certain amount of ambiguity at times, it also provides a refreshing sense of possibility. My role as a Resident at the Lab over this past academic year has allowed me to develop what were several casual interests of mine into keener ones, picking up useful know-how and experience along the way. In this post, I have given each of these interests and projects their own mini-blurb.

Stephanie Dooper’s Podcast

Helping with former Design Lab Resident Stephanie Dooper's podcast helped me deepen my basic understanding of audio editing and become a much quicker and more effective user of Audacity and Logic. As I got more familiar with the kind of story she was telling, I made a few editorial suggestions there as well and so got to dabble with the role of producer as well as engineer.

Recording the theme music was great a well, since it gave me a chance to use a few musical ideas that had been rattling around for a while and to be a bit more disciplined about seeing a musical project through to completion.

Podcasting Workshop Series || Community of Practice

Helping Justin plan and lead several of the podcast workshops that we offered this spring was a great way to connect with other folks on the verge of embarking on an audio storytelling journey of their own. I valued the practice it gave me with workshop facilitation and connecting folks with useful and relevant resources. Although it didn’t quite cohere into as consistent of a ‘community of practice’ as we might have initially hoped, I think it was a good first outing and definitely garnered feedback that will inform the next one.

LibriVox Recording Sessions

Out of several folks who showed initial interest, only three of us ended up recording chapters for LibriVox. The book we chose was entitled “The Romance of Modern Invention,” by Archibald Williams (1910). It was a fascinating read, as it is brimming with awe-drenched descriptions of early mechanical wonders. The language is quite flowery and Williams has a pretty liberal attitude toward sentence length, which made some passages tricky to capture the cadence of. All in all, though, it was a great exercise both in reading something old and unfamiliar and in audio recording and editing. Sadly, LibriVox is pretty adamant about its one-user/one-login policy, so they rejected my attempts to make a ‘shapirodesignlab’ account, and by the time we tried to figure out an alternative, one of our readers was no longer a Lab staff member and our chapters had been assigned to other readers. That said, it was a fantastic learning experience and made some of us seriously consider contributing to LibriVox in the future.

Media Production Room Orientations + One-on-One Consultations

As I gave more and more MPR orientations, I felt comfortable giving them on the fly (without the script in our binder) and answering questions that arose. My involvement in other audio-related projects made me much more confident in responding to requests for one-on-one project consults too, of which I did several this semester. It was fun to learn about the kinds of things students were using the studio for and to help them frame their process and products.


Letterpress can be an intimidating thing to get into, both in terms of jargon and equipment costs, but it is something I got to jump into a bit at AADL and was glad to get the chance to do some demos and experiments with the little proof press in the lab. I especially liked the dabbling we did with Lego letterpress.

Reading Diet Survey + PostLink Project

My residency project this year had to do with the recommendation vectors that drive our reading diets. Part of this involved a survey that sought to parse out what kinds of outlets, actors, and factors influence the information people consume as part of different types of ‘reading diets,’ (e.g. recreational, informational, academic, incidental). The other part of the project was something I called PostLink, which entailed four sets of correspondence with friends and family members who have artistic inclinations. Each piece of correspondence took the form of some kind of art object that rendered/represented a hyperlink. The idea was to take the key innovation of the internet (hypertextuality) and take it out of context, thus making it more visible but also less actionable. It also carries more weight because of the intention and time taken in representing it in physical form, as a kind of counterpoint to the ‘text is cheap’ sensibility of the internet. Each hyperlink was essentially one in an impressionistic string of recommendations, each one loosely informing the next. This portion of the project is ongoing and I am working on developing a visual way to share it online (stay tuned!)

SDL Mini-Library + A Lynda-Empowered ebook

Access to our mini-library was great. One standout title is Dear Data, which Justin recommended to me and definitely helped shape my thinking about PostLink. Access to was great as well. I was able to do a module on ebook self-publishing and put the knowledge I gained to use in publishing a final project on behalf of my group in the law class I took this semester.

I really appreciated the low-key collegiality of the Lab. There is always something afoot, and people willing to lend a hand with whatever they can. At the same time, there is plenty of down time and breathing room for thinking, brainstorming, and daydreaming, as well as exploring potential collaborations in a low-stress, low-stakes environment. I am curious and excited to see what the future holds for this community and its space(s)!