Alumni Stories

Daniel C. Young: The Google interaction designer makes technology less annoying and more delightful.

BFA 12 Graphic Design

As a visual interaction designer with Google Creative Lab, 2012 Graphic Design alum Daniel C. Young can’t talk about the specifics of his confidential work. Rather he describes it in general terms, as “product vision, a kind of subfield within both visual design and interaction design. We design interfaces for a vision of what, for example, Google might do five years from now. It’s somewhere between a real product, real digital product design and science fiction.”

Interaction design is the study of human behavior, kind of applied to technology. It’s basically digital product design.

Soon after graduating and completing an additional ArtCenter Honors Term, Young landed his new job with remarkable speed. This self-described simplicity evangelist found his calling. “Let’s just say it this way: I feel like I’m impacting the actual direction of where everyday computing might happen and how to make technology less annoying and more kind of delightful and fun and playful.”

Young came to ArtCenter after simultaneous careers as a network engineer and a swing dance instructor. Both fueled his interest in design. Working in technology and consulting, Young said, “I came across so many horrid interfaces and became really frustrated. When I was doing network diagrams and so on, I would worry about alignment and ease of legibility, things like that. As a dance instructor, I had to do my own self-promotion, creating websites and brochures and things like that.

It was easy to learn the “how” of something, Young said. But the “why” of one aesthetic choice over another “was always a question that puzzled me.”

A typography class at ArtCenter at Night inspired Young to enroll in the Graphic Design program. A few quarters in, he became a teaching assistant and, following his honors term, Young taught his own Interaction Design night class at ArtCenter. Asked to define interaction design, Young laughed. “I get this question quite a bit. Interaction design is basically the study of human behavior, kind of applied to technology. It’s basically digital product design.”

When it comes to defining and refining design challenges, Young said, ArtCenter taught him “the way out is the way through. Look at it from a different angle and try a whole bunch of different things until you actually understand not just the solution, but the question that you wanted to ask in the first place.”

It’s a different process than working through a problem in engineering, Young said, “where there are always these known methods of solution and you’re trying to form an analysis. With the creative arts, you don’t really know what you’re looking for—you don’t even know if you’ve asked the right question. So it’s very easy to get frustrated.”

Among Young’s many projects are Rebirth, an interactive installation “inspired by the idea of living architecture driven by biological processes,” and Green Eggs and Ham, "which transmediated the Dr. Seuss classic children’s book as sound—converting all text elements into pitch, pauses and musical instruments—and projected coded data animation onto a wall-mounted sculpture shaped like a fried egg, sunny side up. Young did the latter during his honors term and independent study with ArtCenter’s Transmedia Design Director Brad Bartlett.

“ArtCenter has been a tremendous life-changing experience for me,” Young said. “It has permanently changed the way I think and how I’m able to solve problems, when you don’t know what the problem’s face looks like or what question to ask.”

Students coming into the Graphic Design program, he advised, should take advantage of the fact that it will train them to become “an upside down T-shape designer, meaning that there’s an area of specialization, and this kind of broad base. Explore the shape of the ‘T’ that makes you feel strong and comfortable and powerful,” Young said. “Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and really expand that base, but also continue to ask yourself what it is that you would be happy doing, what interests you in a very personal way, and then really become an expert in that.

“School is the best place for you to develop your voice,” Young stressed. “Figure out what it is that you would be proud to make—that if this thing were made in this world, you’d be happy to see more of it.”

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