Fuzzy Math Focus: James Laslavic

This summer, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know James Laslavic, an intern at Fuzzy Math who was as fervid as he was friendly, and as intriguing as he was insightful. James made a lasting, significant impact here at Fuzzy Math through his hard work on the Discover Design project with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, one of many projects he contributed to this summer. Read about James’ out-of-this-world goals (he will work with NASA in Spring 2015) in part two of our Fuzzy Math Focus series.


FM: I know you’re currently in grad school – What is the degree you’re seeking?

JL: I’m halfway into earning my Master of Arts in Design Studies at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. To give a brutally short summary, the term “design studies” embodies a discipline that researches and critically examines the methods, theories, history, and potential futures of design. It also looks at how design affects and is affected by other fields and the world at large.

FM: How will your internship at Fuzzy Math apply to your studies?

JL: The field of design studies is currently composed mostly of non-designers, so I think that taking things from design practice (Fuzzy Math) back to designs studies is especially important. My own practice is interaction design, so that’s the particular branch that I focus on in design studies. I want to connect high-level design theory and ground-level design decisions for the benefit of academics and practitioners alike.

FM: Now the reverse: How will you apply what you’re studying to what you’re working on at Fuzzy Math?

JL: For a long time, I mistakenly thought that “human-centered design” just meant advocating for the wants and needs of users, and that “goal-directed design” just meant making sure design decisions were based on how well they’d meet objectives. I used techniques like wireframes, personas, and design principle lists to explore and explain solutions. About a year ago, I realized that the big thing I was missing was how these methods could (and should!) be used to methodically determine and filter the goals themselves. Human-centered design and goal-directed design are as much about setting aside the wrong goals as they are about pursuing the right ones. While at Fuzzy Math this summer, I’ve had a chance to see how my interaction design chops benefit from what I’ve been exposed to during the first half of my masters program. What I’ve found so far is that design studies is providing me with an especially rigorous approach to identifying the factors that actually matter when determining goals, making design decisions based on the resulting goals, and assessing how well my methods serve those decisions.

FM: What do you most enjoy filling up your free time with?

JL: I’ve totally fallen in love with the blues clubs here in Chicago. I keep going back to Kingston Mines, but I’m still trying different places. I play guitar, so it really motivates me to practice more! Swimming is also a lot of fun. I grew up in a coastal suburb of San Diego where all of us locals (supposedly) learned to to swim before walking, but I didn’t get serious about it until I went off to college. Watching movies is also a regular pastime for me. I’m always looking for good movies and TV shows. I use them as part of my daily wind-down ritual, while I eat dinner and get ready for bed. I’m pretty wild.

FM: How were you introduced to FM when you applied for this internship, and are you enjoying it so far?

JL: During my undergrad studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, some of my classmates and I visited Chicago. I learned about Fuzzy Math during the planning of this trip, and ultimately volunteered to lead the student group visiting the studio. Unfortunately, the trip schedule was a little too aggressive, and most of the students who signed up didn’t have enough time to get from a different studio to Fuzzy Math. It ended up just being me and one other student (who had to leave pretty early), so I pretty much got to see the place by myself and have a lot of one-on-one interaction with Co-founders Mark and Ben, and other current “Fuzzy Mathletes.” It was awesome for me. Probably not so awesome for Fuzzy Math since way more students were signed up for the studio visit and they basically ended up just being stuck with me, but I had a great time and was very impressed! We “clicked.” Back in Pittsburgh when we reflected on the trip, I made everybody very jealous when I told them about the work that I saw being done, how well I was treated, and showed them my shiny new Fuzzy Math mug.

FM: In your opinion, what is the absolute best part about working in UX Design?

JL: There are a lot of fascinating, sophisticated, worthwhile ideas that could make a hugely positive impact on how people live. Too many projects have almost everything they need to succeed – a valid need to be addressed, determined entrepreneurs, talented programmers, and so on – yet still tragically fail in the end despite everybody on their team doing their job perfectly, only because the user experience design was lacking. I love being able – and knowing how – to fill that gap. It feels awesome to blow people away with what I make for them. Also, I love the idea of taking the most sophisticated, brilliant ideas and making them usable for everybody.

FM: What are your short-term and long-term career goals?

JL: I definitely want to finish earning my masters degree. I’ll be spending my final semester (Spring 2015) working with NASA to finish my thesis on interaction design for outer space and future technologies. After I graduate, I want to devote myself to design practice for a nice, long time. I know that I’ll want to continue exploring how to connect high-level theory and ground-level practice. Eventually, I want to return to academia to earn my Ph. D so that I can become a professor toward the end of my career.

FM: Describe the FM office atmosphere in two words.

JL: Unpretentious experts.

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