From Brick Walls to Ladders – My Experience with PK

As an undergraduate student there’s always that point when you say to yourself, “it’s time to get your act together and figure out what you want”. For me, it was working on Human-Computer Interaction. If you’re familiar with Randy Pausch, you’d understand when I say Dr. PK was the metaphorical brick wall in the way of that simple desire.
In his earlier courses, he was just the cool professor. In Designing Human Centred Systems however, he was the person that would help me prove myself.

Like his other courses, DHCS too was light and engaging in terms of lectures, but unlike the others one needs to invest a lot of time and energy outside the classroom. Personally I believe, this hands-off approach fosters more creative ideas. Plus he would never let you slip of the rails either. Regular interactions and constructive criticism from his end is what ensured that a challenging problem isn’t dealt with an impossible solution. Being an amateur graphic designer at my institute, I knew that clients who are too involved or conversely least bothered are the worst to work with. And a professor mentoring/advising on a project is no different. Fortunately, PK always operated in the sweet spot. That’s probably one of the reasons I took another one of his project-intensive courses (Privacy and Security in Online Social Media) and really enjoyed it.

Last minute attempt to bring some colour into our DHCS project

Interestingly, PK is self-admittedly a vague person. To a degree this is intentional. However, he is also equally understanding and welcoming. In my group projects I preferred prioritising the building/designing of the actual product over how to present it. This led to arguments on how we’re not doing the requisite “arts & crafts” needed to please PK in an evaluation. But at the end of the day – in spite of never having the coloured chart papers and other aesthetics – never did we fall short on grades. When an instructor can clearly see through the fluff and actually reward you for solid effort, it gives students more confidence in their method.

After this course I started working on independent projects with PK. These assignments were virtually Precog work that involved Precog people. Hence, my loose association  with Precog began. The best way to describe my dynamic with them is similar to that of a touring guitarist with a rock band. I wasn’t a part of their main lineup, but I got the best insight into how these extremely intelligent and sincere people work.
A highlight of my experience was the process of feedback and iterations that Precog gave access to. Sometimes it could be overwhelming, but it was always building towards larger improvements. Another memorable aspect of working with Precog was the diverse skill portfolios I was connected to. Everyone always brought something unique to the table.

A rendition of what was PK explained to me using finger gestures in the air

Beyond my academic relationship with PK, I was also his dedicated design guy. The institute’s design club, Ink. (which I was the admin of) got a lot of work experience in designing technical communication content through his tasks. We also received a lot of publicity due to the outreach our posters got via his network.
Echoing and re-emphasising what I stated before; designing for PK is the most comfortable space designers could possibly find themselves in. A testament to which is how my juniors jumped at the opportunity to be his exclusive liaisons at Ink. when I was graduating.

One of my favourite digital designs for PK

Very soon I would be pursuing an MS in HCI at Georgia Tech. When I look back from this point I realise that the person who was initially a brick wall for me evolved into a ladder that helped me rise higher to reach my goals.

Things came full circle when I became the TA for the same course where it all started