Photography by Alicia Dietrich
Grayson Rosato is a senior in the Department of Theatre and Dance who is pursuing a Bridging Disciplines Program certificate in Design Strategies through the Center for Integrated Design (CID). Last spring, he enrolled in a CID class taught at the design studios of USAA, a financial services and insurance company. He’s currently taking ITD 350: Designing AI Experiences, a class taught by designers from Hypergiant, a design firm that specializes in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Rosato recently started working as an intern at Hypergiant and will continue the internship through the spring semester. We sat down with him recently to talk about his experience in courses offered by the Center for Integrated Design.
Last spring, you took a CID course that was taught off-campus at the USAA design studio in downtown Austin. Can you talk about that class experience?
It was appealing to me because of the description and just knowing what USAA does in their design studio downtown. We knew we were going to be working on real-world issues. In my introductory CID classes, it was really nice to learn the theory and think about how you would attack this problem and learn the principles behind it. Now, I'm very much craving real-world, hard issues with requirements and deadlines.
It was also appealing to be in another space and working in a studio that's downtown to get an idea of who was there and what the vibe is and how people work. It's something that you don't see in the classroom.
How was the USAA course structured?
We spent a few weeks covering foundations and learning the technologies they wanted us to design with. The class was focused on machine learning and how it’s used in real-world business applications. After that, we broke into four three-week projects.
Most of the time, at the end of each sprint or segment, we would share a presentation to the entire class or to a board of their designers or VPs, and that was usually pretty nerve-wracking. They would rip you apart so you'll build something better, which took people a while to get used to at first, but it offered a lot of insight because it set the tone for the rest of the class. After the first few weeks of that, we did not have to hold back our professional opinions of everybody's work. It was always constructive feedback, just very blunt feedback, which was great because by the end of this semester as we were turning in more and more projects, it became easier to give each other feedback that was actually actionable.
The structure was similar to real-world briefs and real-world deliverables that you would give a client. That was very beneficial because we got used to the condensed timeline of understanding that if you get negative feedback or are not going in the right direction, you just have a very finite amount of time to turn it around.
The experience we got with them was on an elevated level of what you would get in an internship. I feel like we were treated as employees of USAA with a guiding hand. It was a challenge, but it was the best challenge because you don't get that experience when you're not a student. You can't ask somebody to do that for you when you get a job.
What was your biggest takeaway from the class at USAA?
I want to work in this field very much now, and it's been a career shift for me because I wanted to do theatrical management and producing. My biggest takeaway was understanding that I want to work for a company that works in a very specific way. These classes gave me an experience no internship will. It was like getting an insider's perspective of getting to be a fifteen-week employee without having to commit. I also got a bunch of portfolio pieces because presentations were polished and had research behind them.
Tell me more about why you enrolled in the course taught by Hypergiant this spring.
When I looked up what Hypergiant was and what they're doing, they seemed in many ways to be like this the Center for Integrated Design. They're pushing what's normal and what’s possible in so many ways. That was very much something where I thought that if I want to be challenged, it's going to be from these people.
I was tasked to create a small team inside the class, and we have been tasked with a new project for Hypergiant. They have given us the opportunity to work on an internal tool they are creating right now—the catch? We haven’t been able to see any of the progress or research they have done. This gives us the opportunity to build the product from the ground up using our own skills and research. Our process has been accelerated, challenging and completely rewarding because it is the closest I have gotten to real-world work.
What was your biggest takeaway from these CID classes?
I think everyone should take one of these classes. In every single one of these classes, you have to do projects that are about solving a problem. I think that is applicable in any field, in any job, in any profession, no matter what you want to do. I would never have had that type of group project experience in any other class at the university.
These classes have made my arts education super relevant. I knew I had these skills, I knew I could work in interdisciplinary teams, I knew I could have a bigger picture. But when all of your experience is in theatre or art or design or music, other people outside of that world don't see it. Now I'm taking these exact same skills and just applying it to a different context, and I'm flourishing.
There were engineers and business students and psychology majors and computer science majors who had no idea how to conduct interviews, design with empathy, tell a story, connect with investors. It was really natural to me—like, I'm pitching a show, I'm pitching a project for Cohen New Works Festival. These things that if you work in theatre or music or performing arts, it's ingrained in you from day one, and no one ever tells you this stuff. You don't use a terminology. And then these designers are like, "You need to be able to do this, this and this." Pause for different questions, and understand the flow and keep us hooked—and I’m like, "Oh, I've been doing this all along and just never put two and two together." It just makes me so excited for the future.