Alumni Profile

IDEO’s Max Lackner talks about his experience at our studio.

Where do you work now, what do you do? What is the nature of your work?
I am a Visual Interaction Designer working in San Francisco for the design consultant agency IDEO. IDEO is famous for their human-centered design approach and design thinking methods. My task as a Visual Interaction Designer is finding new ways of how humans and machines interact and work with each other. Thanks to my previous education at DI I work a lot in data visualisation and visual storytelling, making concepts and ideas more tangible for the clients and end users. At IDEO you have to be able to jump into multiple roles at a time from design research to industrial design.

How did your education at DI prepare you for professional life?
DI taught me how to work in a team and how to collaborate with all kinds of people, characters and disciplines. Throughout the course I got a better understanding what I love to do as a designer, where I find myself in a team and where I have potential to grow. That helped me to narrow down the possibilities of what to do in my future – channelling my inner designer. Especially in professional life you can differentiate yourself from others by showing your identity, what drives you as a designer and what you’re passionate about.

Social Media Machines

How did that very particular / specific education bring you opportunities?
What makes me different from other designers with a similar educational background is the portfolio I could grow throughout my studies. My projects have a holistic approach and are process-oriented instead of being this one “solution” that claims to save the planet. I gained a broad skillset in visualising ideas which you can see throughout my entire work. Furthermore the background in design research makes me very unique to other designers.

Why should young people study this form of design?
DI helped me to open my horizon and to be more critical and aware of the world around us. I learned to connect the dots and that drives innovation. 2 years in the field passed and I realised how beneficial the course for my role as a designer was. It is not (only) the variety of skills you learn throughout the course more the confidence you grow jumping into new environments, tasks and challenges.

Social Media Machines

What was the element you found most nourishing about studying at DI?
First of all the size of the studio, being in such a private and intimate environment creates an amazing team dynamic and spirit, that is really unique to most of the other universities and courses I have seen so far. Having the opportunity to work face to face with pioneers like Fiona Raby and Anab Jain was such a unique experience for me. Both of them created new ways of what design could mean and what impact we can have as designers and as humans. It taught me a lot about my own role as a designer.

What was the highlight of the course, and what did you find most challenging?
The first time my team’s project got chosen for the annual Angewandte Exhibition and when Fiona send me to Shanghai to represent our studio at the Shanghai Biennale. Also the many workshops the studio hosted for us. I will never forget Bruce Sterling joining us for a storytelling workshop and blowing our minds with a few simple tweaks to our self written scenarios. His quote “tell worlds rather than stories” really resonated with me and is one of my main design principles.

Wilderness in the Anthropocene

What are the skills and knowledge you learnt that proved most beneficial?
Having great ideas is one thing but if you are not able to share it with the audience you won’t have any impact. What I learned most is the many ways of how you can visualise or communicate your thoughts and ideas. Thinking of the workshop with Joseph Popper where we made interiors of space ships out of card board in just two days was an incredible experience. But besides making videos and mockups it’s all about narrowing down your ideas to its core which is definitely the hardest part.

Where do you imagine yourself in 5 years time? What are your aims and ambitions?
I hope I can shape myself even more as a designer and become an expert in a specific field one day. I definitely want to continue on Anab’s and Fiona’s approach to use design as a tool to channel the future challenges, making aware that “today’s actions shape our future world”. (Thanks Anab for this great quote!)

What was your favorite project/brief to work on?
My second semester’s brief was “Microbial Futures – Make the Invisible Visible”. I worked together with Johanna Pichlbauer and Julia Schwarz, we all were “Firsties”, first year students. The approach was not only to find a way how to visualise something invisible like bacteria but also to create a 30 seconds movie teaser that explains the concept. For the first time I realised that design can be fun and playful, I ended up wearing a painter’s suit, crawling around Vienna´s most famous places to collect bacteria.
I also want to highlight my last semester before my diploma where I created Social Media Machines for the Vienna Biennale together with Stephanie Kneissl for the brief “Design For Agency”. The machines were so simple and fun that even kids were able to understand what is behind the likes and algorithms on todays social media platforms. The project went viral and we had the opportunity to display our machines at multiple venues and exhibitions.

Aurora – Microbial Living Light

How is actually studying at Design Investigations different from what you expected it to be?
I did not know what to expect, after a highly technical school I was used to a very strict timetable and curated schedules. I took me some time to create the perfect balance between studio hours and lectures. Studying at Angewandte, especially at DI required a lot of self discipline and self motivation. The more effort, love, time and hot glue you put into your work, the better the outcome will be.

What is the mix of students like? Is it international?
I had amazing colleagues in the studio and I miss them every day, everyone with different backgrounds and interests, we learned a lot from each other. Because there is no real hierarchy in the studio I never felt left outside, more the contrary. Besides the studio itself you get to know a lot of people from other departments which shapes a great environment and awesome friendships in and outside the studio. From fashion designers to architects from crazy artists to simply crazy individuals, Angewandte has a diverse community.

How did you experience the ‘Vertical Studio’?
A lot of learning. When you start at DI you tend to get overwhelmed with the progress and structure of the studio but the older semesters will guide you through the first tough ones. You can learn a lot from the older semesters and use this learning and expertise when it’s your turn to show the younger semesters how to make a project and team successful. Sometimes projects might lack in refinement and detail because of miscommunication and difficulties as a team. Your project might not be worked out perfectly and ready to get exhibited this time but you might have learned a lot about team dynamics and team work. In my current job, I can easily adapt to different teams and know how to motivate them or myself and how to speak up if something is not going right.

Any last words?
THERE WON’T EVER BE A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU HAVE SO MUCH TIME AND FREEDOM AND YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT – THE WEIRDER THE BETTER! 🙂

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