A Student Workbook For Observing Life Like A Designer

A University of North Texas workbook developed in-house has undergrads learn to observe like designers in the analog world.

To be good at any vocation, you have to learn more than a skillset; you have to learn to see the world a little bit differently. That’s especially true in design. Literally, everything we see has been designed by the efforts of people or the painful hand of nature. And in this regard, it’s all perfect fodder for design inspiration.


Alex Egner, assistant professor at University of North Texas, wanted his students to see these connections in the analog world. So along with his colleagues, he designed the Experience Passport, a laser-printed workbook that encourages design-oriented thinking through life. And as students make observations, they receive stamps marking the journey.

“The inspiration for the project came from observing that our incoming students often lacked the curiosity, and therefore the cultural literacy, required to be successful designers,” Enger explains. “The passport book format is highly portable and conveys the idea of exploration.”

The workbook has practical business exercises, like pasting in collected business cards and researching/listing agencies where you’d like to one day work. But most of the pages relate to expanding one’s horizons–eating new food, watching old movies, reading good books, and studying unknown topics. It’s like a Moleskine with a curriculum.

The design of the book itself is notable, of course. It’s “loosely based on a combination of government forms/documents, and school/office supplies,” Enger says, making the passport more of a tongue-in-cheek riff on authority than a pile of pedantic busy work. And as it’s just a black-and-white document, students are free to print on any paper and bind the pages as they’d like, meaning the book itself can be customized down to the student level.

Now, knowing what my own notebooks looked like after only a semester, I have a tough time imagining what sort of pizza-stained, vodka-flammable mess the average Experience Passport will become by senior year. Then again, I guess that a good grease mark is a stamp all its own.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.