In this very interesting interview with Isabel Inés, co-founder of La Nave Nodriza, you will read anything you need to know about the project.
Interview With Isabel Inés, Co-Founder Of La Nave Nodriza
So, how does La Nave Nodriza arise?
“La Nave Nodriza is a very personal project. We define it as a learning space around the design in general and the design of digital products in particular. It is the result of the sum of our individualities, not only that of the three of us, the founders (Isabel Inés, Juan Leal, and Ignacio Buenhombre); this is something we like very much to say, and it is that La Nave Nodriza is the school in which we would have enjoyed learning. It is the sum of our trajectories, our motivations, and also those of the people who are passing by, impregnating and helping to configure La Nave Nodriza.
We set up La Nave during the summer of 2013. It is still a project of the three of us, but I take it day by day. We are designers, consultants of user experience. We wanted to try our own methodologies and give more affection to the subject!
In La Nave Nodriza we do not look for a great profitability, because the model is neither scalable nor replicable. That does not mean that we are an NGO or that we do not make money; of course we do, but in the origin of La Nave Nodriza there is a vocation to give back to the community all that we have received: There is the place in which the exchange of knowledge is easier. It is an idea that is not easy to become a reality. We do not apply an entrepreneurs’ mentality; when it comes to economic issues, we have to put a price on what we like.”
The Great Course
“Right now, the star product of La Nave Nodriza is what we now call the Great Digital Design Course. I coordinate it and it is this in which we have been doing so many methodological things.
We are designers and also believers of User-Centered Design. We take into account the needs, barriers, expectations of users with digital products, or their relationship with brands. We have used the same methodology to design the course. I read a lot now, I’m training, I’m very curious about training methodologies, and I realize that many of the things we do by instinct or trial-error, because we find this to be more fun, or whatever, have already names within the pedagogical world.
Also, in reverse: Somehow, I’m learning a lot from the pedagogical world, how to teach to learn and how to learn; how people learn in general and adults in particular, which is very nice, too.”
What Is That Methodology?
“Learning by doing. This course is six months long; its target group is professionals, and it’s being held on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings: These are the worst times of the week to learn. We know that we have to offer something very interesting and playful… That is, students cannot be sitting in a chair for five hours taking notes while someone tells them what they need to know. It’s cool that it’s not that, because it would affect me directly. It would be very hard for me to think that what students learn depends only on me, on what I know, on what I can convey to them.
My role as a coordinator, as the director of this training plan, is to facilitate the conditions for learning to occur; to get to know each person, each professional, very well. The average age of our students is over 30: This means that they are people who have been working for more than 10 years. Everyone has their experience, and the experience of each one makes us unique. Although we could have studied the same, even if we had worked at the same company, the ponds that each of us has in their head to fill with knowledge depends a lot on each one’s motivation, objectives, configuration of their brain… I do not know!
So, I think my mission is mainly to accompany everyone in their learning process, and for that there is also a job of personal mentoring: What do you want, where do you want to go, what objective do you raise with this… Because the Great Course is a great investment of energy, time, money, excitement, and also desire… And there we have to make a very personal accompaniment, to see how each of our students is personally and professionally, to accompany them in their process. In addition, I know the process; it has its ups and downs, and there are moments of rush and downturn, and you have to be there and continually challenge them.
Regarding the methodology in time, we are based on a concept that I have known recently that is the training arcs. We did not know that we were doing it; but we were doing it. If we divide the course into three parts, the first one is a training arc that has a beginning and an end and some goals… and in that first bow, practically everything is based on play. We do theoretical sessions and workshops, and what students do is to put into practice the methodology, prototyping, to lose fear to do, create, design, invent, propose, suggest, say, be wrong… We play a lot, and what it is achieved there is making a very large cohesion group.
Another thing that is at the core of our methodology is that we select our students. Anyone who comes to La Nave Nodriza -no matter how hard for them is to find us, as we don’t invest in advertising, SEO, or good positioning in Google search in general-, anyone who comes interested in taking this course, is a valid profile. So, the selection is not based on whether you are worth it or not, but on an adequate personal moment; because you have to spend many hours with this course: It is something that is negotiated within a family, a couple, obviously at the workplace…
In addition, as the design of digital products is a multidisciplinary process involving a lot of profiles -from the most strategic ones to marketing communication, research, interaction designers, audiovisual, layout, back programmers, SEO people, analytics-, although it depends on how much the course demands, our intention is always that there are all these profiles in the group, so that all knowledge is already there; what needs to be done will surface.
I return to the topic of the training arcs: In that first training arc, it’s all about everyone knowing each other very well, that the differences are appreciated a lot, that everyone sees the wealth that is in the class, and that each one gets to be aware that they are unique, that they know things that others do not know, that they have a lot to contribute to the group, that they want to contribute, that they create the optimum environment in which they can share.
In that first training arc the students make a group project; not everyone has the skills to design and create, but they realize it is not necessary. And from there they do individual projects, already with more specific classes on methodology and more time for reflection.
Another thing we have learned about how people learn is the Bloom Pyramid. I was frustrated at first because it seemed to me that the knowledge was very superficial. The students were very happy, but they had not really understood why they had done what they had done.
We have been getting more and more projects, more practice in the course, and there is already a much higher level of reflection. In the end, it is not so much about doing a project over time, but about doing several projects and spending several hours on the creation process from the beginning to the end.
This is what we have notices it works best to acquire maturity; because in the end, although in general, the definition of design that people like us have, has much to do with the visual and graphic part and with how to use the graphic resources. In the design of digital products this goes much further: You are designing conversations and complex processes and relationships between a company and a customer that go well beyond of how I paint the screen or what color I put on a button. It is about learning to ask the right questions. This is difficult to teach.
Another thing we have seen that works very well are the tutorials. Each student always has a project in progress and once a month there are tutors, designers or people of the sector with a lot of professional experience, and the students can consult them: “I am in this phase, these are my doubts…”. Also, we always say to the students: “You cannot say ‘Look, this is my project, what do you think?’. Show me where your doubts are, what your main design decisions were, and what are you going to propose this way and not in any other way. And above all, what is your starting challenge, and link it with a user need’.
I am proud of the final result; well, I am very proud of our students, seeing how they professionally mature in six months, it is incredible! But also I like to see how their projects mature, how they become increasingly interesting.”
Where Do We Want To Go?
“One of the things we like a lot is having a methodology, not a physical place, not depending on a physical place. La Nave Nodriza is here now, but it could be anywhere else, because we have already defined what relationship the learning space plays in our methodology, and then it does not have to be this anymore, but we do know that we want to have moving walls, that all furniture should be mobile too, that we have to make it cozy, but we do not need it to be in this particular space.
We like it a lot not only that people come here to take courses, but that we can give training or be part of the transformation of groups within companies, or in other schools, where we are giving classes as well. We are learning and we are pivoting too.
The other day, I thought that in the area of designing digital products, we who are dedicated to the Internet, are so accustomed to the environment changing continuously, that we are continuously learning. I understand that in all sectors, if you are curious, it also happens to you, but it is impossible for you not to do so, because in fact, everything you learned five years ago, most of them are not worth it now. It is an active learning in which you know what you have to put aside because now there are new things; Or that can no longer be done (we have to unlearn, sometimes). Sometimes, experience is a problem, rather than something positive.
What we like is to be a reference for the community, to contribute to anyone who wants to recycle professionally or who thinks they have something to teach or to learn.”
What Is The Technological Basis?
“There is no technological basis. Technology in the end is one more resource. There are no computers on La Nave Nodriza. People ask ‘Do I have to bring my computer?’. Yesterday, there was a digital narrative product class. For that we use paper, because it is really a way of thinking, a way to guide the approach of digital products, and then you choose the tool that you want.
To learn how to use tools, the internet is full of manuals. But, for example, in the Great Course the students are organized to give each other classes of how to use tools, outside the class schedule. Of course, they can use the classroom, but we do not dedicate time to that, because they can learn these things on their own; there are courses on the internet or there are academies that are specialists in that.
There are people who have shortcomings, but then they deal with them independently. For example, there are people who have never designed before, feel that lack of skill, and want to take advantage of the course to improve themselves. So outside the class schedule we put exercises, supervise them, and they get advancing. But there is no technological basis. Scissors, paper, blackboards, notebooks, pens, felt pens, are technology, just as they are tools, right? But it is not necessary to know how to use any program. You have to know what you need. Surely, there is a program that helps you to do it.”
“We are doing all the training face-to-face. They ask us a lot about online training, but I think this has to do with what I said before: La Nave Nodriza is the school where we would have enjoyed to learn, and for me, face-to-face training is much more fun, a lot more permanent (much more remaining), and much richer. On the one hand there are the alumni, groups of friends who seven years later still have their WhatsApp group, still have a lot in common, have shared a lot, and on the other hand there are people who you see them and say ‘In real life, we could have never been friends’.
There are wonderful online communities that have also made the leap to offline, but I do not think I have much to contribute there; or I would have to study a lot to see how I could contribute in online training. We want to create some online tools that we need to create, because we want to play with them. many times, at the end of the class we use a validation tool to establish knowledge, but it is very playful.
We are using one that is in the market, but we would like to have our own; because, as we are digital product designers, we always come up with ways to improve it. Or during the week, as the course is on Friday and Saturday, we want to be able to remember certain knowledge of what we learned the previous week, or whatever. We are talking to a company that has an eLearning tool to see if we can get one, but it is always more to establish knowledge and maintain contact, although the core is in the face-to-face training.”
“The course that ended in 2016 has created a WhatsApp group that is still on; it’s the most basic, we’re still there. Well, I always tell them: They pay the course once, but they have support for life. We have alumni mailing lists on which all are subscribed and job offers are put together, but there are also many conversations around new projects, conversations about the digital product, or people who share: ‘Well, I have done this project, or in my company we are having this problem, and how would you solve it?’. A conversation is created around the professional subject or devices that are coming out.
We also do short workshops, more specific trainings to those that keep coming. With many, we maintain friendly relationships; with some of them, we keep professional relationships and then we also have periodic parties for the other alumni, even for those of the first two courses we had in the other school. For us, they are the history of La Nave; they are very important people.
Some are already professors in La Nave Nodriza. Since 2015 we have courses in which we teach our own methodology. You need to have studied here, have gone through the process, have learned here, and it is working very well. So the staff always grows; the base of teachers that can teach certain courses.
“Whoever is looking for a degree, they are clearly not for me. There are no official credits, no university behind. This is not a regulated training, nor are we subject to any program, because from one year to the next, based on our experience, we completely change the program if it needs to be changed. We change it every year to improve it, but there are times when we hit a rock… In fact, every time there one program less. La Nave Nodriza is very special; it is an act of faith to do this course: You have to trust that you are going to learn and that this is what you want to learn. It does not fail. I don’ think that anyone ever felt frustrated.
In the other school, the other course we did was called a Master’s Degree. When we set up La Nave Nodriza, we decided to get as far away from it as possible. Without being ‘anti’, we are so far from the official training, the credits, the immovable programs, that we call it ‘The Great Course’; ‘in the central arena of the circus’, as we are totally far away from that and I think this is what makes us much more valuable. The moment you institutionalize, or institutionalize your training, you have become already obsolete. The opposite happens to us: No one of us teaching in La Nave, even me, gets profit from La Nave. We all have projects outside of it. We are Design Professionals and we are continuously designing. Sometimes this is a problem: A training arises, and who can do it if we are all working? This is why we are putting together a team of people who are professionals but want to teach as well.”
“We constantly evaluate: Every year we evaluate this year, the year before… We see how it affects everything. To begin with, we know that it is a course that is done for professional transformation, but it has a lot to do with personal change as well. I do not know if that happens in all masters. When you’re going to make such a huge investment of energy, money, and effort, there’s really a personal transformation behind. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
In general, people are very motivated, the environment motivates a lot and there is also a very personalized accompaniment. I think there will be some who think they could have given more, have done better, have taken more time, and this transformation is slow. There are people who, after finishing the course, are a little frustrated, but six months later, a year later, two years later, they continue to call or write, saying: ‘Today I just clicked on this class and I just understood everything, because at work something happened to me and this information fit perfectly’. We maintain contact with practically all of our former students (with some of them more often than others). This is a slow digestion course, which accompanies learning for years.”
Transfer Of Knowledge
“We do not consciously teach our students to make a transfer of knowledge, but it is one of the things we are seeing how to put into practice. Things we do and are testing from year to year: There is a project group at the beginning of the course, but then the projects are individual, so that each one has their experience and it is very obvious that it is that person who is taking all the design decisions. There are teachers who accompany you; and your classmates, of course. One of the things we have done to help students not feeling lonely, is creating couples; ‘binomials’ we call them.
Your binomial is actually your partner or reference partner, to whom you tell your project. In each binomial, each one knows perfectly the project of the other. They pivot the projects and are accompanied in the resolution of the problems. You learn not only to make your decisions and solve the problems of your project, but also to accompany another person, who is the one who has to make their own decision.
There is also your process with a tutor. The subject of the tutorials is very interesting; the tutor is not your boss, nor your teacher, nor your client. They are your teacher in a master-apprentice model: Someone who has much more experience than you, and who knows how to ask the right questions.
Many times, tutors teach through their own experience: ‘Have you thought whether I do not know something? Because this kind of thing usually happens, it happened to me…’. The tutor is transferring knowledge, and they are facing many kinds of problems.
We are looking for maturity as a designer; a professional maturity. We are very angry when people leave here in their mid-thirties and have to be the junior or the scholar of a profession that they are just beginning to put into practice.
The other thing we do is specific exercises to make students aware of their design decisions, in a generic way. To reflect on their project, what have been the three design decisions they have made. There, they suddenly generalize: ‘The user does not always do this..’. Or ‘Designed for the most probable, and not for everything that is possible’. They are mantras that we repeat and suddenly, one day, ‘Eureka! I have already noticed that!'”
“Having studied at La Nave Nodriza, in my sector, is a seal of quality. However, making a selection of staff based on, for example, the candidate’s official master’s degree, seems to me obsolete. I consider myself privileged to be living this time and to be occupying the place I occupy. I find it fascinating, because we are already seeing each and every one of the old paradigms falling down; the basic principles that ruled the world of my parents, for example.
On the one hand, I have a great respect for the people of that generation, who have allowed this to happen; but we must be open to change. In my generation, there are many professionally brilliant companions of mine, people who had school failure because they were interested in working before getting a degree. In my generation, it is a value not to fit into the education system, because you already are ahead of it.”
“The HR areas of large companies and corporations, on the one hand, need very generic systems that help them taking decisions, because otherwise they would be zero operations. However, for example, there is a company in our sector which makes two job interviews a week to get a person every three or four months because they are looking for the ‘eye shine’. What they are looking for is what makes a person and has nothing to do with professional skills: Their hobby, or whether they are a musician, or a geek of such and such thing.
In the end, what is interesting is how you think, what is your ability to solve problems, your creativity. This school does not talk about creativity, and yet it seems to me that it develops it a lot, because it is not about ‘Let’s be creative and paint things in colors’. Creativity is thinking of different ways to solve the same problem. So let’s understand very well what a problem is and we will see eight hundred thousand ways to solve it. Of all these, you have to get criteria: Know which is the best, according to the limits of this project.
I think it’s a job for HR people, because the traditional processes are not worth to find people like that. You have to look for maturity, to know if that person knows how to ask the right questions. I think it’s going around that a lot. You also have to ask a lot ‘Why?’ and ‘Why have you done this?’. Look at their projects or see how they think. Face them with real cases: ‘What would you do here?’ or ‘What is your approach there?’.
We receive many requests from companies: ‘Hey, I’m looking for a profile or for a resource..’. This is horrible. In job postings right now, companies do not know how to describe what they need, and they almost never tell what they offer. I am very embarrassed by that. We need some respect!
But beside that, it seems to me that the processes for job hiring are not well-thought, just like the housing hunting. You should be able to try, being paid to prove: ‘If I am interested in working in your company, or we care about each other, I will work for a month, you will pay me; in my company they will respect my job post in case I change my mind’. I do not know how you could do that: To be able to try and if you’re not comfortable with the change, then you don’t go there. But of course, this cannot normally be done. I think there’s a revolution there, too.
We, the founders, are advocates of digital nomadism and professional independence, of being able to work for a client without being ‘married’ to a company. In our profession, there are more and more people like that. From La Nave Nodriza, more and more people come out wanting to be autonomous, not being hired by a large corporation or a small design boutique. Also because it is a profession where there is full employment; it is a profession in which if you are moderately good, there is work for everyone.
People do not value working in a large corporation, where you have a schedule, have to go to the office, sit on the same chair every day for the same eight hours, regardless of how your project is, or how creative you feel that day or how productive; because not every day we are just as productive. There are more and more people who do not want that and are looking for other ways to make a living. That seems very interesting to me. Maybe this knowledge will also help HR people.
In all the large corporations of Madrid, there are people who have passed through La Nave Nodriza, and who are now there. We have had different types of agreements, from scholarships to becoming part of their selection processes, or recommendations, but, outside La Nave Nodriza, I am part of the Ilios network, a group of independent freelancers (we are eight, not many), internet professionals, user experience designers, etc.
From this community, as it is a new profession -we invented it-, we have more than 15 years of experience in this. The community has been growing and contributing. There is a very beautiful vocation to share what you learn. This is part of the origin or the leitmotiv of La Nave.
We are now working for all major corporations: BBVA, Santander Bank, Telefónica… As self-employed, as a team of professionals, we set up a team to fit the needs of the project, and we take over it. When they hire us, it is because they are permeable. Sometimes it is easier to transform the culture of a large corporation, or at least within a large corporation, that of a department or an area, when that change comes from outside, than if it occurs internally.
I am going to give an example of a project in which I have collaborated a little, but it’s of one of my companions: His name is Carlos Navalón and he has redesigned the El Prado website. The El Prado Museum, as an institution, is very traditional. In any case, they had to hire an external team to design. They could have set an internal team up to design, but it was much easier to hire a team like us, so we could bring more revolutionary ideas than internally, where it would have been very difficult for them to settle. We can throw the ball, some have to be shaped, but in general these are better accepted; and now they are all very proud.
Suddenly, they have taken a giant leap and, as a result, they like it very much. Suddenly they feel very proud that they are part of it. It is an exercise done almost a posteriori. I think it can happen more often. It was something of an identity; El Prado Museum online. It is not like a banking product, because if we work for a bank what we do is a bank product like a wallet. We have designed the BBVA wallet to be able to pay via mobile. We are participating in the redesign, it is a product of the bank. But maybe the development teams of the bank are not so agile. There are much more immerse into bureaucratic internal procedures. I believe that getting the projects out is what allows them to be more agile, to skip certain internal bureaucratic processes; because what they do now is to supervise.
I realized in 2016 that I live in a bubble, but that I think is normal. I have noticed the level of privilege I have, I choose who has access through that door, I define who my students are, who are the professors of La Nave Nodriza, who are my clients, with whom I work, how far I commit… If it is already normal for me, for a lady of 43 years in 2016, it will be for many more people in five or seven years from now. In my environment, it is normal. And it makes good money, too; you can work like this, really doing good projects, good work…
Now we have hired another girl, Alex, but for a long time I had been the only woman in the group of professionals; there are several dads, and they reconcile, and there are others who are not parents but do not want to be working all day long. My partner Juan, who is also a partner of La Nave Nodriza, lives in Malaga and is windsurfing as much as he can, and this is reconciliation too. It happens to all of us who work our way; we do not want our life to be our job. ”
“About La Nave Nodriza, I will tell you that much of the value is included in a phrase we use: In La Nave Nodriza, we do not study, we learn. People are taken care a lot, and in the end you end up learning a methodology, a culture of the project, which is what HR should talk about. Designing is learning by designing.
As for me, on the one hand, no two days are alike. On the other hand, I need a continuous challenge, and La Nave Nodriza is a continuous challenge. When I get bored, because I already have dominated something, I do something else that makes sense to others.”