Aaron Cook, Human Sciences
1. What do you do at MAYA?
I work with the Human Sciences group. We do a lot of listening as we work with people to understand their experiences, needs and problems.
In other words, I’m a tailor who makes custom suits. Of course I take measurements, but I also want to know about your previous experiences with suits, your hopes for a new suit, and how the suit will work with the rest of your wardrobe. Then I use those insights to pull together some options for you to try on before finalizing the design. Occasionally, we’ll find out that you don’t need the kind of suit you thought you needed…like the time when you showed up to your grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary and it was a pool party. Wasn’t that awkward?
2. What superpower do you bring to the Human Sciences team?
Making things comprehensible through metaphors and analogies.
3. What’s your educational/professional background?
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where my interests were in learning and development, and a Masters of Teaching in foreign language acquisition.
I started my career as an IT consultant during the Y2K scare. (Spoiler alert: nothing happened.) Then moved into the field of Education and worked in university administration until becoming a Spanish teacher for Chicago Public Schools. My last stop before Design was as a training consultant and curriculum designer.
Through the course of my career, I found myself drawn to certain projects and/or types of problems. Eventually a pattern emerged and I discovered that the problems that I couldn’t stay away from were fundamentally design problems. I wanted to have problems like those to solve every day, so here I am.
4. What is the most meaningful project that has shaped you as a professional?
I’ve had several great teachers who made it possible for me to study/work abroad, and those experiences forever changed my outlook and direction in life. When I became a Spanish teacher for Chicago Public Schools, I wanted to pass the same experiences and opportunities along to others. My colleagues and I designed an immersion experience in Mexico for a small group of students, several of whom had never traveled outside of Chicago.
We went to great lengths to ensure our students engaged with the culture outside the comfort zone of being a tourist. We arranged host families and language teachers, took only public transport/taxis, ate at neighborhood restaurants, etc. The result was a deeply authentic experience filled with strong personal connections and cultural exchanges. It was a powerful experience that transformed us all.
5. What do you hope to learn while at MAYA?
Big ideas to inspire my thinking, frameworks and methods to up my game, and new ways to map my abilities and prior experiences to the field of design.
6. Where can we find you outside of work?
I am an adventurous eater and enjoy walking around, so I hang out in neighborhoods where I can eat at great little restaurants and browse the surrounding shops. I don’t read much on paper anymore, but when Cook’s Illustrated arrives in the mail I immediately read it cover to cover — sometimes before taking off my coat! I also used to run 5k races pretty frequently, and am looking forward to getting back into it soon.
7. Do you recline your seat on an airplane?
Sometimes. It doesn’t really change anything.
8. What’s currently on your playlist?
“Lost and Found,” a collection of tracks from the Buena Vista Social Club recording archives, is fantastic. “Dysnomia” from Dawn of Midi is trance-inducing and great for focusing at work and spacing out at home.
If I exercise, I’ll choose between Run the Jewels, rock from the 70s-80s, or smoking fast salsa tracks with lots of cowbell. On the commute I listen to a boatload of podcasts: Planet Money, Note to Self, 99% Invisible, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio, JapanesePod101, Backstory, Notes in Spanish, and so on.
9. What did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut, archeologist, inventor or theoretical physicist. Two of those are still in the cards.
10. What 80s sitcom/movie deserves the next reboot?
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (but only if it’s a sequel, not a remake)
To learn more about Aaron, connect on LinkedIn.