MMM Faculty Spotlight: Steve Franconeri

March 17, 2017
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Steve Franconeri
Steve Franconeri teaches a "Whole Brain Communication" class to MMM students.
Steve Franconeri is a  professor of psychology at Northwestern and a faculty member for the MMM Program. He taught a course called "Whole Brain Communication" to MMM students during the winter quarter. Read our interview with Professor Franconeri to learn what he thinks of the MMM Program.

What led you to teach with the MMM program?

Franconeri: My academic background is in the cognitive science of how people can – and should – think and communicate, along with a splash of computer science and engineering. I teach in the MMM program because I'm fascinated by how it merges analytic thinking and creative problem solving – the Whole-Brain model is critical for doing impactful work.

Describe what MMM students learn in your "Whole Brain Communication" course.

Franconeri: MMM students generate brilliant ideas and solutions to problems. Whole-Brain Communication teaches them how to present those ideas and solutions to their colleagues and clients in ways that are engaging, memorable, and repeatable. We cover data visualization, both for visual analytics (finding patterns in your data) and for visual communication (showing key patterns efficiently and persuasively).

Why do you think your field of study is especially important for MMM students to learn from?

Franconeri: Communication typically fails because as people attack a problem across days and weeks, their expertise becomes a curse such that it's hard – even impossible – to imagine what it's like to be a naive audience. Cognitive Science shows us why we make this error, and how to avoid it. An understanding of attention, memory, and the network model of the mind and brain show us how to communicate that expertise maximally efficiently to that audience. Knowing the perceptual science behind data visualizations lets you design displays that turn your visual system into a powerful pattern recognition machine, and create visualizations that let others see what you see.
What do you think makes the MMM Program unique?

Franconeri: There are many programs that teach analytic skills, but I have never seen one that concurrently teaches design skills in such an integrated fashion. And the MMM students' thirst, and existing acumen, for both sides is clear in the work that they submit. Their technical and analytic skills are fantastic, but they are also outstandingly creative and respect the need for critique and iteration.
Do you have a favorite memory from teaching MMM students this past quarter?

Franconeri: Sitting down with the students to look through their portfolios of past and current work. MMM's are a brilliant lot.