For those of you who have never heard of Randy Pausch, he was a much admired professor at Carnegie Mellon (my alma mater), and became world-renowned for his “Last Lecture” delivered last September in which he emphatically discussed how to really achieve all of your childhood dreams (he did!).
Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, 2006; at the time, he and his wife had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old baby. Pancreatic cancer has a 4% 5-year survival rate, and Randy lasted two years through sheer will and perseverance and willingness to try any treatment possible. He kept a blog detailing his health status. Its last entry was last night written by an anonymous friend saying that Randy had entered hospice. Less than an hour ago, Diane Sawyer announced on Good Morning America that Randy had passed away last night. He was 47 years old.
A few weeks ago, David Armano wrote a blog post titled, Disney’s $100,000 Salt + Pepper Shaker, in which he relates his notion of “micro-interactions” to a story about Disney World that Randy tells in his book, The Last Lecture, published in April of this year. The story is about the small things an individual at an organization can do to create an everlasting impression on the customer, to build trust and loyalty and affection. Read David’s post and then read Randy’s book. It will make you realize what’s really important in this life.
Hearing of Randy Pausch’s death this morning made my heart sink. I feel sick now and wish I had reached out to him to tell him how much of an impression he had made on my life. All I can do now is re-post the comment I left on David’s blog, offering up thanks to the universe for putting Randy Pausch in my path, for making me a stronger person, and for showing me what it means to stop at nothing to achieve your dreams.
Randy Pausch was one of my professors at CMU. He taught the most difficult course I took to receive my degree in Human-Computer Interaction. It was called Programming Usable Interfaces and was essentially about how to express your ideas through functional prototypes. The course materials introduced me to the most prominent thought-leaders in the field (Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Jesse James Garrett, Steve Krug), and the assignments were unbelievably rigorous.
Randy insisted that any GUI developer or user experience designer (the course contained both types) worth his salt has to have the ability to prototype his ideas and the balls to test them with real people. And ultimately, the inner strength to admit he was wrong and make the design better.
You could say Randy is the opposite of a pushover; he often held a very hard line in class discussions. But despite all the times he and I clashed (in particular on the issue of whether AM/PM is a needed display in hotel alarm clocks: he matter-of-factly said no, I vehemently disagreed; years later I realized he was right), to this day I credit him — his perspective, his tenacity and his endless passion for uplifting the human experience — for making me the designer I am today.
He is going through what no human being ever deserves to experience, but he is owning it, reveling in the chance he’s been given to say goodbye, and making an everlasting impression on this earth. All of us should be so lucky.
Randy, rest in peace. You will be deeply missed.
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