Starting the Next Chapter of Life...
12 09 2022
“Slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.” André De Shields
This week I began my graduate studies in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Arts and Imperial College. Its ambiguous nature and futuristic thinking have flooded my mind with thoughts and reflection about who I am as a person and designer. This journal entry is a personal reflection (at this point in time) on my past week of studies (and a bit before that) questioning the process of design, career and life.
I’ve splattered my career ambitions of desiring to work in the industry of aerospace through human-centered design across almost every form of social media and personal branding. But recently there has been a growth of personal doubt and confusion about how I will get there, what does there even look like, is it really what I want to be doing, and this strange (quite negative) new competitive nature of why aren’t I there yet?
In conjunction with this, I have also begun the large personal adventure of jumping the pond to London, UK (where my schools are situated). My program will eventually take me to Tokyo then New York for a total of 9 months abroad before returning to explore cultural contexts within design. Over the past year I’ve been grabbling with my values in life, who am I as a person and what’s important to me as I grow into an adult.
I feel like with these two massive transitions, my current fears, excitement, and doubts are inevitable. However, after receiving much more context about what I will be learning, and finally feeling settled in this massive global city I am beginning to see the a bit of the journey (although I’m not sure where and how) I will go through over the next 2 years.
So what can I do now? Well, hopefully this entry will stand as a starting point to becoming more comfortable with where I am at this point, be ready for uncertainty, be willing to explore that uncertainty, and recognize that my career is only starting- I don’t need to hold all the answers.
Reflecting on My Work in the Space Industry
This image above is a visual representation often used to describe the fuzzy to clear nature of the design process. Often at project starts, work is completely ambiguous, large scope and inevitably quite messy. Rather than a linear progression of narrowing things down, it’s an eb and flow of questioning and evaluation as your understanding/knowledge grows.
I think where some of my largest insecurities come from is due to the scope of what ‘I want to be when I grow up’. I love the space industry due to its sheer excitement for exploration and far reaching, difficult projects with incredibly high stakes. It’s what makes my heart really race and its what also fuels me to keep going when I feel apathetic in my work/studies. But where within space do I really want to go? I knew early on in life that my work had to carry an impact towards environmental sustainability. Ok… so I have space, I have environmentalism, and I have my studies in design. Still pretty broad. Do I want to do product design? Research? Consulting? Look at emotional/ behavioral habits? What is the practice within these fields I want to pursue? This is also not only discovering where I want to work but also considering other factors such as finances, location of work, the big life things (touched on later).
I’ve iterated this illustration and slapped it into a graph. X is now my emotions of contentment, Y is time. The dotted line is my journey as I’ve explored the space industry, the practice of design and finishing on where I feel right now.
On our 4th day of classes, we met our head prof from Imperial College. As she spoke about our program having 3 calendars due to separate institutions and just the overall organized chaos that is GID program. She said
‘GID will make you extremely flexible at all times.’
She continued to present the focus of our first weeks of study: futures/vision. Its purpose is to set the tone of stopping us from understanding what we will be designing at the beginning and our first projects brief is to ‘design a future artifact for a future world.’ The skills we will hopefully begin to develop are: to build capacity for embracing change, prying attention away from the ordinary and overall understanding in seeing futures ahead.
I’m someone who is comfortable with holding all the answers (or at least pretending like I do). I think this was developed in tandem with deciding to pursue a more abstract career path. This is not a criticism, but you need to show confidence in your strange ideas for anyone to even begin considering its potential. As a result, I’ve pushed my work into proving the tangible opportunity for design in space but not so much where I want to work within that. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to learn to trust the process more and focus on self discovery rather than perception to others. If I try to ‘boil the ocean’ I will limit my opportunity to make tangible impact. After this first week of studies, I have learnt I need to trust the process of ‘Orientation, Exploration, and Consolidation’ and stop looking left and right at what others are doing.
Reflecting on Design
Throughout my undergraduate degree, our design work was highly theoretical. Something my program excelled in was the vast exploration into different forms of design: service, health, system, social, experiential, product, furniture, etc. As a result, our timeframes were short (typically a month long) and therefore projects became front-end heavy focusing on research and problem isolation.
The Global Innovation Design Program can be broken down into 3 pillars: context, impact, action. Looking at the full life cycle of a design and to qoute my tutor from RCA ‘turning fiction into fact’. Right now, I feel underprepared to do this (although realistically if I felt confident doing it, I probably wouldn’t be in this program). My current personal reflection of these pillars is as follows:
I’m attracted to this pillar. It’s the ‘why’ in design and the questioning of what an issue is and why a problem needs to be addressed. How designers act in this pillar is what sets them apart from other industries. To qoute Donald Schön “It's where designers can exhibit ‘artistic, intuitive processes… [applied] to situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict where objective approaches have been inadequate.’ To me, this is the sexy part of design.
This pillar is where my doubt begins. This is where you’d actually begin to design a concept to address an issue. Throughout my program we do have courses in product and furniture design where we gain experience actually manufacturing things but to what extent does my skills using shop tools translate to executing an effective design?
... I really have no experience putting designs into action. Never mind being able to track and monitor it. Imaging a successful design is different than implementing it. When you are now constrained by realistic factors that could include user adoption, funding, scheduling, and required talent your actual capabilities to making something a reality begin to show.
On top of that there is a question of tangible impact. Human-centered design quite often operates in the grey. To clarify, there is researched intentions behind features but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to observe or collect data on once they have been implemented. The famous reference that design is 99% invisible.
So firstly, how do you successfully put a design into action. Secondly, how do you observe if a design is fulfilling its purpose. It seems that this is a major part of my studies, and you can see from the programs alumni that they become to value the backend of implementing and observing designs a lot. To say the least- I’m eager to learn more of this as time goes on.
Reflecting on Life
As I grow in age, I see a progression and questioning of my values. Not to say this process just started or will ever stop but being in my early 20s (I’ve been told a lot) and am now experiencing a huge growth in ‘who do I want to be as a person.’ Some key questions, values, and stresses that have really begun to grow are things like Security. Relationships. Where do I want to live? My connection to my friends and family. How much money will I make? Will it be enough so I can live with things I value? What are the things I value?
I’ve lived in Edmonton, Canada my entire life. Because of that I’ve grown an absolutely amazing community of people I dearly love and care about. I’ve also desired a change in location for awhile. I desired a change in culture, fashion, sports, connection to nature, so on. Moving to London has been great- to date I love it here. I love my flat that’s within walking distance of everything. I appreciate the culture of desiring to walk or bike to everything. I appreciate the friendliness of strangers (something that reminds me of home) and I appreciate that its an international hub for people, design, and food.
Now that I’ve begun to settle down in this city, a doubt that has grown is: do I want to move again so soon? London has over 4 million people. There are new restaurants and shows popping up every week. I could easy complete my masters, then some and still be scratching the surface of what this place can offer. It takes a while to form a community- I learnt that when I left the one I’ve been developing for 23 years in Edmonton. I will have just started a life only to pack up my suitcases in 8 months and begin one somewhere else (Tokyo then New York).
This has really made me process what’s important to me both in life and my career. On my best days I see its 9 months abroad and will be a fantastic experience for my career and personality. On my worst days, I think about even if your career is great does it mean much if you can’t share it with anyone?
I have now met my cohort of other master students who will be travelling alongside me throughout these locations. Although we all specialize in different things, we share the common goal of design context, impact, action. They are also (in short) just lovely people who I can already see will teach and inspire me a lot.
So maybe this journey won’t be so lonely and I’m getting re-excited for the travelling, but I still look forward to growing more in this pretty London city and being able to call it a bit more of a home.
This was a bit of a personal reflection on where I’m at in my career, life and ambitions. This master will be as much of an academic journey as it will be a personal one. I think I’ll try and write more for anyone that finds this any what way relatable, interesting or perhaps desires to do graduate studies or a big move one day. At the very least it will be a good archive to document this journey for myself and maybe I’ll look back at the end and think ‘oh this is embarrassing’ or ‘I’m glad I did this.’ Hopefully the latter.