This blog post is a critical reflection on my final year studying Product Design and the nine month project undertaken within it.
In the final few days, I can firmly say that this has been my most fulfilling project to date. Although it has been a very long year, with many lessons learned, I would struggle to say that any other experience has helped me to define myself as a designer as much as this one.
A year in advance of starting fourth year, I decided to specialise in sustainability-focused product design and critical analysis of consumer culture. Upon starting my honours year I had the choice to do a safe project reinforcing a positive cause such as community, craft and tradition, yet I chose to do a piece of critical design that builds literacy about the problems with our consumer culture.
The Role of Making
In the first semester, I immersed myself in research, yet I soon began to feel lost. I found weaving together all my research and concept generation incredibly difficult. The key turning point in my project was my “Week of Making” at the start of semester two. Malcolm Cheyne, one of the workshop technicians, speculated to me that there was too much of a “eureka” focus in our course: we so often sit upstairs on our laptops waiting for incredible ideas to just come to us. I realised that I was putting a huge amount of pressure on myself to develop that perfect concept, and all I really needed was to just start doing something.
I decided to spend an entire week in the wood workshop just working with my hands and learning basic woodworking skills, and within three days I had my concept.
After solidifying my initial concept, I thoroughly enjoyed the development process. I loved being down in the workshop most days making from waste materials and prototyping different electronics projects. Most beneficial to me was the fact that that each time I tried to explain my ideas to somebody, I had something tangible to show them. The conversations that developed from this were consequently much deeper and more insightful because my ideas had been embodied within objects.
Links between my Thinking and my Concept
While re-visiting my sketchbook work from first semester, I would often be surprised to find how many links there were between my research and the concept I developed in semester two. A large amount of my values and thoughts in design wove themselves very nicely into my final concept without being forced and I believe this is because I’ve developed a level of integrity in how I think as a designer.
These included my passion for the social benefits of making, my interest in Speculative Design (this embodied itself in getting my participants to imagine a dystopia to be critical of our own world) and prompting consumers to see more value in objects (this takes form in participants giving a new life to what was previously considered waste).
Conducting my user testing has been the most rewarding part of the year. While designing the kit to get people to do critical thinking, I didn’t really ever expect that I would actually see it work. However, all four of my user testing experiences have consisted of genuinely interesting conversations, actually challenging my own understanding of design and the politics behind the way our society works.
My user testing with two fellow students was very successful with them becoming very engaged with the concept and the idea of a self sufficient society. This could suggest that, in developing my product for teenagers, I have chosen the wrong user group. I initially chose teenagers because they are just building consumer habits, however what I’m realising now is that my design actually works in a much broader capacity, with different age groups reading in different ways (just as different individuals with different histories will react in different ways).
The Role of Sharing
Throughout the year I found myself primarily using my sketchbook to document, consolidate and develop my work, but I also pushed myself to put a lot of effort into my blog. Blogging helped me to always consider how my work would be viewed from an outside perspective. It meant that I always had to contextualise what I was doing. By always asking the all important question “so what?” I was able to thoroughly justify all my decisions and solidify my concepts.
I have also really felt the positive benefits of my blogging this year. My Instagram posts meant that my work was selected to be exhibited in Glasgow because if its relevance to critical thinking about our future. My work was also featured in a series of short films for the BBC Bitesize website, and the company making the films explained that they used my blog extensively to script and develop the message of the films.
When I look at the work that I will be showing at degree show, I see a project that embodies so much of my passions and values as a designer, and a project that defines the area of design I would like to work within. I think that the passion I have discovered this year for using design and making to critically respond to issues has much potential in the design world, if I can find a way to make it work. I am constantly aware of commercial tensions and the view that product designers are there to sell more things and make more money for large companies – exactly the opposite of what I want to do.
Funnily enough, I am not ready to finish working on this project yet. I am excited about the possibility for it to develop and grow into new projects, especially in collaboration with other designers and groups who have similar ideas. In terms of positioning myself for a future career path, I have made such progress this year in defining myself and it is the job of the next few months to continue in this direction, refining more and more where I want to be.