Hereby, I reflect on my learning activities and how these attributed to the development of my vison, professional identity and competencies as a designer.
I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Engineering at Tongji University, Shanghai in the joint program of the Department of Design and Innovation, and the Department of Automotive Engineering. The study focused on Transportation Design. Through company-sponsored design projects and courses from both departments, I have gained multidisciplinary skills and knowledge, such as design thinking, sketching, prototyping, automotive structure, and ergonomics. A more detailed introduction can be found here.
As an automotive designer, forms are very much related to customers’ preferences and perceptions of forms. The good aesthetic taste and the ability to form deliberation with design visualization software are parts of my professional characteristics. At the end of my bachelor’s study, I struggled with my role as a designer in the society and industry. I knew that there are more dynamic factors that influence the user experience as a consequence of the design industry expanding via fusing with other domains and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, wearable electronics and big data. I want to investigate more in-depth about the power of design in human beings and society.
However, I had no clue and so many questions: where to start? what is the methodology? what is the process? how can I learn these? … I figure these are more general questions rather than merely in automotive domains. Therefore, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. I believe the study could help to identify myself as a versatile designer and find my way out.
Honestly, the shift from automotive design to interaction design was challenging, both methodically and ideologically, but I have strived and gradually formed my vision and professional identity along with the study. In this section, I list all the courses and projects of my master's study, and all the deliverables can be accessed from this section. Then, I synthetically reflect on my development in my competencies and professional skills, and explain how the growth is integrated and contributes to my final master project
Designing with Advanced AI
Designing Intelligence in Interaction
User Experience Theory and Practice
Constructive Design Research 2
Constructive Design Research 1
Multidimensional Design;Tact. Exerience
Design innovation methods
Based on the education frame of the Industrial Design program at TU/e, I have developed my abilities and skills as a designer in six expertise areas. In the following part, I explain the development and related courses and projects.
Design Research Process
This is the competency I have developed the most. I believe the continuous development in this competency solves most of my doubts in my later bachelor study, as aforementioned.
At the beginning of my master’s study, the compulsory course ‘Constructive Design Research’ introduced me to the concept of design research. Unfortunately, a one-semester course was not enough for me to master the knowledge, and I have to retake the course. Yet, I really appreciated the second opportunity, since I can notice the development in my thinking and conducting abilities in design research projects. Currently, I feel more confident to synthesize multi-layered information from relevant papers and research to identify the gap and critically frame the design research question. Then, I am able to select and adapt the appropriate approach and process to structure the projects, with a clear goal and potential contribution to the academic community.
The growing interest in and the development of the competency are essential to driving me to pursue my career goal in the future – to be a PhD researcher.
Technology & Realization
During my bachelor study, I obtained the knowledge of 3D modeling and physical mechanism, as well as prototyping with 3D printing, laser cutting and clay modeling.
During the master study, I complementary my prototyping skillset with the usage of programming and electronics. The main development of these skillsets comes from the bachelor elective courses (Creative Programming, Creative Electronics). I am all aware of the skill gained from two electives is not exhaustive enough and my weakness in this competency. Therefore, I consciously and actively put effort into this in every project and elective and develop my skills by making interactive prototypes. Currently, I feel comfortable with choosing and integrating appropriate sensors and actuators, creating circuits and using Processing and Arduino. Specifically, I have developed my experience in creating interactive wearables and vibration actuators.
Moreover, in the courses ‘Designing Intelligence in Interaction’ and ‘Designing with AI’, I have gained fundamental knowledge of algorithms, data mining and artificial intelligence. I also maintain the awareness of using these new tools in generating and realizing concepts.
Business & Entrepreneurship
This is the part of the knowledge system that I lack from my bachelor study, and I think partially explained my uncertainty of my designer’s role at that time. At the end of the first year of my master’s program, I pushed myself further to the real business world – to conduct a cooperation project in a technology-oriented consulting company. I believe a comprehensive overview of the whole industrial world can better equip me as a versatile innovator.
After this experience, I took the compulsory bachelor course ‘Design Innovation Methods’, and I learned more methods and theories about business principles, entrepreneurship, intellectual property and analyzing business cases. Besides, I also joined the student start-up team to work on the business model development.
Now, I was able to dig into the business value of my design concepts from a bigger picture - the company’s perspective and the industrial context. I am familiar with the tools of market research, business model and lean entrepreneurship. I also learned how to work with clients and deal with projects involving multiple stakeholders.
Creative & Aesthetics
I always believe that aesthetics and creativity are the basic abilities of the designer to take the role of innovator. In my bachelor study of vehicle design, I thought aesthetics is really about beautification and creativity is merely being able to create something beautiful. It is the golden ratio being applied to graphics, the A-class surfaces from any angle of the cars, and the perfect combination of colors and textures. I devoted to all these aspects in my bachelor and I worked as graphical designers in a media company. And in my master’s projects, this mindset still influences me, and I applied them in every one of my projects.
However, I realized that the competency means more in HCI. Through this course ‘tactile experience’ and the project ‘Design Research Project’, I got to know that aesthetics in interaction design could mean tactile feelings (Klatzky & Lederman, 2002) and temporal forms (Vallgårda, Winther, Mørch, & Vizer, 2015).
Accordingly, creativity is not only about materializing a form with intuition and designer’s six-sense. Creativity and aesthetics do not come from nowhere, but the ability of designers to balance intuition and research-driven design. When I realize this, I strengthen my creativity by being able to deal with the ‘fuzzy front’ and insufficient information, by constantly conceptualizing and refining ideas, and by iteratively evaluating my design decisions.
User & Society
Though I involved users in my bachelor projects, it was not well-structured by any kind of methodology and theory. And it is more related to ergonomics and in-vehicle human factors. Through the courses ‘Constructive Design Research’, as well as practice in most of my projects, I am able to apply the user-centered mindset and skills while conducting research and evaluating concepts. In this course ‘UX Theory & Practice’, new theoretical knowledge about user experience, which emphasizes the subjective and hedonic experience of users, equipped me with advanced design tools, such as the cultural probe, co-creation and story-telling. I am now capable of creating a rich experience together with users from the perspective of the interactive system.
During the M2.1 project in the company, I was able to involve multiple stakeholders in the design process and validate the design concept not only from the target users’ perspective but also from the company’s value and societal context.
Data Math & Computing
During the M2.1 project, I self-studied the quantitative analysis through the book ‘Research Methods in HCI’ and I applied SPSS and basic statistical methods in Excel. For most of my projects, quantitative data is only a small part and I tend to combine them with qualitative data to figure out the reasons behind certain behavior and patterns. In those cases, the statistical methods are quite enough for me to structure and analyze the data.
However, during the courses ‘Designing Intelligence in Interaction’ and ‘Designing with Advanced AI’, I gained first-hand experience of analyzing large datasets with algorithms. I obtained the knowledge of data mining and training algorithms using Weka. I also combined it with my former knowledge of programming, to apply the Weka prediction model in Processing.
As we all aware of the importance of soft skills for workplace success, I also consciously advanced my hybrid professional skillset during my master study.
I am talkative in my personal life and I always have the advantage to communicate honestly and effectively. Yet, it could be a challenge for me in a foreign and interdisciplinary environment.
Luckily, in the two years’ study, I cooperated with multicultural groups, worked in a giant international company, presented in Dutch Design Week and demonstrated at the international conference. All these experiences helped me to build up confidence. Now, I feel very comfortable to advocate for myself and brainstorm with a large group of people. I have the self-confidence to give public presentations on my professional subject, involving the audience.
As I mentioned in my vision, the world is more connected than ever and therefore cooperation is significant in the context. As an extrovert person who is good at relationship building, I feel comfortable working with others and I often take the role of a coordinator in teamwork. During my masters’ study, I specifically advanced my cooperating skills in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams.
Report & Academic Writing
Since I plan to pursue my career as a researcher, the ability to structurally reporting and writing is essential for me. I have learned, during the master's program, adequately reviewing the literature, documenting the process, and putting the project in written form in English.
I have so much I wanted to learn during my master's program, so my semesters were always over-occupied with courses, projects, and extracurricular activities at one time period. In order to complete multiple tasks by the given deadlines without overwhelming myself, I trained my time-management skills and become a multitasker. Within each task, I am able to plan ahead and organize my schedule. Meanwhile, I have the ability to balance multiple tasks and my personal life. I believe multitasking benefits me to maintain an active mind and a keen heart to be creative.
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Vallgårda, A., Winther, M., Mørch, N., & Vizer, E. E. (2015). Temporal form in interaction design. International Journal of Design, 9(3), 1–15.