Teaching and learning design 

2 min read | Feb 2023 

One thing about teaching practice is the ever-changing audience. Through my experience, I have observed that students' cultural and academic backgrounds play a crucial role in their aptitudes and approach to learning. For instance, engineering students often need encouragement to take risks and design students face frequent criticism and rejection, especially in design competitions. Such diversity of student backgrounds also presents a challenge for teaching in today's higher education, particularly with the growing emphasis on project-based learning in collaborative settings. As a result, I have recently broadened my research interests to include teaching practice research to become a better instructor. While team projects have been a mainstay in design studios for a long time, I am currently experimenting with course structures to welcome more peer reviews and strive for pedagogical innovation in learning design. 

Taste in Art and Sense of Language

Another research topic that intrigues me is the growing prevalence of AI technology in design. With mature models such as ChatGPT and Midjourney capable of generating high quality design research materials, I am investigating the ethical issues surrounding their adoption in the design community and design education. During my exploration of various AI-powered tools, I realised that taste in art and sense of language might be two distinct abilities. Some students have a gift for art, while others may not; this applies to the sense of language too. How do we articulate design ideas to another party? In a real-life scenario, the party can be your group members, stakeholders, students, now even the machines, all come together in a collaborative manner. Those who can effectively communicate in an interdisciplinary project can tackle complex societal problems. These skills are essential in the field of design, and can never be replaced by digital tools.

Design students tend to gravitate towards visualisation or abstract constructs, and words may not be our strong suit. However, when working with AI technology based on natural language processing, it is crucial to articulate prompts clearly to enable machines to expand creativity. To help students recognise beauty, fundamental courses on art appreciation, symmetry, balance and composition, etc, are taught in the first year of design education. The question is, do we also need to learn how to write (if not coding), or is AI smart enough to gauge our unstructured thoughts?

Personal mobility vehicle concepts generated by Midjourney less than one minute

Designing Design

Design is complex and uncertain, and its beauty lies in that. Rather than trying to fit into established paradigms, such as research through design or design informed by research, I plan to first focus on developing a handy instructional method. This method will involve giving students specific guidelines at the appropriate point in the design thinking process, especially when I need to conceptualise creativity for a class of students with different mindsets. Having some constraints in design is essential to stimulate creativity and novelty. Additionally, students may feel more rewarded for breaking the rules if they are given some structure by the instructor. As an educator, my goal is (still) to foster a researcher mindset within design students. As my mentor would constantly remind us to "designing design" when doing research, I plan to continue practicing this philosophy in the future. 

(edited by ChatGPT)

Teaching statement 

3 min read | June 2021 

I have actively mentored final year engineering students since 2018, with several design projects leading to academic publications. It has been a rewarding journey to map out my educational vision with people who have differing design mindsets. I was trained as an industrial designer, but through my experience mentoring undergraduates from different schools, I often wonder what knowledge and skills are necessary for an industrial design student after completing a degree. How do I measure their mastery in design? To answer these questions and help students better understand how their skillsets are relevant in the future, I will revisit design’s role in society from a historical perspective.

Industrial design is a very young discipline compared to traditional academic disciplines such as engineering and natural sciences. Industrial design was first introduced due to the needs of mass production, hence related curricula focused on assuring manufacturability. Today, industrial design has become a multidisciplinary subject that combines engineering (function), aesthetics (form), and business (service). As a result, industrial designers can wear many hats enabling them to think strategically and address complex societal problems. This ability is known as “design thinking” to organizations that seek business model innovation.

Moreover, there has been a growing interest in nurturing transdisciplinary skillsets for higher education around the world. New programmes such as Industrial Design Engineering, Design Informatics, and Digital Manufacturing are being offered to synch with what the world needs today. As the work of industrial designers expands from tangible artefacts to digital services, another buzzword—user experience (UX)—has emerged and intertwines with a broad range of disciplines. For instance, imagine reinventing a healthcare system for the post-pandemic world. Industrial designers would address the problem by creating likeable and user-friendly medical devices to improve patient engagement. Engineers would emphasise product-centric requirements to ensure technical feasibility. Business leaders would plan viable policies and services. This phenomenon leads to at least one challenge: What is unique about an education in industrial design? In my opinion, the distinction lies in the human-centred process in terms of design methodologies.

The New Normal in Design Education

To remain competitive across disciplines at the university level, design scholars, such as myself, need to commit to continually bringing new knowledge relating to the design process. For example, I have instructed students to explore the use of conceptual frameworks on artefacts in order to increase design productivity. If a designer’s decision-making process is perceived as a quick and almost unconscious behaviour, the outcome may not be reliable and optimal. This could diminish the credibility of the design profession when communicating with collaborators from other fields. Thus, I would advise design students not to merely rely on their intuition. Specifically, I would present students with assignments in which they could practice different design methodologies to solve the same design problem. These design methodologies, such as structured brainstorming, an affinity diagram, a morphological chart, quality function deployment, and a decision matrix (and more!), are suitable for certain stages of the design process (e.g., ideation and evaluation). I would challenge my students to improve the design methodologies taught in class, rather than assessing their learning outcomes based on how beautiful their designs looks.

In addition, I would expect students to incorporate data analytics into the design process to quantify the design requirements and performance. Part of the course could emphasise collecting and interpreting data generated from human activity and interaction with the subject matter. I believe that strengthening the data literacy of design students to leverage their computational capabilities will be the new normal in design education.

My Vision of Learning Environment for Creativity

My vision of learning environment for creativity is based on the transdisciplinary teaching philosophy, a concept that emphasises augmenting the literacy of individual industrial designers rather than interdisciplinary collaboration. While successful collaboration does not come easy, designers can be trained as integrators. Hence, I would provide students with exercises to act on the various roles of stakeholders (e.g., customers, engineers, suppliers, and policy makers) throughout the product development lifecycle. As they learn to solve real-world problems through a systematic approach, they will gain a broader understanding and appreciation of other fields. During our discussions, I will also remind students to be responsible for the end of life of their products, such as reducing the environmental cost for a zero-waste nation.

Furthermore, while mentoring engineering students, I have come to realise that they are uncomfortable with human uncertainty and ill-defined problems. Thus, my current approach is to progressively increase the complexity of design problems and focus on small and attainable goals for students. I would use the KWL (what I know/want to know/learned) chart to help transform students into active learners as they reflect on ways to acquire new knowledge. 

Finally, I believe that teachers are learners too. I would set an example for my students by acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses within the design discipline. Students need to step out of their comfort zones to become creative and empathetic. Whenever possible, I would align the design topics in class with students’ personal goals to enhance their motivations and build a high-performing team. Ultimately, my goal as a teacher is to help students develop as design researchers and innovators with the drive to improve our quality of life.