My design ethos

Julia Wong
Sep 7, 2016 · 6 min read

By understanding my disposition through my artefacts, I have concluded (for the time being) that there are four aspects, four “P”s that are important to me, in life and in design. These are the things I tend towards, whether in my pursuit in relationship with people, my work or the way I see the world.

  1. Play
    I think this is quite evident from my likes towards things that are interactive, fun, experimental and playful. I am a light-hearted person and the work that I do or the things that inspire me often has an element of fun in them. I think humour is important, and the idea of play is not just about fun/joy, but that my design can suggest an alternative way of viewing the world to prompt people to think in a different way.
  2. People
    I have a lot of important people in my life who have helped me grow over the years. I value and am fascinated by people relationships — they are so unique and each embodies so many different layers of value systems and emotions. It makes me excited when people come together and ideas collide and evolve. Collaboration and collective creativity is something I really care about, and I believe design has the power to bring communities of people together and inspire new ways for people to relate to each other. To me, that is one of the most amazing things about designing for the collective.
  3. Process
    In the same way I have thought about the development of my personality as over the stages of my life in multiple dimensions, I view a lot of things in the world the same way — with an element of progression. I believe that design changes and impacts the world over a period of time, and is always dynamically growing. I think it has to grow as the society and cultures evolve in order to be relevant and meaningful. With each process I believe there is also an arc. I think everything develops in a trajectory of different paces and depths that tells a unique story. The element of time is essential, whether it is in the act of designing, in the things that we design and the context in which we design for.
  4. Patterns
    Not only am I drawn to literal patterns of vibrant colours and unique forms, I also love to discover patterns and interrelations among entities and see things as a holistic system. Design brings connections not only among people, but also among different systems, both tangible social systems within societies and intangible value systems that govern culture. I am intrigued by this aspect of design and believe that design interventions, expressions and communication should exist within systems and larger maps of connections.

There are a lot of other disciplines that I care about that changes my view on how design should be considered and its purpose. History and language are two examples. I love learning about world history, from the greater canvas of the rise and fall of nations to the myriads stories behind each building, place, artefact, tradition. History tells us about how past people see and interact with the world, and educates us about the evolution of cultural landscape. Without an understanding of this we lack understanding of the world we live in, and lose sight of how design had been used well or not. Stories from the past also give so much human insights that open up interesting niches for design. I think nowadays we do not emphasize enough on the importance of understanding history in design practice, but how can we say we understand people without attempting to dissect history?

Language on the other hand also has so much beauty and purpose. The way words form into expressions and idioms, embed metaphors and symbolism — the artistry of language is very much relevant to design. Essentially to communicate and express, language has so many different variations and subtleties, and is actually in itself a very well-designed system, since different combinations and permutations create new semantics and convey new ideas. How a word can be interpreted is dependent on the way it is said, displayed, the context it is said in, the people it is spoken to. Design is similar — the efficacy and beauty of a design can be understood and expressed based on numerous factors. For language, it is the balance of beauty, intent and efficacy; for design, form, function and value. There are so many ways that understanding languages can benefit the growth and evaluation of design, and both are very much a sophisticated art.

Many argue that design is everything, and in truth it does governs everything we see, interact and understand in this world. But in light of all this, I would say design, to me, has a few higher purposes: to bring people and communities closer, to bring people joy (make lives easier, or just simply, more beautiful), and to challenge people to think differently, through communicating values, whether through education, provocation or humour.

I really appreciate design that is creative, aesthetically interesting, but also meaningful and fits well into a system. If I am to gather 5 words to sum up my design ethos, I would choose the following: Intuitive, Systemic, Creative, Adaptive, Humanistic.

Intuitive not in a sense that anyone should be able to come up with the ideas, but rather, when an idea is proposed, the reaction it solicits is, “Ah, it makes sense! Why isn’t this thought of before?” I think we should design for the world such that it situates itself intuitively within existing systems. Perhaps it will bring about paradigm changes, perhaps it is unexpected, or perhaps it is actually not that unfamiliar. But either way, I think design should be able to grasp intuitive human tendencies and should make sense.

Designing within a system is something we hear a lot in the CMU School of Design. We should not design in a standalone way, since everything exists within a system. Understanding and dissecting the systems governing the world allows us to foresee a little more clearly the impact of design in various areas and consider more thoroughly the implications of every action and behaviour we carry out and shape. By designing in systems, we are also respecting the culture and context and taking into account the nuances that comes with human diversity. This way our design can be more holistic and considerate.

Designers should have an inherent desire to innovate. I think we can get too caught up with being data-driven, methodological and grounded with problem solving. And while being empathetic to users is definitely our mission and responsibility, we as designers should also never lose our voices. Design can never truly be purely objective, since it is done through the lens of a subjective being, a designer who has his/her own values, experiences, preferences, personality and worldview. I believe that creativity is one of the most important qualities and commissions, if not the most, of being a designer. We should always be introspective about the world around us, and seek new alternative ways to perceive, interpret and better our lives. If we are only looking at what serves users, we are at most designing at the same pace of the evolution of society — to design for the future, we need creativity and imagination.

Being adaptive, regardless whether in the field of design or not, is an essential quality to growth. As a designer, being adaptive allows us to witness chronic transformation of the cultural landscape and how that affects people and ideas. Transformation is the result of design, and also what drives more opportunities for it. We should almost expect change and compromise, adoption and evolution, in all the things that are currently out there. Again, to design for the future, to have speculation, one needs to be adaptive, observant and expectant of change.

Design is always about people, directly or indirectly— for them to see, use, feel, ponder upon, observe, interact and engage with. For me, it’s important that my design resonates with people. Relationships and communities are such wonderful things, that I really hope design can be used to strengthen these two entities. I hope to better people’s lives, whether by improving it directly, or by introducing an optimistic outlook to their lives and inspiring self-reflections, growth and meaningful social interactions. Capturing and translating human insights and stories is also a difficult, but inescapable part of design, and is what determines its quality a lot. The more we understand ourselves, others, the society and humans in general, the more likely our design is going to be transformative.

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