How a degree in Film Studies helps me understand Design better

Tanushree Bose
Feb 17, 2020 · 4 min read

As a graduate of Film Studies, I am often asked the question, “Oh you did a Master's in Film Studies, so why did you suddenly shift to design?

Starting from my first UX interview to everyday conversation, this question has stayed with me for the past 5 years.

The Liberal Arts have been constricted by a distinct lack of understanding in India and this has resulted in such disciplines taking a back seat in the traditional job market that values STEM education streams.

A lot of my Film Studies learnings apply directly to my UX design practice. But before I list those out, let’s understand what Film Studies is really about:

While more formally, and according to Wikipedia, it is described as:

So before I move forward, I’m going to lay out my understanding of Film Studies: A field of study where the film plays the role of text in order to understand a particular narrative and its socio-political and economic implications.

So what Design Thinking tools has my degree armed me with?

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is one of the key aspects of design. One cannot address a problem without asking better and meaningful questions. In my Film Studies program, we have practiced this skill for years. Reading different film texts, understanding the narrative in the light of its cultural, socio-economical and political context requires endless questioning and answering several whys, hows, and whats. I learned “how to think” rather than “what to think” and hence — distort innate bias.

Interdisciplinary approach to learning

Film studies integrates different areas of studies such as Semiotics, Gender Studies, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Psychology, Fine Arts, Mass Communication, Technology. Connecting all these varied disciplines and understanding how they are interrelated helps me get a broader perspective on a situation. This is an important idea in design thinking.

Cultural Appropriations

There is no denying that films have the ability to transport us across continents and empathize with new cultures and practices. Watching world cinema from Russia, Japan, Germany, France, America, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Africa and of course India, amongst others, has helped me fathom the extent of cultural differences. Perceiving design in this context and acknowledging the frailties of a universal design aesthetic has been a great asset. It has sensitized me with the contextual nature of the design.

Enhanced research skills

The curriculum required us to submit a dissertation on a unique topic. The process of writing a dissertation involves identifying multiple perspectives for research. Including reading through diverse reference materials, talking to authors and other stakeholders. This process of research, analysis, and insights is an important aspect of design thinking.

We stated our dissertation aims and objectives, identified key findings, implemented various methods of research to draw insights and come to a conclusion. This rigorous process of research, analysis, and synthesis forms the bedrock of UX practice.

Understanding design principles

Film composition and visual communication share several basic design principles. Both require an understanding of unity, negative and white space, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, and dominance to create a good composition. Successful Visual communication comes from an understanding of basic design principles. Needless to say the key elements of design composition work for film composition as well. For example hierarchy in design means placing objects according to their importance and what needs to be focused more or less. The golden ratio is a compositional technique used in design for typography, layout, logo, resizing or cropping images. Similarly, in Films we have Hitchcock’s rule, again using the hierarchy of subject and object to communicate with the audience.

A depiction of Hitchcock’s rule of the iconic telephone scene from the film “Top Secret 1984 “

Last but not least

I would like to end by saying that a degree in Liberal Studies can be just as effective as any other. Critically understanding what you learn and being able to apply that to a larger context is the most important thing.

All the illustrations are my own creation. If you like this article clap and share !!

Let’s connect if you have any comments or you would like to share any examples.


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