Happy new year from Heist! It’s been a short week but we’ve added a new Arabic word to our vocabulary as we learn more about the GCC region for an upcoming project -
We want to say we’re pretty excited about what’s in store for us this year, but we’ve been told that’s not the correct way to use jamila. That said, we hope you’ve enjoyed the جميلة illustration, courtesy of Sofia.
Hoping to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, I decided to take a road trip through the stunning countryside of Christchurch, New Zealand. Even though I was apprehensive at first (having never been on a road trip), I quickly fell in love with the turquoise-coloured lakes, grassy green plains and snowcapped mountains. The scenery was truly majestic. Every single location I’ve visited looked straight out of a postcard - even the random stops we made along the side of the roads to stretch our legs were absolutely stunning.
Here are some of the places I’ve visited on the trip. I do hope these pictures encourage you to spend some time in nature this holiday season!
1/ You've recently switched from Public Relations to Design Research - What prompted the career switch? Tell us about your journey so far.
I started work in public relations after graduating from University of Manchester where I read Sociology. I had an interest in PR because I found the role of building relationships between parties – mainly the media, client and public – challenging. It was my first job and I stuck with it for half a decade.
Over the course of five years, I witnessed many changes within the industry both locally and globally. From the rise of influencer marketing to the death of traditional media, the incessant spending of cash to be ‘seen’ and editors inclined towards producing clickbait content just to generate traffic, I started to find a lot of the theories I came across as a student manifesting in the industry. This made me more aware of the impact I was making on society through my work, which led me to begin seeking an avenue where I could work with more research data in order to develop pragmatic and impactful experiences for society.
After exploring several options and seeking advice, I was directed to design thinking as a discipline that fit my mission. However, I lacked design experience. Undeterred, I signed up for a few courses online to find out more about design thinking. Armed with the little bit of knowledge I’d gained online, I felt that design research was an area I was keen to explore and wanted to gain some first-hand experience in, in order to inform my next step. I reached out to Heist for an opportunity to learn on the job and Kaj was kind enough to respond to my query, so here I am now doing an internship in design research and learning something new every day!
2/ What is your biggest takeaway from your previous career?
There are two big takeaways from my previous career. The first is “don’t blame, just fix”. A lot of the events I worked on had multiple partners with huge teams or volunteers. Tensions are always high during an event because of the sheer number of people involved. If it’s a ‘live’ TV event, execution has to be very precise. Of course, more often than not, Murphy will make an appearance at an event because that’s just nature! I’ve seen teams turn on each other with the blame game when something goes awry, and they become engulfed in shifting the responsibility rather than fixing it, but there is no benefit in pointing fingers when everyone is anxious. In fact, it just makes things worse and people start to resent each other. So, that’s one thing I try not to do whenever something crops up – have your team’s back and fix the problem first, then review when the dust settles. Things are always clearer in retrospect.
The second thing I learned is to not bring your work home emotionally. Unless it’s a crisis, once I leave the office, I leave everything about work behind and give the people I’m with my full attention.
3/ How do you feed your creative energy?
Whenever the weather permits, I slow my life down and take a walk so I can “people-watch”. Singapore is surprisingly fast-paced and there are always so many things happening at once, which can also be observed whenever I take a stroll. Some things I look out for when I go for a walk include humans interacting with each other, humans interacting with their space, little bits of nature etc. As I cover distances, the surroundings will change, so there’s always something ‘new’ happening that will stimulate me. Generally, I’ll try to associate anything I see with something else I’ve come across before – a social theory, a conversation, an article, a book, a memory, a song. Sometimes, I’ll bring a camera to snap some shots. Interaction intrigues me and being able to map relationships in these interactions excites the geek in me.
Other than that, I’m always inspired by food because of the creativity in each dish. Every cuisine has a history, an identity, a story. Travelling and sleeping are two of the other activities I feed on. It’s easy to understand why for travelling. As for sleeping, I tend to have vivid dreams and I read somewhere that it means your brain is rearranging information, so that’s always useful!
4/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you're passionate about helping solve?
I feel that people need to think about the purpose of designing or redesigning something more carefully. I came across a New Yorker article about a food bar borne out of the Valley which had all the necessary proteins but tasted horrendous. Granted, I’ve never tried the item in question, but the article ended with a quote which really resonated with me -
“Silicon Valley’s failure to capture our appetites lies at the heart of what the technology industry misses about so many other things in this world. Though it may be possible to create technically feasible products for any aspect of our lives, those only succeed if they improve—rather than seek to replace—the human, highly tactile, and pleasurable world we want to live in. Most humans are happy to eat real food, and crave it in its most natural form. A strawberry picked at the height of summer. Fish pulled from a river and grilled over wood coals. Sourdough bread made from a twenty-year-old starter, and kneaded by hand. Wine grown on knobby vines, and aged in a dark cellar. Why would you disrupt that?” – The Real Soylent Sickness, The New Yorker
Other than that, having worked in the communications industry, I’m interested in the translation and transformation of data to information, to knowledge and wisdom. I’m also passionate about rethinking the rehabilitation process of deviant behaviour and mental health. I think the system in Singapore is still quite conservative and there’s a lot of stigma around these issues which people try to eradicate via marketing campaigns, but marketing campaigns simply cannot address the underlying issues. It’s not easy because of the intricacies involved in policy making, but if you never try, you’ll never know.
5/ Starting a new chapter is challenging, what advice would you give to those in the same shoes?
Do your research, be thick skinned and pray. It is scary because there may be a lot of risk involved, and you can always find a reason not to do it. More importantly, once you make your decision, don’t think about “what if” because even with probability, there is no way you will 100% know how things will turn out. You may have a plan, but always be ready to adapt.
In a busy city like Singapore, finding work-life balance can be a struggle. In the midst of juggling different facets of life, we encourage you to pause and think: what does health and wellness mean to you? In a nutshell, this is what team Heist sought to find out from fellow members at our co-working space - The Working Capitol (TWC) - in order to help TWC serve its community better.
Over the course of 3 weeks, we conducted a series of interactive experiments and hands-on activities in various locations within TWC to better understand its members’ attitudes and behaviours towards health and wellness. This meant we had to craft the right questions for our members in order to gain understanding: What activities interest them? What time do they usually work out? How much money are they willing to invest into health and wellness activities? What makes them feel relaxed? Heist investigates.
We started off doing what we do best: talking to people. We conducted dozens of intercept interviews within TWC and even around the neighbourhood.
1. The Glass Vases
Question: What are your favourite fitness activities?
How it works: Simple and intuitive, members cast their votes in pre-labelled clear vases using ping pong balls.
2. The Semi-Clock
Question: What is a good time to work out?
How it works: Taking advantage of the pre-existing wooden arch at the TWC Library, this semi-clock was divided into time slots from 6AM to 9PM. Members cast their votes by pasting stickers on the clock.
3. The Piggy Bank
Question: How much would you pay for your fitness activities?
How it works: “Capitol Cash” was placed around TWC for participants to fill out with the amount they are willing to pay for health and wellness programmes. They would then deposit the “Capitol Cash” into clear glass piggy banks. Participants are presented with “Capitol Cash” of varying values. They then proceed to indicate how much they are willing to pay for health & wellness programmes into a glass piggy bank.
4. The Postcard Installation
Question: What are your favourite wellness activities?
How it works: Participants were given the option to pick their favorite activity/activities from a range of image cards (e.g. yoga, reading a book etc.) or be creative and draw their own. They could then hang them on a frame, which also served as an art installation for the TWC community.
Members - thank you to those who have participated! For those who haven’t yet, keep a look out for the Postcard Installation at the pantry! ! We look forward to seeing the results come to life in new health and wellness offerings by TWC.
Over the Diwali holiday, I took a short trip to Phnom Penh – capital of Cambodia. Even while I’m on time-off, I try to keep my design research hat on. Here are some snippets of my adventure.
Team Heist recently decided to take an impromptu field trip over to the new Habitat by Honestbee. Here’s what went down on a Thursday afternoon.
What about you? Have you been to the new space? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
1/ What attracted you to a career in Design? Tell us about your journey so far.
Since I was a child, I found myself gravitating towards creativity and art. Where other kids in my school chose facts and formulas, I chose a blank canvas because I wanted to create. But as I became better informed, I realised that there is a lot more to design than just making something look pretty.
I graduated as a business designer, where I spent three years learning and applying Design Thinking. During my course of study, I participated in projects with several government agencies and private organisations to help them create new value and new forms of competitive advantage through human-centred innovation. I went on to practice visual design with NAFA and a local design agency so I could leverage my artistic side with my academic background. It gave me a foundation to build upon, as I design in virtual spaces and create art on paper.
My passion for people, design, and technology eventually led me to the world of UX. It took me awhile to figure it all out and somehow, I found that the sweet spot between business design, visual design and user experience design lies my greatest strength. Being grounded in Design Thinking, I’m able to apply existing skills in research and business strategy to the design process in humanising technology so it can be translated into meaningful experiences for people to enjoy. That’s my journey in a nutshell.
2/ How do you feed your creative energy?
On days when I want to expand my knowledge library, I’ll browse through Medium or Twitter and pick a read or two. I follow a bunch of writers, podcasts and blogs with curated UX content and that has helped widen my horizon on human-centred design.
Currently reading: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less
Currently stalking: UX Collective
Currently streaming: Good Design is Human
I also find inspiration through my conversations with people. As part of a self-initiated study group started by six friends and myself, we come together once every month to share insights, tools and techniques on different UX topics and discuss upcoming trends in the field to remain updated and informed. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn from one another as we embark on our own journeys after graduation. And for that, I’m grateful because they keep me curious.
3/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?
To advocate for accessibility in UX Design. Digital accessibility refers to the building of digital content and applications that can be used by a wide range of people, including individuals who have visual, motor, auditory, speech, or cognitive limitations.
There’s this incorrect belief amongst people who assume that making websites and apps accessible is difficult and expensive but that’s not entirely true. Let’s take Grab’s “plus” icon for the multi-stop option as an example. This simple feature has saved me so much effort during times when I find myself situationally disabled. The ease of adding another location remotely made my experience better as it decreases the chance of miscommunication.
And the people behind this brilliant idea? They’re from the Blind and Deaf community in Singapore. (these)abilities ran Design Thinking workshops with the community as they improve the ride-hailing experience of the Grab app. The context of the feature was that Persons with Disabilities are unable to communicate with the driver when they require assistance or request for an additional stop for the ride. But with this inclusive design, it promoted effective non-verbal communication for them and the mass majority as well.
You see, the amazing thing about accessibility is that improving the quality of the experience for those with disabilities inherently improves the quality of the experience for everyone. And as designers, we have the power and responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to what we create regardless or ability, context, or situation.
4/ What advice would you give design students looking to start a career in Singapore?
Always have empathy. And know that its very different from sympathy. Empathy is perspective-taking, staying out of judgement, recognising emotions and communicating that. Empathy is feeling with people, and in turn, it fuels connection.
I feel like as designers, our main purpose here on earth is to empathise – Empathise with your users, your clients, your teams; and the list keeps growing. With that empathy, we go a step further and do something meaningful with it. I became a designer because it’s not enough for me to theoretically make the world a better place. I needed to know how to do it and do it right, and it seemed that having empathy is a good place to start.
Someone once shared this and it stuck with me for a long time. Hopefully it will stick with you too.
In social issues class today our professor held up a black book and he said “this book is red”. We were all “no” and he said “yes it is” and we all said “that’s not right”. Then he turned it around and the back cover was red and he said “don’t tell somebody they’re wrong until you’ve seen things from their point of view.”
5/ Can you share an example of an experience that helped change your perspective when it comes to design?
Three years ago, I was working with a company in the public sector. During one of our monthly meetings, I had the chance to play some brain teasers with my colleagues. Here’s an example, try solving this one – Remove 8 Matchsticks to form 2 Squares.
Surprisingly enough (or not), I got it all wrong. Not because I didn’t manage to solve the puzzles, but simply because my answers didn’t match the ones in her answer sheet. I offered my explanation, hoping to get an A for effort but the facilitator just shook her head and said “sorry but the answer sheet said so.”
And then it hit me; how people can be so rigid and bent on thinking a certain way and acknowledging only one set of answers that they deemed as correct. It scares me to think that some people are going to live like this for the rest of their lives. Design Thinking teaches us see beyond our own horizon, beyond our own thinking. It taught me to see things in many other different perspectives and that there is never just one correct answer.
As we venture into the workforce, there are bound to be people who will reject your way of thinking simply because they are afraid of change and the biggest part of what Design Thinking has to offer, is change. I hope to continue to design solutions outside the box and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same too. Baby steps at a time, we'll get there.
1/ Hi Sofia, you recently moved to Singapore. What prompted the relocation?
I grew up in Morocco during the 90’s and through the early 2000s and moved to New York City the day after my 18th birthday. A few years later, I was ready to try something new and walk away from my comfort zone. Although I find the entire region exciting in every aspect, Singapore stood out because it has become the reference in so many regards, from the food scene to architectural elements. This wasn’t a spontaneous decision though, as the idea of moving to Asia had been building in my mind for a few years but needed to wait for the right moment to make it happen. I had never been to Singapore, but as I honed into the idea of moving here my curiosity increased exponentially and I could not wait to dip my toes in an environment that I was unfamiliar with. This was the catalyst for a leap of faith — I saw a window of opportunity which enabled me to be a part of the Heist team in Singapore and the rest is history.
2/ You’ve recently switched from Architecture to Experience Design - what learnings were you able to apply from your degree and past internship to your current role?
Design is about one thing and one thing only: enhancing people’s lives. I don’t see it as a switch but as a continuation: I’m passionate about way too many things to limit myself just yet. Whatever you do, particularly in this field, you need people to be the focus. Designing is not for the self, and I was slowly beginning to forget that and it's a problem. The skills i’m developing at Heist require diving deep into ethnography and not using it as an accessory or inspiration but rather as the fundamental core of the design process. That is a great tool to build on to what I have had the privilege to uncover previously in a more academic setting, and I’m very grateful for that.
3/ How do you feed your creative energy?
Places. Books. Music. Film. Anything and everything, really. I tend to enjoy movies that require subtitles and I’m a sucker for documentaries (the most recent ones being six-part docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story as well as 13th). When I am pulled into the vacuum of what’s “in” right now, I like to cleanse my musical palette with some Pink Floyd, Daft Punk, Radiohead, Nirvana... whatever my inner angsty-teen is craving in the moment. I prefer historical non-fiction because reality often surpasses the imaginary, I am currently reading God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi. Travel is a big one too, I have been to various metropolitan cities throughout my life and I am proud to say I have discovered about 0.001% of the world so far (yes, you read that right). I’m eager to keep going and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.
4/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?
Studying the urban fabric of cities and its inhabitants and designing for under-represented communities to thrive is one of the great design challenges of the 21st century, and it would be an honour to play a part — no matter how small — in resolving it. I love people and places: I studied space through architecture, I now study people through ethnography. The agglomeration of both is in cities, which is why I intend to further my studies in urban design. As a New Yorker I was curious about the functioning and conception of NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) public housing projects as well as the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) — two elements that have shaped the city tremendously. I was introduced to captivating and visionary case studies, for example Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena’s housing project as well as non-profit organisations such as 100 Resilient Cities and ea-hr, the latter which focuses on architecture and human rights. It’s great to be a daily commuter in Singapore because as a user it really gives a first hand insight on the tremendous efforts being made in ensuring such a successful and exemplary model for cities worldwide.
5/ What do you want to get out of your time in Asia?
I’m curious to experience and learn as much as possible here because I truly believe Asia is where it’s at right now, especially when it comes to design. My interests started shifting dramatically when introduced a couple of years ago to films like Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love depicting 1960s Hong Kong, or the cinematic neon lights in Shanghai Blues, as well as directors like Park Chan-wook and Yasujiro Ozu whose movies screened at my local theatre. I recently revisited a childhood classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus Spirited Away and was swept off my feet. Chinese and Japanese architecture kept coming up in classes and lectures: MAD Architects, I.M. Pei, Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban and SANAA to name a few… Asia is really on the international forefront right now and I’m excited to experience it’s art and design scene in person instead of just admiring it from afar, that would be a key takeaway for sure. Since I moved here, Singapore has pleasantly surprised me in so many ways. There is so much to experience beyond the standard tourist attractions and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into exploring every alley as much as humanly possible. As I do so, I hope to continue to make amazing and talented friends and overdose on Hawker food together. During my time in Asia, my goal is to have a deeper understanding of the different peoples, cultures and nuances encompassed within this great continent… keeping in mind that for everybody and even after a lifetime of labor to uncover its many facets, it will forever hold a part of mystery.
Read on to learn where our Founder, Kaj finds inspiration and happiness. Kaj grew up in New Delhi, India and continues to stay inspired by her home country while exploring the diverse cultures of Asia.
1/ Kaj, who or what inspires you on a regular basis?
I listen to a lot of podcast interviews. Debbie Millman’s Design Matters and Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs are two of my current favourites. I like to learn from the lives, journeys and lessons of people who have overcome adversity and gone on to do super cool things. Lately, I am inspired by Monica Grady - space scientist, Krista Tippett - the existentialist as well as early Nirvana albums (BTW, Kurt Cobain experimented with cultural immersion in his own way, taking to living in broken down motels later in his life in an attempt to regain inspiration)
In a nutshell - inspiration is everywhere and I’m always taking random photographs or making small notes for myself. Things connect in unexpected ways and I find being relentlessly curious about the world we live in makes us so much better at our jobs as design thinkers. And like scientists or architects - we designers too stand on the shoulders of giants. It helps to learn from the lives and lessons of others. Read, listen, travel, learn, ask lots of questions of yourself and those around you.
2/ We know you love Asia – do you have a favourite city or place?
That’s a hard one. I’ve been lucky enough to call New Delhi, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore home over the last decade. Each city inspires me in a different way. I am most at home in Hong Kong - the subcultures, the music and film legacies, the food and bar scene and that there is easy access to everything from beaches to hikes in the space of 20 minutes.
Back home in India, I often visit Rajasthan - a state famous for its camels, old forts, gypsies and colourful outfits. Think men in pink turbans and pretty women twirling in parrot green skirts.
3/ And what about Singapore – what’s the best thing about living here?
Well, my friends! And my apartment with its overgrown plants. Seriously though - the start up ecosystem here is great. It’s a super easy place to do business and an energetic regional hub. The EDB and SG Design Council have both been very supportive and we have a tight design community here. Also I love where I live - Tiong Bahru. It’s a great mix of retired folks in HDBs and young creatives. It gets a bad rap for being too hipster, but dig below the surface for fantastic stories.
The best part of Tiong Bahru is its community feel- the florist at our local wet market, the barista at my favourite cafe, the aunty who makes the best wonton noodles and the shared ownership of gloriously overweight cats.
Singapore has become a much more vibrant place in the last few years. When I lived in Shanghai, and we’d come down for work - it felt too calm and sterile. But the creative scene and design community, while still small - are increasingly more active and vocal. It feels like there’s a lot more to do and explore here now - from bloc parties to art & film events.
4/ Is there any dream project on the horizon for you?
I’m committed to finding a way to design for better mental health. Specifically, I’d like to reduce the stigma around anxiety and depression. A lot of people in Asia simply don’t have access to this level of mental healthcare they need, and it’s a huge problem amongst young people here. There are many cultural barriers to speaking out about these issues, and I’d like to see that change.
Over the last year, we’ve been spending time in Singapore universities and community centres to find opportunities for mental healthcare. There’s a real need for a platform and service system that allows more people to get the help they need, and we’d love to find a way to bring it to life.
5/ Lastly, what has been your greatest lesson from running Heist for 3 years now?
Just one? Wow, the last few years have taught me so much - equal parts exhausting and rewarding. My top 3 learnings so far:
1/ Build your tribe - Actively build and contribute to, not just find. It’s impossible to do this alone - running a startup, having a good life as an expat living away from home, finding the right balance. I’ve been super lucky - and while I do have a very supportive family, they’re back home in New Delhi. Here in Singapore - I have managed to surround myself with interesting and hyper motivated people who continue to inspire me. Reflecting on what it’s like to explore uncharted territory -- whether it’s a fresh idea, a new market, or a yet-to-be-designed service -- keeps my skills sharp and my thoughts fresh, and I couldn’t begin to process my thoughts on what it means to live and work in SouthEast Asia without my group of friends.
2/ Create a board of advisors: Having access to a global network of inspiring world class designers is something I missed from my time at frog. To help recreate some of that, I reached out to people I admire and want to learn from - across a range of disciplines and industries. I learnt that if you ask people for advice with humility and good intentions, most are willing to help. My board of advisors consists of 7 very smart people including a headhunter, an architect, an investor and two clients I trust immensely. Each of them challenges me and helps me in different ways.
3/ Take care of yourself - I don’t just mean this in a ‘self care and spa’ way. But to take ownership of your health and wellness - physically, emotionally and spiritually. I box at the gym 4 days a week and have a business coach to help me with the challenges of running a startup. As a team, we spend a lot of time on the road for design research - but we always try to make time for ourselves to recharge, meditate or squeeze in a quick workout wherever we are. Whether in Singapore or in one of our Pop-Up studios, you’ll always find good music, yoga mats, healthy snacks and a lot of laughter. This goes a long way in keeping us all happy and productive no matter the design challenge.
1/ What attracted you to a career in Design Research? And what is your favourite thing about it?
While I was at university, I came across Jane Jacobs’ influential book, ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’. Her passion and determination to improve her neighbourhood using a community-based, people-centric approach really resonated with me and she quickly became one of my personal heroes.
At the time, several urban planners actively resisted her book. Many questioned her lack of credentials (she was never formally trained as an urban planner), while others thought that her primary method of street observation was disconcertingly subjective compared to the statistically-oriented methods that are often used. However, her passion for her neighbourhood and ability to observe and empathise changed the way cities are currently planned and opened our eyes to important human-centric aspects that are typically rendered invisible by modern narratives of development.
Jane Jacob’s attitude and passion showed me that creating good design solutions goes beyond education or professional practice. It is far more important to have empathy, relentlessness and a strong desire to change or improve things. This is why I chose a career in Design Research. I want to help design solutions that can make a positive impact on people’s lives. It’s such a privilege to be able to listen to people, design for them and channel my inner Jane Jacobs.
2/ How do you feed your creative energy?
Well, I naturally gravitate towards things that excite me or make me feel creatively charged. I’m lucky to have friends who often share quirky articles, cool websites and interesting services - these things often give me a creative buzz. It is always important to keep yourself updated about the latest happenings and trends. Social media has been really helpful for that. It might seem like a counterproductive activity but looking at memes or random comics can sometimes give you a spark of inspiration and set bigger things in motion. I have started a few interesting passion projects with friends because of a meme that gave us a good laugh.
In general, I feel it is always important to approach everything with a child-like curiosity and be open to new experiences. Inspiration is a sneaky thing, so open up your mind and experience as many things as possible.
3/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?
As a born and bred Singaporean, it has always been my dream to be able to contribute to the nation. In particular, I would like to use design research to get more Singaporeans involved in the design of their city and immediate environments. The city often adopts a top-down approach to deal with planning and governance but I believe that there is a huge potential for increased public engagement.
This was a problem I tried to tackle while I was in university. Widely known as a ‘city within a garden’, Singapore government has spent tons of money and effort greening the outdoors. Yet, many Singaporeans are indifferent to the nature they see everyday. This is why I started a participatory design project in a local co-working space to challenge Singaporeans to think about ways their environment can be improved with nature and encourage them to take ownership of the greenery around them. Seeing the co-working community get involved in the project and appreciate the nature in their office has been very rewarding. It has also fuelled my passion to continuously work on people-centric projects that bring about a positive change, especially in the area of environment design.
4/ What advice would you give design students looking to start a design career in Singapore?
Think bigger - there is so much more that you can do. I believe that most people in Singapore do not think of design education as something that can be applied to many areas. Most students pursue a design degree to focus on very specific skills, like graphic design or interior design, but I think being naturally creative is a super power. If possible, I would like to see more young designers apply the thinking process that is taught in schools to solving ‘wicked problems’.
5/ Can you share an example of a work project that helped shift how you view your city?
While working on the Green Spaces participatory design project, I had a few industry experts tell me that my biggest obstacle would be getting Singaporeans involved and excited about nature in their work environment. Even if the government were to mandate the provision of plants in offices, most Singaporeans would not be inclined to engage with the nature around them. This was also something that I felt was true - it is a common belief that Singaporeans are just not interested in getting involved.
However, through the project, I’ve learnt that Singaporeans are willing to engage in conversations and and offer suggestions that can help design better solutions. The problem is that most Singaporeans have never been engaged in a meaningful manner and therefore, do not see the value of getting involved. They always seem to think that their perspectives or opinions will never be taken into consideration. By listening to their needs and designing for them, I think it allowed those involved in the project to see the value of their insights and also encouraged them to take ownership of the resulting solutions.
Here are some photos from our recent pop up studio in Manila. We spent 3 weeks, mid typhoon running ethnography in 7 cities, learning about the role of insurance and how we can design better solutions for the economically challenged to help them secure their future
1/ What attracted you to a career in Design Research? And what is your favourite thing about it?
Coming from user research, I was already familiar with the field of digital innovation. I like the challenge of uncovering and doing new things - when usually nobody can tell you how and what to design, build or test exactly.
I love how design research helps you uncover the drivers of human behaviour and understand it in the context of the culture. I like going out there, talking to people and solve their problems through great design.
2/ How do you feed your creative energy?
It’s a tough question as I never actively tried to feed my creative energy - but I feed it through my experiences such as travelling and studying languages. While travelling, I love to have super local experiences, talk to regular people, eat with them, try to understand their culture.
Other than that, I’m reading quite a bit about tech trends and like listening to TED Talks and interviews about all kinds of topics. And I like trying out new things such as taking a Mandarin class, joining a beach volleyball team or a Bachata Social. With these new activities, it’s easy to meet new people that have different mindsets and do different cool things - which never ceases to inspire me.
3/ You have been travelling quite a bit across Asia - what's your favourite discovery so far?
For me, the greatest lesson from travelling and living abroad has been what you discover about yourself. Learning, that I actually need a nature dose once in a while was new to me, having lived in the German countryside and in small cities where nature was always just a stone’s throw away. My nature highlight was Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Standing at the edge of an active volcano, just protected by a 30cm high railing that was more a tripping hazard than anything else, gazing into the smoky crater after taking a jeep ride in complete darkness to the top of the hill - is just indescribable.
Beyond that, I enjoyed deep diving into local cultures, being welcomed with hospitality in all places.
My favourite was spending Hari Raya with a hostel owner’s family and fellow travellers in Langkawi, visiting the open houses of three family members, eating delicious food in all places. I just imagined a group of strangers would walk into our house on Christmas - and my grandmother’s shocked face. I love these cultural differences.
4/ What advice would you give a young design professional, looking to move to Asia?
Do it! It's amazing. Come with an open mind, know that many things will be new to you and many challenges will seem very big and you'll work hard, but that's just what makes living and working in Asia so interesting and meaningful. For me, I achieved personal and professional growth. Understanding people and solving their problems while you're outside your own comfort zone of your native language or country broadens your horizon and makes you much better at your craft. Use this chance!
5/ Is there a design challenge you are keen to help solve - or a dream project perhaps?
Education. I know it’s super broad - there are so many ways in which education can be designed in a better way. In Germany, I’ve always found school uninspiring. Programs, classes and homework - all need to be designed differently to let students identify their passion and become great at what they enjoy doing. The learning experience has to be a more positive one and more customised to individual talents, needs and interests.
And then, in developing countries, I would love to make education more accessible. When I was in Myanmar, I met a group of village kids, that enjoyed speaking English to me. “See you tomorrow, see you tomorrow!”. I realised how curious and eager there are to learn - yet they don’t have a chance to study, often dropping out of school early to earn money for the family. This is a challenge I’d like to work on.
1/ What made you pick Industrial Design as your major at uni? And what do you like best about it so far?
When I first started University, I did not consider Industrial Design (ID) — I was intrigued by what it was, but dismissed it as I was under the impression I did not meet the qualification requirements (I did not study higher level chemistry or physics). I’ll admit that I was misled by the word “industrial,” having pictured factories, machines and gears. Interestingly, I was pursuing a Global Studies degree when my ID friends showed me some of their work. I was so inspired; it seemed like a more fitting way for me to do work that would add meaning to the world. From there, I discovered I actually met the qualification requirements and transferred to ID.
The best thing about ID so far is it’s versatility. It’s possible to work with a wide range of tools: from traditional materials such as foam/wood for quick prototyping to more advanced technologies like 3D printing for detailed modelling. We also apply design thinking and the design process to a wide range of disciplines. In order to understand how something works, we have to study people, processes, and systems. Some examples of this are: studying how a kettle works to reinvent a new one, observing people’s spending habits to create an app that promotes cashless payments, and researching on trends around the world to 3D print a piece of jewelry.
2/ What is the one thing that has surprised you about learning/practising Design?
Everyone has a different collection of experiences, knowledge and thought processes, so much so that even if a design brief is given to a class of students, everyone still comes up with different ideas. There is something unique about the design process such that everyone’s outcomes/solutions are different. Each person also has their own style and differing interests. It’s pretty cool to think about how even though everyone is studying the same thing, we will probably go to different fields, work on different design projects with a different perspective, and create different kinds of impact.
3/ Who or what inspires you?
This question is tricky, because I think almost everything can have the potential to inspire me. I believe that the more you read, observe, and discover about the world — whether it’s directly related to design or not, the stronger the grasp you have in designing for people. Unexpected situations or circumstances can serve as a catalyst for the next breakthrough that you have. That being said, I am usually creatively stimulated after watching good films, looking at design blogs, reading articles/examples about innovation, reading up on global issues/ anecdotes, and sometimes even just by identifying problem areas I experience in my own life.
For example, UNHCR recently piloted an eye scanning payment system for Syrian refugees living in Jordan using blockchain technology. This enables Syrian refugees to access cash grants with a scan of their eyes. With this, there is no need for them to provide a passport or official documents, which can be a problem with refugees. Blockchain also records these transactions to deduct amounts spend on food from the cash assistance refugees receive from the World Food Programme. To me, this kind of innovation that empowers and provides for individuals is so inspiring and motivating.
4/ How do you think young designers can help shape future of Singapore?
Be optimistic. I read somewhere that to design is to be optimistic, and I’ve come to realise it’s quite true. Designers have to think and ideate on a future that does not yet exist, and work on finding opportunities to bring that future to a reality. We have to convince ourselves that we can use design as a tool to change mindsets, behaviours, experiences, policies, etc; we have to see problems as opportunities. It would be hard to do our job if we have the mindset that change is impossible.
5/ What do you believe is the greatest challenge for design students these days?
Balancing between ideating (thinking) and doing. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own web of ideas, trying to think of the best one to work on… without actually doing anything. In that sense, it seems as though there is zero progress, because everything is in your mind rather than something tangible. When it’s hard to find a solution, it may be discouraging to start prototyping as well. However, I’ve come to realise that ideas can surface while prototyping. Similar to writing, sometimes you just need to type something out — no matter how bad it is, at least that’s a step towards correcting something to a better version of what it was previously.
We spent 5 days in Hanoi on the ground deep diving into the behaviours of people around money - including cash, mobile wallets, QR codes and credit cards. Here's a quick video on what we learned; stay tuned to read about our top 5 learnings!
Most people are used to leaving a store with full bags, but there is a place in the world where people come to the grocery store with bags fuller than when they leave.
Where individuals leave the shop with more money than they came with. And where people feel guilty when randomly throwing a plastic bottle - in the bin.
Are you thinking - hey, does this place really exist?
Yes it does and it’s my home. Germany’s progressive government launched a regulation called “Pfand”, which closest translation would be “deposit”.
It’s so popular that people in Germany now say at the end of any given barbecue in a park or a dinner at home: “Nooo, don’t throw it, we can get Pfand on it.”
To give you a bit of a context - when you buy a single-use plastic water bottle in Germany, it costs you just over 30 cents. But on top of that, you pay a deposit of 39 cents which doubles the price of anything you buy.
It feels unnatural to throw things away once you realize that you would be literally throwing away dozens of euros a month.
This is not because Germans are generally more self-disciplined - policies such as Pfand have changed the way society behaves, taking more responsibility for the environment in exchange for an incentive.
In fact, in 2015 - Germany achieved a recycling rate of 93.5% for single-use plastic bottles - and we are now aiming for 100% recycling rate of course.
Is this only being done in Germany?
This trend is not unique to Germany. For example in the UK, the usage of single-use-plastic bags has dropped by 80% between 2015 and 2018 after the introduction of a plastic bag fee. In Hong Kong, after the plastic ban levy in 2014, the number of plastic bags sent to landfills has decreased by 25% in 2015.
These are actions taken by the government to support us in developing new habits. But we, as residents of Singapore, should not wait for someone to regulate plastic consumption for us - we can and have to take action and responsibility ourselves.
What can be done for Singapore?
When I first got to Singapore, I was surprised at how plastic is being consumed in Singapore. When friends visit me they always make comments like “Why is there a weird plastic and foam cover for each fruit?” or “Why do they give out so much plastic at the shops here?”
These comments are typically made because the abundant usage does not fit Singapore’s image of being a clean, tidy, modern and innovative city with strict regulations, especially with the SmartNation 2020 initiative.
Why should I care about this?
First off, I have personally been blown away from what Singapore has done over the past 50 years and where it is going. It’s a stellar example of ambition and intelligence to create a very liveable city-state.
But while I head for lunch at the Hawker Centre, I can’t help but notice that we need to unwrap the wooden chopsticks from the plastic packaging, enjoy the yummy bee hoon fish soup with a plastic spoon and drink from a plastic cup with our plastic straws wrapped in a plastic carrier.
While enjoying that soup, 15 marine seabirds, 3 turtles, fishes and marine mammals will die, as a consequence of the 150 Million tonnes of plastic waste that has already accumulated in the ocean.
While all of that is a tragedy for our environment, it also affects us. Scientists estimate that by 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish.
And even now, as we consume our fish in our meals, we actually digest micro plastic particles ourselves - throughout the year that accumulates to over 6,400 plastic fragments. Effects on health unknown.
If you love eating fish as much as I do, you might want to modify your food preferences.
Looking at all these factors, we need to take some responsibility to use less plastic in the first place.
Here are 3 ways on how you can start:
Reducing single-use plastics - such as plastic bags that are thrown within minutes (12 minutes on average). This helps us establish a less-waste routine.
Build habits around refusing plastic and bringing our own cloth bags and utensils.
Buy a bamboo or metal straw rather than using a plastic straw and say no to the bag carrier around your plastic cup.
We decided to do some research on the plastic habits in Singapore, conducting intercept interviews with both customers and shop owners in hawker centres as well as students at the NUS campus.
Our challenge: How might we engage both customers and hawkers to use less plastic? And - how can we support building habits around that?
Read more in the next article of our Living Breathing Plastic series.
Naima Volz, Design Researcher
What Goes Around Comes Around
Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag
Icons in Visuals:
What Goes Around Comes Around
Starfish, Coffee, Seahorse, Fish, Shopping Bag, Plastic Cup and Fishing Net icons by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
Coffee icon by Smashicons from www.flaticon.com
Water Bottle icon by Nikita Golubev from www.flaticon.com
Ocean and Woman icon by Icon Pound from www.flaticon.com
We're thrilled to partner with Singapore Design Council - Bringing the second edition of our ethnography workshop to Design Week 2018
Ethnography is the study of culture and people, and it’s more than just an academic practice. It’s the superpower that can determine the success of new products and services, and boost the chance that a new concept will make it to market.
In this session, Heist Principal and Founder Kajal Vatsa will lead participants in gaining the tools needed to stay close to customers’ views while improving usability and retention.
Participants will come away with an understanding of:
- The basics of ethnography and how it relates to the design of new concepts
- Simple, cost-effective ways to integrate ethnography into the development of new products, services, and experiences
Come join us here
Poster designed by Pollen, our fave new collaborators for Middle East based projects
UPDATE: This event is sold out, and our waitlist is also full. The venue cannot accommodate any more seating. As much as we would love to - we simply can't have everyone at the same workshop. We will host a second edition of this workshop in April. If you'd like to sign up, please ping us at email@example.com
We had the opportunity to spend a week in Dhaka late last year. We were invited by Start Up Week Dhaka and GrameenPhone to lead a week long design sprint. The focus was social innovation and we had the opportunity to work closely with some fantastic start-ups - education, travel, logistics and food.
More, we were left inspired by the chaos and colour on the streets of Dhaka. From Louis Kahn architecture to bright rickshaws, and dhakai sarees to steamed balls of pink aubergine - Dhaka left us excited and filled with ideas on urban design issues. More to come....
We're often asked for book recommendations. So here's one that I'm currently reading and loving. Founders at Work is a collection of interviews with founders - from PayPal to Apple, and Flickr to gmail, Jessica Livingston gets some super insightful stories about the journeys and struggles. I'm especially enjoying this because at Heist, we're constantly re-iterating our own offerings and learning how to scale. Running a start up can be scary, lonely and frustrating sometimes. These essays help you understand that almost every founder asks themselves the same questions, figures out a way to take risks and at some level, operates based on instinct. So if you're thinking of setting up your own company, or figuring how to build on from your own MVP, get this book.
Read a chapter over coffee every other day, walk away inspired each time!
Heist is thrilled to partner with the global Geek Girls movement here in Singapore.
We will be running a workshop on ethnography hacks and design sprints 6th June at Lattice 80 in Singapore.
Design sprints 101 will show you how to address critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers in record time.
While all of our events are open to both men and women, spaces for this workshop are limited and will be allocated on a first come first serve basis to the fastest ladies.
Tickets are available here - come join us!