SDW Highlights Part II : "Urban Design Festival VIP Preview!"

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We are lucky to be living and working in a vibrant environment like Singapore, where the design scene is booming rapidly. Although part of Heist is busy with fieldwork in the Middle East, the rest of the team in Singapore took advantage of the events and workshops happening during Singapore Design Week - this is Part II of the mini-series (Part I can be found here).

Heist was invited to attend the event preview at the Jalan Besar Sports Centre. Even though the preview was said to be at the Sports Centre, the event was not held at one of the sports halls. It was actually situated in levels 4 and 5 of the multistorey carpark!

Opened in 1932, the Jalan Besar Sports Centre is an iconic landmark of Singapore’s urban fabric. The event, conceptualized by LOPELAB, was an intervention to activate underutilized spaces such as a mundane car park and turn it into an attractive mixed-use environment for members of the community to enjoy. Not only was this a seemingly-impossible endeavour, it was also highly original and successful. One of the key features was the electric blue industrial plastic containers (see images below) which can be turned into seating areas, coffee tables, and even plant holders. The customizable layout unified the space and gave the containers a second life.

Several booths were scattered around the space, many of them promoting sustainable products from wood alternatives to diminishing food waste by turning bruised fruits into juices. Various singers and bands were jamming to different tunes on the stage, creating a light-hearted and fun atmosphere.

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As the sun began to set, we headed to the rooftop and discovered what is arguably the most memorable and mind-blowing element of the event: the roller disco! Grooving to the beats of the DJ, people ate, danced, socialized — and of course — roller skated! Who knew hanging out in a car park could be so incredible? All in all, by promoting local brands and showcasing local performers, this event, with its incredibly unique placemaking, successfully captured the essence of Singapore’s vibrant energy.

SDW Highlights Part I : "The Great Outdoors of Design - Redesigning Care with Horses and Caregivers"

We are lucky to be living and working in a vibrant environment like Singapore, where the design scene is booming rapidly. Although part of Heist is busy with fieldwork in the Middle East, the rest of the team in Singapore took advantage of the events and workshops happening during Singapore Design Week - this is Part I of the mini-series.

Heist headed to the stables for the workshop “The Great Outdoors of Design - Redesigning Care with Horses and Caregivers.”

Heist headed to the stables for the workshop “The Great Outdoors of Design - Redesigning Care with Horses and Caregivers.”

The Care Lab and Equal Ark have joined forces in this experiential workshop called “The Great Outdoors of Design - Redesigning Care with Horses and Caregivers” in which participants link human-centered design with equine-assisted learning (and yes - we were actually able to interact with the horses!).  Horses are more than majestic creatures, they are extremely bright and, when adequately trained, are able to successfully engage with people in an impactful and therapeutic way.

First, we were split into groups and asked to pick a horse of our choice. My team picked Tata, a mysterious white horse with a noble stance and silky mane. After taking Tata out if his stable, the caregiver gave us insights on his personality. For example, she told us that Tata is popular amongst he elderly — he even leans down on their laps if they are in a wheelchair. That is because Tata responds well to calm and peaceful energy, as he suffers from painful joints and relates to older aunties and uncles in that sense - effectively demonstrating a remarkable sense of empathy.

Meet Tata, my team’s stunning “equus caballus” (the scientific term for “horse”).

Meet Tata, my team’s stunning “equus caballus” (the scientific term for “horse”).

We were then taught about the various tools used for grooming horses and took turns using them on Tata. One thing we’ve learnt is that horses give immediate feedback — if they dislike something or are feeling hostile, it will immediately show in their body language. For example, Tata jerked away or moved to the side if a tool used causes him to feel ticklish. When it was my turn to brush Tata’s mane, I approached him carefully and made sure to remain in his line of sight as to not startle him. I brushed softly and carefully, and Tata responded well. I have many memories of people brushing my hair when I was younger and how much discomfort it caused so I was mindful of that with Tata - indeed it was my turn to practice empathy.

A variety of tools used to groom horses.

A variety of tools used to groom horses.

Tata receiving an impromptu grooming session.

Tata receiving an impromptu grooming session.

After a rich conversation with our individual groups, everyone gathered to reflect. We discussed how it felt to engage with our horses, and what we’ve learned about ourselves through this experience. Although everyone had a unique encounter, some common themes arose. We spoke about topics like the nervousness experienced with approaching a new situation or entering a new space, how our own energy levels can affect the external environment, and how body language can serve as a visual cue. After putting all of our thoughts on paper and sharing them, the various points that came up collectively will inspire the process of designing a better environment for caregivers and people with special needs.







Postcards from Finland III - More than kalsarikänni

Last year, Heist lead design researcher Naima won a scholarship to do her Masters at the EIT Digital Academy in Finland. Immersing herself in the culture, Naima has written to tell us of her life in Finland, from education to depressing winters.

This is Part III, the final of the series Postcards from Finland. Read Part I here, and Part II here.

Ever heard of a place where serious business meetings are held naked? Yes, I’m not kidding. In Finland, Sauna is considered a great way to nurture not only personal but also business relationships. And Sauna in Finland is as simple as that - traditionally naked.

Finns grow up with this as part of their national culture - there are roughly 2 million saunas in Finland, a country with a population of 5.3 million. Saunas are located in public spaces and private houses, in summer cottages and student accommodations. Portable Saunas can’t be missed at student parties and business events, which appear in every shape and size. My university’s skiing association has built a movable sauna inside a gondola, and the car workshop association even did one inside a car!

Sauna - a Finnish invention and a Finnish word - is not an occasional retreat but a lifestyle. Studying in Finland, Sauna has become part of my lifestyle too. I love the free sauna in the gym after my workout following by a refreshing plunge in the ice-cold sea where a hole and a ladder is kept in the frozen sea solely for this purpose.

We’ve all heard that winter here is dark, cold but beautiful, and it’s all true. Surrounding yourself with good company, Vitamin D pills, and lots of activity is essential to stay sane through the depressing winter.  Though it’s ~15 degrees in Southern Finland, you can still head out for some fun! Some examples include going to the Sauna, ice-skating, hiking through the beautiful national parks, freeing cars from snow and exploring new transportation methods for kids.

Uh-oh! The daily commute can take a bit longer with abundant snowfall.

Uh-oh! The daily commute can take a bit longer with abundant snowfall.

Sledges as a transportation method in the city.

Sledges as a transportation method in the city.

Cross-country skiing on the frozen sea is a Finnish favourite. I recently met two Finnish friends on the campus exchanging a “rope”. It turned out to be a life-saving tool in case the ice cracks and someone falls into the sea! The rope has two sharp tips which can be stuck in the ice and guarantees more grip than bare hands should someone fall through the ice crack. “But with this much snow on top of the ice it won’t really help anyway”, my friend said, gently smiling and shrugging. I spontaneously cancelled my plans to walk over the frozen sea to the island nearby.

A winter wonderland in Finland.

License To Spy for SG Design Week 2019

To mark Heist’s third consecutive participation in the Singapore Design Week, our studio opened its doors to participants eager to learn about design research and its methodologies. License to Spy is an interactive session led by our team of designers and design researchers. During the session, the Heist team played clips from a recent project in Vietnam, and revealed some of our “spying” methods - from making powerful observations to conducting insightful intercept interviews.

But the learning doesn’t stop there — after being exposed to design research in theory, it was time to turn these skills into practice. The participants were split into five teams and sent on a “mission” to various sites within the neighbourhood: Maxwell Hawker Centre, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, and Chinatown street. The objective was to explore the assigned location and apply the newly-learned skills to uncover key learning and highlight potential pain points that can be solved with design thinking. Additionally, each team was handed $10 to bring back an artifact and share a story associated with it.

The outcome was overwhelmingly positive, each team brought their respective learnings back into the discussion in different and creative ways. One team, for example, demonstrated a strong sense of empathy by pointing out that they observed little distinction between public and private space within the temple, and discussed the importance of carving out a safe space for prayer shielded from tourists. Another team brought back Singaporean crackers of various shapes and sizes, and created a site model of the hawker centre from scratch, discussing ways to improve the circulation within the space while referencing their intercept interviews with the aunties and uncles that work there.

A participant uses Singaporean crackers to create a DIY site model of the Hawker Centre.

A participant uses Singaporean crackers to create a DIY site model of the Hawker Centre.

Once the workshop was over, many participants shared positive feedback with us - saying that they learned a lot, had fun going on their mini-adventure, and felt welcome in a friendly environment.

All photographs courtesy of Singapore Design Council.

Heist at the Museum: Minimalism: Space. Light. Object

As designers and researchers, partaking in artistic and cultural activities is a crucial part of our job, not only to stay updated with the local and international design scene, but to remain inspired and get our creative juices flowing. Recently, the Heist team was fortunate enough to pay the Singapore National Gallery a visit to experience the exhibition Minimalism: Space. Light. Object — here are some of our thoughts from our creatively-charged field trip.

Part I: Frank Stella by Sofia

Life - like any good story - is dynamic and unpredictable, so is reasonable to assume that an artist’s work throughout his or her lifetime will be equally as dynamic and unpredictable. It is fascinating to look at the overview of an artist’s portfolio and how their style changes over time. This is particularly reflected in Frank Stella’s work, as his early pieces are strikingly different from his later ones.

My first encounter with Stella’s work was at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City about 3 years ago as part of the exhibition Frank Stella: A Retrospective. At the time, what struck me was the whirlwind of colours and mixed media materials juxtaposed to create depth in masterpieces such as La Penna di hu -- Italian for “the peacock's feather” (see below).

Photograph from my first encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Whitney in 2016.  La Penna di Hu (1987–2009)

Photograph from my first encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Whitney in 2016.
La Penna di Hu (1987–2009)

Fast forward to last week at the Singapore National Gallery’s exhibition Minimalism: Space. Light. Object, where I was introduced to a new facet of Stella’s portfolio. This time around, the string of paintings from the Black Painting series, pictured below (late 1950s, synthetic polymer paint on canvas) were stripped of movement and color. Although formally classified as minimalist artwork - which was after all the theme of the exhibition - it seemed almost conservative when compared to his later work, which is much more dynamic and sculptural - almost architectural.

Photograph from my most recent encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Singapore National Gallery (Selection from the  Black Paintings  Series)

Photograph from my most recent encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Singapore National Gallery (Selection from the Black Paintings Series)

Looking at both works consecutively, what may seem like an aesthetic jump is in fact everything but - rather a gradual progression over several decades of re-working and refining, a laborious task that can be be applied to art and to the self alike.

Part II - Tatsuo Miyajima by Venus

Mega Death  by Tatsuo Miyajima

Mega Death by Tatsuo Miyajima

I love thinking about mortality - the transient quality of life, which is why I was awed by the 3 walls of numerical counters made of dazzling blue LED light repeatedly counting down from nine to one. The number zero is replaced by a brief moment of darkness which, according to the artist, represents the pause between life and death, before the cycle begins again. The work reminds me of Buddhist principles of impermanence and rebirth - a constant reminder of the powerlessness of man and that nothing survives death. Looking at the blinking blue lights, I felt a sense of calmness, knowing and fully accepting that life is a constant countdown, a brief pause, then rebirth - an endless cycle.

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Part III: Robert Irwin by Michelle

Art is all about evoking emotions and intriguing curiosity -  it draws you back for a second look, and makes you think twice on what you saw on the surface. When I saw Untitled (1968, acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastics) for the first time, I was glued to the spot for 5 whole minutes, getting lost in the optical experience of Robert Irwin’s art.

The installation comprises of a white painted disc, which when illuminated casts overlapping shadows, giving the illusion that it is receding into space. The light dissolved the edges of the disc so that it no longer appears to be contained within a frame but rather, it becomes one with its environment.

It got me thinking about how we are constantly placed in different, sometimes difficult, situations everyday and how each of us find various ways to embrace, change or challenge these situations. Whatever our choices are, it will always have an impact - it is up to us to decide if we want to make a positive or negative one.

Part IV: Ending

As the sun begins to set, we slowly make our way out of the National Gallery, fatigued by the heaviness of our minds now buzzing with fresh information and ideas. It is a wonderful feeling, to visit a place and be attentive - after all, that is what so much of our work is based on. It is a delightful thing that occured as we stared for an entire afternoon at what are, at the end of the day, inanimate objects - and yet were inspired to think about life: its inherent dynamism and unpredictability, transient quality, and challenging nature.

Postcards from Finland II - An equal playing field

Last year, Heist lead design researcher Naima won a scholarship to do her Masters at the EIT Digital Academy in Finland. Immersing herself in the culture, Naima has written to tell us of her life in Finland, from education to depressing winters. We’ll be sharing her experiences over the next few weeks. Here is Part II of Postcards from Finland. To read Part I, please click here.

The Finnish Library - a mirror of society?

In 2017, Finland celebrated its 100th birthday by gifting a new state-of-the-art library called Oodi to its citizens. At Oodi, and at other Finnish Libraries, citizens have free access to more than books; they have sewing machines, 3D printers, audio-visual recording studios, and even a karaoke bar. They can even rent items and gadgets of occasional use such as sports equipment and power tools. These offerings reflect the sharing economy and openness to second-hand purchases, something I have repeatedly observed in Finland.

As a public building, Oodi is also designed as a platform for visitors to interact not just with each other but also the space, so they can express themselves. Service design and co-creation was used to involve the citizens, discuss the solutions for each floor and design the furniture and signs. This appreciation of active citizenship is reflected by a co-creation space inside the library where visitors are invited to note down their observations, ideas, and opinions. Everyone is welcome at the library and this reflects the keys to Finland's success: equality - learning and education for everyone - and democracy. When standing on the new library’s balcony, people can take a look straight into the building next door which is located at the same level - the Finnish parliament.

Finland does quite well when it comes to gender equality. By this, I mean that the notion of having one girl sitting alone in the Mechanical Engineering class is a thing of the past. But even if there is only one girl, the girl would not be addressed in a different way. A student is a student. Of course, equality is still not perfect when it comes to top management positions, but Finland can lead by example. Perhaps gender equality here is somehow correlated to the fact that the Finnish language knows only gender-neutral pronouns?

Getting Lit in the 80s

Although my mother was never a hoarder, she did collect items that had sentimental value. Growing up, the cabinets in my house were peppered with old sport trophies and handmade mother’s day gifts. Unique amongst the antique trinkets and memorabilia of her youth, was her collection of old matchboxes. These originated from the height of the disco craze in the ‘80s and early 90s, when matchboxes were not only useful to keep around, but also served as miniature advertisements for the clubs. For my mother, these became keepsakes and a capsule of memories to remember. Every time she went to a new disco club, she would make it a point to collect their matchboxes.

While spring-cleaning late last year, we stumbled upon her matchbox collection, slightly discoloured and dusty. In an effort to find out more about life in Singapore during her youth, I convinced my mother against throwing them out, and encouraged her to share the stories behind these tiny boxes. With them came a glimpse into Singapore’s past, and a snapshot of memories that seemed almost a lifetime ago.

Although this is just a small fraction of my mom’s collection, I would like to share 3 of the most interesting matchboxes amongst her treasures.

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1. Zouk

Zouk is definitely a familiar name for many Singaporeans but I’m sure many of us are not aware that it opened in 1991 and is Singapore’s oldest club. My mom speaks fondly of their ‘Thank God it’s Wed” event that has since evolved into the popular Mambo Jambo.

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2. Fire

According to my mom, Fire used to be the hottest and biggest disco in Singapore in the early 90s. It would be tough to find a 90s party goer that did not recognise the name of this three-floor disco burning in the heart of Orchard Plaza.


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3. Atlantis

An underwater-themed disco off Grange Road, Atlantis was one of Singapore’s first themed disco. It’s elaborate interior was the brainchild of a Disneyland designer that helped materialise the vision of the club’s owner.  However, despite its extraordinary interior, the club was forced to close its doors when the recession of 1985 rolled around.

Have you been to any of these clubs?

Postcards from Finland I - Watch this space

Last year, Heist lead design researcher Naima won a scholarship to do her Masters at the EIT Digital Academy in Finland. Immersing herself in this new culture, Naima been writing a series of posts about her life in Finland, from education to depressing winters. We’ll be sharing her experiences over the next few weeks. Here is Part I of Postcards from Finland.

Hello from snowy Helsinki

Hello from snowy Helsinki

I had high expectations when I chose Finland for my Master’s Degree - it has one of the world’s best education systems and it’s free! In fact, for Finns, it’s actually paid! Finns receive 500 Euros/month for studying. The experience here so far hasn’t disappointed me.

The education system in Finland aims to produce creative problem solvers. Assignments - mainly group assignments - leaves room for freedom so students can decide for themselves how to get to complete their task, how much work to put in, and what exactly they should deliver. Students make their own judgment calls with rational thinking and their decision-making skills. Courses are multidisciplinary and professors request students from the Engineering, Design and Business courses to form as diverse teams as possible.

Exams are very rare. Finnish education keeps students curious, active and with just enough free time to not forget the world of opportunities outside school. Most students get subject-related part-time or even full-time jobs, and student-organized events such as Slush - the world’s leading start-up event - and Junction - Europe’s biggest hackathon - are thriving. Specific student accelerator programs encourage and support students to launch their own start-ups.

Oh, and hierarchies are super flat. Professors are always addressed directly by their first name and students are encouraged to discuss and even question the professors' statements. And isn’t that what studying at university should be about - questioning the status quo, exploring oneself and breaking new ground?

Flat Hierarchies:    A much shared meme in Finland, and a true story. The man sitting on the stairs in the second row is the current Finnish president Sauli Niinistö

Flat Hierarchies: A much shared meme in Finland, and a true story. The man sitting on the stairs in the second row is the current Finnish president Sauli Niinistö

Finland is a country of trust, honesty, and directness. Bicycles do not really need to be locked. I have friend who wanted to get rid of his old bike and left it unlocked at the metro station - yet it was still there 6 months later! Another friend lost his phone on the way home, and once he noticed it, he remotely launched a message with his address on the phone. The finders returned the phone within 10 minutes. And there are several similar stories - it’s not just a single act of kindness or luck.

Conversations here also tend to be very direct, which may come as a culture shock to some. Small talk is considered a waste of time and people are encouraged to just go straight to the point. Getting listeners to read between the lines may also not work. It is also a norm to not “state the obvious” in conversations, so if you have nothing purposeful to say, just bear with it and enjoy the silence! Stressful at first, these moments of silence with Finns are great for personal development. Honesty plus trust, then, can go places.

Singapore Design Week 2019

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Heist is thrilled to announce that we are returning to Singapore Design Week for our third consecutive year! This year, we present to you License to Spy, a two-hour interactive session led by its team of designers and design researchers. Heighten your powers of observation in this fun and interactive session where we reveal our “spying” methods and insights gathered from different cities around Asia.

Starting off with a film clip - the session will be focussed on participants being given their own mission to crack out on the streets of Singapore, exploring the world and gathering information with their newfound skill set!

Date: 6 March 2019, Wednesday
Time: 11.30am - 1.30pm
Venue: 1 Neil Road, #02-04, Singapore 088804

This is a ticketed event. Tickets are S$15 and may be purchased here or by scanning the QR code of the image above! Should you have any queries, please feel free to reach us at sprint@heist7.com. See you there!

Move

There are several meanings of the word move. It doesn’t necessarily have a good or bad connotation, it very much just is. However, as a verb, one of the meanings of move is to make progress; develop in a particular manner or direction. Over the new year, Heist moved. We moved into the new year, and we moved out of The Working Capitol into our very own studio.

Moving can be an exciting or harrowing experience. It often is both, even for someone who has experience. Moving is inevitable. Everyone would have moved at some point in their life, whether it’s your home, country, office, school or job. Because moving is inescapable, we thought we’d share five things we learned from our recent move.

#1 ANYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG, PROBABLY WILL

No matter how much planning you do, something will go awry. Setting up the internet for our new office is the perfect example of this law of the universe. We’d gotten in touch with two internet service providers, but due to the festive period, only one was prompt in getting back to us.  Naturally we went for the service provider who replied to us and they estimated that the service would be set up by end January.

But that didn’t happen. We are now in February, and actually, it still hasn’t happened.

After a site inspection, we were told that a new cable had to be laid from outside the building - which of course, is a heritage building protected by multiple layers of permissions and rules….  And this would mean a three to six month wait for the system to be set up. We simply couldn’t wait and had to end our agreement with service provider A. We’ve since been working with service provider B and hope to have everything sorted soon, so prayers are welcome!

#2 DON’T PANIC

Those are the two words that open The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the two words I tried to live by throughout the entire process because, see point #1.

#3 BETTER DONE THAN PERFECT

I learnt that it’s best not to be afraid to make decisions with imperfect information - because the truth is by the time you get all the information you want to make the decision, it is often too late. From choosing tables to ordering the right style of couch, I often had to make decisions on my own and hope it all worked out!

#4 DON’T WALLOW IN THE PROBLEM, FIX IT

Again, see point #1. Having to work in an office without internet is a big hurdle, especially in today’s system. But finding a smart solution - multiple SIM cards and hot spotting through spare phones took us just a few hours to sort. Spring into action, ASAP

#5 PRIORITISE

Everything is urgent, but not everything is important. Prioritising is key if you want to remain sane, not just with moving but in everyday life. Take into account both the long-term and short-term goals and milestones in order to know what should come first, and how much time should be dedicated to each task. This helps you track and build your task list, and you’ll feel accomplished as you progress and check each task off!

The most interesting person I’ve met this year (so far)

I’m a design researcher. By trade and choice. This means I spend much of my time talking to strangers and using a mix of charm and curiosity to build confidence - enough for them to start sharing stories, secrets, hopes and dreams with me. It’s a privilege to be invited into the inner working of another human’s life, and while a few hours isn’t enough to even begin to understand another person, I can honestly say that I have learnt something from every person I have ever interviewed for a project. Some more than others.

We spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City recently, talking to dozens of people. And I was lucky enough to meet one whom I truly built a connection with.

Tao. That’s what we’ll call her. Teacher Tao, that’s what most of her students call her. She started an English training school in her living room, offering her spare bedroom on CouchSurfing.com mainly to attract English speaking foreigners - willing to practice and chat with her students in exchange for a place to crash for a few nights. Interesting business model, especially given the plethora of ‘English Speaking Schools’ across Vietnam. Here are three things I learnt from her that I hope will be useful for you -

1/  You can always change your mind and dream new dreams: Tao started her career as a journalist, working with a National newspaper. She quickly tired of it though for reasons too sensitive to mention here. At 26, she was ready for a change. She was travelling around Vietnam with her American boyfriend and was impressed by how many young people she met wanted to practice their English with her. She would teach them for free, and this is what gave her seed of an idea. Learning English, she found, actually equipped people with confidence and a sense of freedom, as though they were suddenly liberated to pursue bigger dreams. And seeing people transform is how Tao decided to set up her own school, despite limited funds and zero qualifications.

Lesson #1: Prototype cheap, see proof of success, pivot, evolve but stay passionate about why you began

2/ First learn how to think, then how to express it. One of Tao’s greatest purposes is to teach people how to think for themselves. She told us about the Vietnamese education system - which typically of Asia - rewards learning by rote, simply repeating what is taught rather than building a comprehensive understanding of complicated situations. Tao told us that the first thing she works on with her students is simply teaching them to think for themselves; to make micro decisions and gain the confidence to voice them without heightened fear of judgment. This points to a larger goal - not just to equipping them with English speaking skills, but the confidence and ability to express their own opinions. Learning English isn’t just about upward social mobility but about being independent and holding your own amongst people from varied cultures and backgrounds.

Lesson #2: Empower others. Create a vision that is inclusive for impactful change to society. Are your goals self serving or designed to contribute to a brighter world?


3/ Pride in the homegrown: Beyond her students, Tao is equally committed to developing her own team of English teachers as well. She feels strongly about foreigners who can barely speak English coming into Vietnam and teaching just to make some money. Not only are these people incompetent, she says, but often their English is worse than hers. “Simply being white does not mean that you can teach English.” Tao’s goal is to have a strong team of Vietnamese English teachers, often students who have a desire to give back and help contribute to the community. Her team and students are actively helping her build her next enterprise - a cafe where students and travellers can meet for a chat, practice their English and also learn about each other’s cultures.

Lesson #3: Don’t stop evolving. Tao is constantly looking for new ways to strengthen her students’ skills and create new sources of income. What would this look like for your company?

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Hot Wheels

One of the things that really unsettled me in Vietnam was the traffic. It was relentless, and I found myself ducking into cafes periodically for cover. Even crossing the road was an ordeal! The bikes were countless and they never seemed to give way. Our local guide kept telling us that we just had to stick our hands out and walk with confidence - so we tried our closest, nervous approximation of that and simply prayed for the best.  

We had just gotten the hang of this when Kaj suggested we take a ride on a Grab bike, because hey - that’s how the locals live. Sofia and I looked at each other in terror, telepathically communicating our fear, “We’re already so terrified of crossing the roads, how are we to survive on a motorbike?”

But since everyone on the team was game, I too opened my Grab app and quickly booked my first bike ride - ever - apprehensively. I had a nervous smile on my face as I waited for the driver to arrive. After a few seconds of frantic waving to attract his attention, I plopped the helmet on my head, clambered onto the bike clumsily and gave him a thumbs up to let him know I was ready.

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As soon as my driver sped up and into the traffic, I started smiling. I was thinking, “Omg, this is so amazing!” repeatedly. I started to loosen my death grip on his shoulder and appreciate the scenery and vehicles I was whizzing pass.

The traffic did not tire or frustrate me any more - I loved being a part of it, watching everybody as they eagerly wait for the light to turn green. This was the best way to experience the city - on a bike, feeling the wind on my face while I take in the sights and smells of the city. Ho Chi Minh City is beautiful when you’re zipping by on a bike.

We did not have much time left in Vietnam after my first ride but we managed to squeeze in a few more trips - even one just before we left for the airport. I wasn’t going to leave without having another go! I’m so glad I decided to step out my of comfort zone, even though I was afraid and it took a little bit of urging. It wouldn’t really have been a cultural immersion if I hadn’t experienced my first real life bike ride - the most common and efficient way to get around the city. It was a great learning experience and I will always push myself to experience something new and scary whenever I visit a new place. And maybe, just maybe -  someday Kaj won’t have to force me out of my comfort zone anymore because I’m learning to do it for myself!

Ho Chi Minh City: Many firsts

This was a trip of many firsts for me – it was my first time in Vietnam, first time on a GoViet bike, first time in field with the Heist team and first time wearing the design researcher lens as we immersed ourselves in the culture of Vietnam. Compared to my previous travels, this was an extremely different and eye opening experience, one I would have never had as a regular tourist.

Ho Chi Minh City is a hive of activity. If I had been visiting for fun, I’d be focused on conquering all the places recommended by Lonely Planet. But as a design researcher, I started picking up on the cultural nuances, taking time to notice how people used rubber bands as their makeshift wallet, or how they were able to create space from their small bikes to stack and transport goods.

I was blown away by the sights and sounds of the streets. The bike riders were like swarms of bees, zipping through the lanes like an army. Street vendors sold an assortment of things from fresh produce and local delights, to shampoo sachets and cleaning sponges. The crowd swelled after working hours as the riders rode through the market and did their grocery shopping, all while staying on their motorbikes. Learning about vibrant Saigon at different times of the day while remaining observant (keeping the lens on!) was exhausting yet electrifying – and I loved every second of it.

We spoke to people on the streets and were invited into some of their homes to gain a deeper understanding of Vietnamese traditions and values. We mingled with locals after work and joined a rooftop BBQ party for students who were learning English. Not once did we feel foreign here - rather, it felt as though the city embraced our curiosity and gave us so much to learn in return.

Street food is often a highlight across Asia, and while I had my fair share of pho, nothing quite beats enjoying a Banh Mi breakfast with the team along the Saigon river bank. Soaking in the juxtaposition of sounds – the serene and calm waves lapping the shore in stark contrast to the loud and ceaseless honks on the road behind us – was fascinating. The fact that this moment came to us after an extremely hectic week probably added to the blissful feeling of a momentary pause.

My first immersive field experience has been exhilarating and I feel truly privileged to gain a new perspective on this special country. Here are some of my favourite moments captured by the team and I – enjoy!

Saigon Post Office: Love, Mr. Duong

Characterized by French architectural elements, downtown Saigon’s post office opened its doors in 1981. Fast forward to 2019: team Heist pays the historical building a visit, Kodak disposable cameras in hand.

Entering the post office was a multi -sensorial experience: voices and footsteps echoed around the space, flooded with light - it was like entering a movie set. We were greeted by two maps, one showing the city’s surroundings and the other illustrating the telegraphic lines of Vietnam and Cambodia. Framed by a linear series of iron arches, a portrait of Mr. Ho Chi Minh stands front and center - unmissable.

We observe from a distance; people are scribbling on their postcards to send to loved ones, just like countless others did decades ago. Legend tells me there is one man — Mr. Duong Van Ngo — who serves as a public writer and has been stationed in the post office for close to 30 years. Mr. Duong translates and scribes for anyone who sits down opposite him, articulating their thoughts in either English or French.

Although I wasn’t fortunate enough to catch a glance of him this time around, I can only imagine how fascinating a conversation with him would have been. We would get some gold-nugget insights on the stories he’s heard, delivered in gibberish or poetry, which he had to convey on paper. Alone, lodged in a space of transient passerbys, transcribing their burning hopes and darkest fears. What anecdotes would he have to share? What love stories, family feuds, wonderful adventures or tragic sorrows?

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I jot down a couple of lines to send to my family back home, signed from Vietnam with love. Four stamps later, my post card was on it’s way to Casablanca, Morocco.

Bon voyage!

Word of the week

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 -

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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.

TGIF!

Venus visits: New Zealand

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! 

Castle Hill - Limestone rock formations that resemble an old, run-down stone castle. My first unplanned stop for the journey.

Castle Hill - Limestone rock formations that resemble an old, run-down stone castle. My first unplanned stop for the journey.

Avalanche Peak, Arthurs’ Pass National Park - Definitely not a hike for amateurs. I did not finish the hike but this was the view I was rewarded with a little more than halfway along the journey.

Avalanche Peak, Arthurs’ Pass National Park - Definitely not a hike for amateurs. I did not finish the hike but this was the view I was rewarded with a little more than halfway along the journey.

Franz Josef Glacier - I took a 1.5 hour walk to come within 750m of the glacier’s terminal face. Since 2008, the glacier has been in a period of retreat and has lost about 800m in length. Even though glaciers go through natural cycles of advancement and retreat, it is unlikely that the Franz Josef glacier will advance as the climate warms. I’m just really glad to have seen it while it is still substantial.

Franz Josef Glacier - I took a 1.5 hour walk to come within 750m of the glacier’s terminal face. Since 2008, the glacier has been in a period of retreat and has lost about 800m in length. Even though glaciers go through natural cycles of advancement and retreat, it is unlikely that the Franz Josef glacier will advance as the climate warms. I’m just really glad to have seen it while it is still substantial.

Blue Pools - The famous crystal clear blue waters on the Makarora rivers. The blue is a result of light refraction on clear, icy cold water.

Blue Pools - The famous crystal clear blue waters on the Makarora rivers. The blue is a result of light refraction on clear, icy cold water.

Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka - Framed by the Southern Alps, the lone tree is a willow tree in the middle of the lake that grew from a hacked off branch from nearby willows. A symbol of determination?

Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka - Framed by the Southern Alps, the lone tree is a willow tree in the middle of the lake that grew from a hacked off branch from nearby willows. A symbol of determination?

Roy’s Peak - It’s a long hike that takes about 6-8 hours but there were plenty of sheep grazing and doing the hike along with me.

Roy’s Peak - It’s a long hike that takes about 6-8 hours but there were plenty of sheep grazing and doing the hike along with me.

Mount Cook Village - The village sits in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest mountain. I did not attempt to scale it but I did spend the afternoon in the visitor centre/museum reading about the courageous people that successfully scaled the mountain and those that lost their lives while doing so.

Mount Cook Village - The village sits in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest mountain. I did not attempt to scale it but I did spend the afternoon in the visitor centre/museum reading about the courageous people that successfully scaled the mountain and those that lost their lives while doing so.

Lake Tekapo - The lake is famous for its striking turquoise colour. I had a quick picnic by the lake then drove up to an observatory nearby to get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful lake and the village.

Lake Tekapo - The lake is famous for its striking turquoise colour. I had a quick picnic by the lake then drove up to an observatory nearby to get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful lake and the village.

Friday Five with our Design Research Intern: Tessa

Photo taken during a stroll through a local market in Yangon, Myanmar just before dinner time.

Photo taken during a stroll through a local market in Yangon, Myanmar just before dinner time.

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.

Investigating Health & Wellness at The Working Capitol

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.

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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.