Design Research

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!

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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