inspiration

Friday Five with our Founder: Kajal

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.

Friday Five with our Design Intern: Carina

The Swing Ring, designed by Carina.

The Swing Ring, designed by Carina.

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.


 

Dhaka Diaries

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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....