MDes Talks: A Different Education Pattern: Learning Design Effectively

Hello, everyone, my name is Daisy. I began my master's education in Interaction Design at the HK PolyU since this September. I was educated in the Mainland and awarded a Master’s degree before I join this programme. My background is in Engineering. These educational experiences will be a reference for me to compare the study programmes organised in different disciplines and systems. Based on what I have seen and discovered so far, I will unpack my observations in three aspects.

Design Theory – Studying Systematically

Studying theories is one of the most important components in the master’s education. But on many occasions, these references including publications and journal articles are difficult to grasp due to their specialised vocabularies and abstract concepts.

In my previous master’s education in the Mainland, we used to group ourselves and discuss freely what came to our attention in the past weeks. We also discussed our research progress one on one with our professors. In PolyU, I experienced a different learning method. Students form groups with common themes and theories are taught in a seminar setting which I describe below:

  • The readings assigned are organised systematically for students to understand a specific theme each time but from a broader perspective.
  • Students go through a learning process: self-study, presentation and discussion. Students get the reading assignments a week before the seminars to prepare. Two students present in each seminar to cover different aspects under a specific theme. During the class, professors allow ample time to engage students and moderate their discussions around the theories.
  • Professors encourage students to give examples related to the theme from their own experience and think of practical examples to illustrate how the theories can be used in the real world.

students made presentations in front of the classmates
students made presentations in front of classmates

Design Method and Tools – Learning by Designing

Though I have read numerous design methods and tools from books or articles, I seldom have the chance to apply them and eventually get puzzled when selecting a proper tool for a specific problem. In PolyU, we learn design methods by using them. No doubt that the most effective way of learning is by doing.

  • In the beginning, students form groups of 3 or 4 and come up with a topic we want to explore. As the topic is picked by the students and is related to our interest, we take part proactively.
  • Professors introduce a tool or method from the literature reviewed in the seminar and give a related assignment. In general, students have enough time to discuss what we are required to do and get an idea of what deliverables are expected at the end of each seminar.
  • The seminars and assignments are closely linked, or referenced to one another. Students learn by using the tools or methods repeatedly, hence creating a deeper sense of learning of the subject matter.
  • It matters when students form their own understanding rather than reciting knowledge from others.

students gathered together to do a pilot test for a workshop
students gathered together to do a pilot test for a workshop

Technology – Exploring and Understanding the Logic Behind

Interaction designers work across technological platforms and interfaces. Therefore, we have courses to understand their principles and workings. When I was educated in the Mainland, different technologies were taught separately in different courses. But in PolyU, we learn different technologies in the subject, Prototyping and Scripting, which is a big challenge to our learning abilities.

  • The subject covers a broad area in the technological discipline, including software, hardware and physical mechanism.
  • The key is to have an idea or a concept first, then think of the possible ways to realise it. We are encouraged to think about the logic behind the technology more than the technology itself.
  • Professors purposefully select the easiest type of technology to get students to start with, mixing students from different educational backgrounds into a group and encouraging us to help each other.
  • For example, when using the programming language, students even do not need to learn programming grammar. Instead, they focus on the logical thinking behind which is more valuable to learners. Also, the deliverables from the assignments are often tangible which give us a sense of achievement.

making automata
making automata

automata made by students
automata made by students

Though I only studied in a design school for two months, I am already exploring a totally different learning experience than what used to have before.  Sometimes I get frustrated because of the tight deadlines. However, I would say it is worthwhile. I get a sense of progress when I explore different things, meet with a different kind of challenge and overcome them, usually through collaborations. No doubt that such experience will enrich my life.

All images by author.

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This blog post is written by Daisy Ding Yi, a current student studying in the Interaction Design (MDes) programme. Daisy came from Mainland China.

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MDes Talks is a series of blog posts produced by the student media team for prospective students who are considering graduate education in design. The student authors write on what it is like and what it means – to be a student (again), to live in an unfamiliar culture, to meet new people, to study in a different education system, and to broaden horizons. Prospective students are welcome to connect with our student authors to learn more.