MDes Talks: How Has the First Semester Contributed to the Development of My Master's Final Project

Lionel Wong, a designer and part-time lecturer in Singapore, has joined PolyU's Interaction Design (MDes) programme since September 2018. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design from the National University of Singapore, he spent the past decade designing toys, objects, and more recently wearable art pieces and accessories using innovative production processes coupled with traditional craft techniques.


Crunch Time.

The ending weeks of semester one, Master of Design (Interaction Design) has been hectic. Things were moving fast, and we students had to tango with multiple submissions at once, so I was glad for that phase to be over and being given a couple of weeks' break over Christmas. Now in my break, I had time to reflect on the last four months of my experience and I want to write a little on it: how I felt about my time so far coming back to school, and how this semester has contributed to the development of my Capstone Project.

Of course, this article is written while I am in the midst of my studies, with me having much to learn and my ignorance exposed. I may reflect on this writing at the end of the academic year not with a little embarrassment, but I see the merit of sharing my views and mindset at the halfway mark not only for my own edification but also for you, the reader. I write with the understanding that not all my opinions shared below are objectively correct, and with the anticipation that I will get to refine my thinking as I continue walking the path.

Previously.

A big part of why I chose to enter this programme was to learn how to impart a level of interactivity in the wearables that Baëlf Design makes, to bring them to a higher level of design and execution. Baëlf Design is a brand that I, together with Fashion Artist Jamela Law, started in Singapore a few years ago. We developed 3D printed wearable art and accessories using a range of digital tools to conceptualise and prepare our 3D assets, and we harnessed the latest in 3D printing technology to bring our ideas to physical reality. We were experts in form and structure, creating visually complex works that were biomimetic in philosophy, but they were static, immobile. One of the questions that we pose during our product development process is, in addition to aesthetic enhancement, what could we add to our wearable designs that would augment the wearers’ user experience, to help them live their lives differently?

Osseus Dress by Baëlf Design; Venus de Sabot Dress by Baëlf Design
Left: Osseus Dress by Baëlf Design [1]. Elle Singapore 
Right: Right: Venus de Sabot Dress by Baëlf Design [2], photography Bernie Ng

The Courses.

SD5507, Theories in Interaction Design, led by Dr Kenny Chow, was one of the early subjects in this programme. It set the tone to help us go through the programme with a purpose or an outcome in mind. In order to push us to confront our capstone challenges early and sort out our design intention, our assignment was to pick one of the frameworks highlighting different aspects of design and write an essay proposal tying it to our concept as the basis for our final project. I now had a much clearer idea of what I seek to achieve by the end of my academic year, and even though the details are still up in the air, it is easier for me to plot my path ahead at the conclusion of this subject. This exercise ended up being really valuable!

There is much to be said about SD5509 Prototyping and Scripting. For those of us such as myself coming into the programme without any coding experience, the challenge of learning coding quickly could be a big shock. I would highly recommend future students to pick up basic programming to ease the transition to learning these new skillsets, and experiment with some sort of electronics platform such as Arduino. Its programming language is widely used and powerful, but approachable enough to the lay audience with tons of tutorials available online. It is always good to get used to an object oriented programming language like Arduino as it is useful for creating interactive systems with multiple connected parts, such as a set of wearables that connects to your smartphone. Once I was familiarised with using the facilities offered by the school for prototyping, it became an engaging, rewarding experience to start building.

The Queen’s Final Flight” laser cut automata project; The Queen’s Final Flight”. Closeup work in progress
Left: “The Queen’s Final Flight” laser cut automata project [3]
Right: “The Queen’s Final Flight”. Closeup work in progress [4]

Although I have not completed either of the following workshop subjects, SD5529 Embedded Interaction Workshop (currently ongoing) and SD5524 Tangible Interaction Workshop, I predict I will have more opportunities unify the hard and soft knowledge I picked up so far to develop new expressions of interactivity. With any luck, these essays in craft would orient themselves towards my capstone. There is still need of more research on the suitable lightweight actuators and sensors to be used on conceptual wearables, but hopefully the challenge of my upcoming projects, tying elements of coding, prototyping and product design together, can contribute directly to the development of the Final Project.

 “Cat Laser 3000”
“Cat Laser 3000” [5]

Teamwork.

My biggest assets in team projects ended up to be my classmates. Unlike my Bachelor course in Singapore where my classmates and I came from relatively homogeneous backgrounds, an MDes course will see you working with peers coming from vastly different paths. They could be from different educational foundations, from different professional vocations and armed with disparate skills and experiences from your own. In learning to harness and maximise the talents of everyone on my team, I discovered it tends to bring forth unexpected outbursts of creativity that might result from that mix.

Having to work with students who came from the industry also ensured that your team has high standards of execution, and it was a joy when everyone pushed on each other to strive for better work. Even if there was a risk of burnout with myself, having capable colleagues taking up the slack was immensely valuable.

Conclusion.

With eight more months to go, I am sure I will have plenty more to share by the end of my studies in Design School. It has been a blast so far in MDes Interaction Design with every day a new learning experience and an opportunity to push myself.

Can’t wait to get back to work.

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References and Images

1. This Singaporean Designer Makes Fashion Sustainable from
Yeo D A (2017), Elle Singapore August 2017.

 2. Venus de Sabot Dress with Osseus Crown fromBaëlf Design (2018), photographer Bernie Ng.

3 & 4. “The Queen’s Final Flight” laser cut automata assignment by Wong L (2018) for SD5509 Prototyping and Scripting. Subject Leader Dr. Clifford Choy.

5. “Cat Laser 3000”. Arduino, Pure Data, App Inventor project by Wong L (2018) for SD5509 Prototyping and Scripting. Subject Leader Dr. Clifford Choy.

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About the Writer

Lionel Wong – Lionel is a current student at HK PolyU taking his Masters Degree in Interaction Design. He came in from off the beaten track; Lionel has been exposed to a myriad of different industries since he last graduated, and had the fortune of working with excellent mentors and multi-disciplinary, organic teams on a large variety of projects. He has contributed to User Experience related projects in the area of consumer computing, Aesthetic and Sports Design in the action toy business, and he has a growing appreciation and experience in designing for the exciting, booming consumer 3D printing community.

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MDes Talks is a series of student blogs produced by current MDes students and recent graduates. For its third edition, the editorial team consists of writers from China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Mexico, France, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. They write about study life, living abroad, design, and what you don't know about PolyU and Hong Kong.