By: Priyal Parikh
Class: Thesis Studio 1
Professor: Louisa Campbell
Hailing from a business family, I did what was a logical thing to do – pursued my undergraduate in management and took the job of a Risk Analyst at Ernst & Young. In an attempt to succeed in the corporate world, I continued my education to graduate with a master’s degree in management as well. However, I remained inclined to art, having nurtured my artistic expression since the age of 8. Throughout my career in business, I also worked as a freelance graphics designer, branding and designing for multiple startups and small enterprises.
It was during my tenure at Ernst & Young, that Steve Jobs’ quote strongly resonated with me. He said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
I came across this quote while preparing my valedictorian speech, but truly understood it when I decided to follow what ‘I love to do’. After a year at Ernst & Young, I took a few months off to create a portfolio worthy of showing and interned at a hobby art studio, sharing my love for art with people of all age groups. With the motivation to shape a passion into a full time career, I took the opportunity to come to Parsons and attain an MFA in Design and Technology (MFADT).
Bootcamp was an eye opener to the opportunities DT offered beyond visual design. I had learned the basics of coding in Java and C++ as a high school student. I enjoyed coding but did not continue with it, as I remained oblivious to the potential of these programs. Also there wasn’t much needed for coding in a management program in India.
When introduced to Processing, I understood the power of these languages in creative coding. More than creative coding, web development caught my attention. Not comprised of complicated syntax when starting to code, web is a highly accessible medium making it convenient to spread a message and communicate. In a technological world, as Marshall McLuhan said, “Medium is the message”, the symbiotic relationship of what I made and what it signifies was important to me. Identifying my love for code, I started the journey to being a creative technologist. Creating beautiful visuals was not longer a priority. It also became important to create immersive experiences for my users.
Given the opportunity to learn Internet of Things in the first semester, I found the technology that I associated with strongly. Being able to find that balance between physical creation and digital development led to a creative outburst of ideas. With understanding of the technology, I tapped on speculative design and biomimicry. Aurelia was my first complete project as a DT student and made me realize the potential of a technology used as a medium of expression. Learning about these domains also taught me the importance of conceptualization and research in the design process.
By the end of the first semester, I was improving at my coding skills and would better them with practice. To become a good creative technologist, learning to code is not sufficient. I had to learn the aesthetics of good design and better my circuitry skills with physical computing. The short projects in the second semester were opportunities to apply what I knew and learn what I aimed to.
The first semester was about identifying my interests while the second semester was for experimenting and improving. Taking forward the knowledge I had, I wanted to investigate further with the digital and physical dimensions individually. Thus, my first project was a website for book swapping. As a concept, book swapping exists and so do websites for it. For the purpose of this project, the concept was to advance existing swapping ideas and create a community of readers and literary enthusiasts. The main aim was to understand the scope of design aesthetics in an already existing web concept.
The second project was based on an impromptu brief ‘Spicy Space’. The process from conceptualizing to iterating led to exploration of the process of creating technological installations. Conceptualization and research were the easier milestones in the creative course. Iterating, prototyping and user research were the areas requiring more learning and dedication. Since the installation was a creative expression and not a problem solver, it was important to know that the users understood its purpose.
As the second semester progressed, I realized how much I enjoyed creating artistic problem-solvers combining the physical and digital realms. I call them realms and not media because each medium is a world of applications within themselves. And with the prospect of combining the two, there was no need to pick one. The third project, in the second semester, was an opportunity to maintain balance between the media. Another significant change was using a realistic design problem rather than a critical or speculative one. BagLock was a walk through the entire design process, from ideation to iteration and prototyping. It served as a proof of concept and not a product ready for the market. In the given timespan, I was able to achieve the first working prototype. The fact that I was working with technology I was comfortable with and still learning more about coding and developing using the technology made the process interesting for me.
An entire year in DT was not only about learning design concepts and technological development. It was about learning life skills as well. There was a struggle to meet deadlines, display meaningful creations, grow as individuals and excel as a team. The process of ideating and conceptualizing made research and intrinsic part of my creative practice. The need to understand your audience and include them in the development was more important than making something that held no relevance to them. Failure in DT was not a standard of competence. It was a sign of attempt and learning. The skills, knowledge and experience gained during the first year were now to be applied to thesis, an adventure we would dedicate an entire year to.
As DT students, we are always told to pick an idea before picking a technology. But what if the technology leads you to an idea? When you don’t force an idea into a technology, rather it fits with the technology of your choice like missing puzzle pieces? Internet of Things and Big Data were domains I wanted to focus on. There was a project I had proposed for Major Studio and realized it required more time, research and effort to accomplish it. I wanted to pursue ‘Data Catcher’ in thesis year and finish what I started. Data Catcher was a concept based on social login and the negatives of interdependent social media. It was an artistic piece showing the dark side of information sharing. By the end of candidacy review, I thought I was clear about what I wanted to do and had a clear idea of how to proceed.
The summer was a game-changer for me. While interning at a New York based artist studio and as an engineering fellow at Open Style Lab, I realized that I was more of a designer than an artist. As much as I liked artistic expression and critical art pieces, my focus had shifted towards solving design problems. I was increasingly interested in wearable technology and interactive design. My domains shifted from Big Data to Human Centered Design and People’s Perspectives. Although I want to continue in the realm of speculative design, I want it to be product oriented, sustainable and people inclusive.
I am not sure whether I am creating a wearable solution or a usable product. In terms of speculation, the technology will be no more advanced than two to five years into the future. The biggest dilemma as of now is deciding whether to step into the field of healthcare or to continue with progressive technology for smart homes. While both fields are advancing with inclusive wearable technology in healthcare and connected objects in home environments, each idea comes with its own set of pros and cons. With the ideas being executable, the need and desire for the ideas is also important.
I want to take the opportunity of thesis studio to create a problem solver with the aim of enhancing my abilities and bettering myself at the design process. The ideas are not inventive but are innovative. I want to create something I am proud of and know I can accomplish to achieve personal learning goals. Besides creating something for a larger audience, self-growth is also important. Self-learning, motivation, accepting failures and striving towards success are lessons I am taking from DT to further my academic objectives.