Hello my name is Sarah. I have just finished my honours in Visual Communication Design at Massey University. In November 2015, I travelled to China with a group of 12 designers from Massey University as part of Space Between. As a Prime Minister’s Scholarship recipient I was asked to present my learning experiences at a conference held by Education New Zealand. Here is a script of my presentation:
The China Study Tour, that I had the privilege to attend because of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia, operated as a Massey University summer school paper with the Space Between initiative. Space Between is a green business model for fashion design that acts as a platform for social innovation. Our Space Between brief was to draw upon our experiences in China to create a ‘fashion design activism’ provocation and manifesto that provides a solution to a fashion sustainability problem. I was really excited about this project because it offered me a unique opportunity to creatively draw from my experiences as I was experiencing them.
Our host Universities, X’ian Polytechnic University and The Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts paired us with a Chinese student who shared the same creative interests as us and would serve to offer a Chinese perspective on our projects.
Our second destination, Shanghai, was my opportunity to really refine and articulate the creative concepts that I was developing with the help of my Chinese partners. My project that I had begun developing was about connecting local makers back to their own communities through workshop events.
This project had already been through several iterations, but now was the time to start testing it through prototyping. I brought craft supplies to stage a mini workshop in class, but I was unsure about how this would play out. Straight away however, my Chinese classmates began to engage with the materials and went on to produce some amazing creations. I enjoyed this process because I discovered that, by thinking outside the box, we could learn from each other in a way that was creatively demonstrative rather than verbal.
I really enjoyed being able to assimilate every overwhelming aspect of my trip into a creative outlet and utilize my knowledge about design thinking and experience design (both of which have been a large part of my education to date) to develop my concept. The design process that I learnt at university helped me to reflect on everything I was learning and experiencing. This process now provides me with a valuable documentation of my trip and learning experiences.
For me, the best part of the trip, apart from the amazing food, was the friendships and connections I developed with the Chinese students and teachers in both X’ian and Shanghai. They extended us a warm sense of hospitality and were incredibly helpful. They accompanied us on all our field trips, showed us around the city, and even brought us tea in the evenings. Although the language was a bit of a barrier, we were all determined to make it work, with a bit of help from the translator app. Ultimately, I feel our exchange was beneficial to both of us in our learning and creative processes and endeavors.
I don’t think that there is a day that goes by where I don’t draw from my experiences in China, both personally and within my creative practice. I approach everything with more confidence, more communication and a more open mind. I am more aware of different ways of learning and different worldviews and understanding of different practices. I think this will serve me well heading into the very collaborative creative industry.
I think the most valuable thing I took away from China was the importance of hands-on experiences and how that can feed into my design practice. For me, a highlight was visiting the local makers workshops and trying their traditional techniques.
As a designer, engaging with people and participating in their activities is a valuable mode of researching and gaining insights. I have certainly taken on this mindset when taking on my honours research and development project this year, and I hope to extend on this practice in the future.