Solving social issues and changing mindsets with communication design
Rimjhim Surana (MRes RCA: Communication Design Pathway, 2019) came to the RCA to better integrate design research methodologies into her work as a designer in the development sector in India.
Rimjhim completed her first degree in communication design at the Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune, India, specialising in user experience design and worked as an ethnographer, digital marketeer and visual designer.
How would you describe your current practice?
I am a design researcher, writer and a communication designer currently working with a human-centred design firm in India. I like to experiment with new forms of writing and illustration to present my research. I think of my practice in a fairly open-ended way and don’t limit myself to one particular strain or way of thinking.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on?
I am currently working in sexual and reproductive health in India, specifically on projects related to abortion and contraception. These are design research projects, generating information-based solutions for specific abortion and contraception services in low income communities. While the primary objective is to improve services, the other objectives include the empowerment of women, changing mindsets and engaging men in issues that may be considered women-focussed.
What appealed to you about MRes RCA?
The idea of using design for social good, to innovate in difficult situations with limitations, and as activism, always stood out to me. I realised very quickly during my work in the development sector that research would form a crucial part of this work and I was looking for an institution that successfully combined both of these.
The MRes was perfect in doing that. At the time I needed a more in depth understanding of design research methodologies. Besides the course itself the ethos of the RCA and the encouragement it provides to break boundaries and do things differently, if required, was fascinating.
How did your practice develop while you were at the RCA?
The RCA was instrumental in introducing me to research methodologies and developing a way of thinking through a research focussed project. I am a lot more equipped to handle complex problems within research now. The MRes also made me sensitive to the politics of research, my position as a researcher and the ethics of doing research, something that I find extremely crucial in the work that I do now.
Was there a particular stand-out moment during your time at the RCA?
One of the most transformational moments was seeing my 15,000-word thesis come alive in the form of an exhibit. It suddenly made sense how research could be presented in more than one way and opened up a whole array of possibilities for me. I learned to downsize and expand, and think of the macro and the micro in a way that is understandable.
What role did research play in your practice before MRes RCA, and what role does it play now?
Research was always at the core of my practice but before MRes RCA I wasn’t able to connect it to the output in the way I can now. I am now able to connect and synthesise my findings towards an output in a much better way. I also understand how the tacitness of findings can become a way to present research.
How have you grown as a designer since graduating?
I have become more open to exploration and I box myself in a lot less. Experimentation has become an important part of my practice since graduation.
I want to continue the work I am doing but expand my practice towards thinking of design as activism and not just as a solution. It would be an interesting space to explore within the context of dealing with 'wicked problems' around social issues in low income communities. Over time I would also like to start my own studio which is more focussed on innovating with methodologies and points of views on design research for social impact.
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