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Jiaji Shen

MA Interior Design, 2015–2017

What were you doing before coming to the RCA?

Before I came to the RCA I was working in an interior design company as a project manager for four years. My BA was in Architecture, from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China. While I was working in that practice I realised that I was attracted to interior design – I liked the scale, and the fact that it required you to think about the smaller details, and the way that people interacted with the space. 

Why did you decide to apply to the RCA? 

There were several reasons for applying to the RCA. First of all, I was attracted to the fact that it was entirely postgraduate study. I thought that the academic atmosphere here would be more mature as a result. It also seemed to me that the RCA was more laid back than other places, and that the quality of students that they accepted was very high. Finally, I liked the fact that the MA was taught over two years, rather than just one. 

What have you found to be the main differences between your BA and the MA? 

One of the main differences is the way that we are encouraged to learn from different disciplines here. There was a big focus on using digital programs on my BA. Here, we have the opportunity to focus on craft and handmade elements – I really appreciate that sense of interdisciplinarity. Studying here has also taught me that it is important for a designer to put something of their own spirit and emotion into their work. 

What is the mixture of students like, and what are the benefits of being in an international community?

One of the benefits of being part of a very international course is that you are able to expand your international networks – I think that will prove to be very important in the future. We’ve had the opportunity to visit many different cities over the last year or so, and because our course is so international, we’re often able to get guided tours from students who grew up there. I’ve learnt a lot about other cultures while I’ve been studying here, and I am looking forward to being able to bring this knowledge back with me to China. 

How has your work changed or developed while you have been at the RCA?

My work, and the way that I think about my work, has changed a lot since studying at the RCA. My BA was all about addition: in every project I was always thinking about how to add more information, more elements, and demonstrate more skills. At the RCA I am learning the art of subtraction – how to control and how to balance the different elements in my work. I have begun to focus more on texture and detail, and I've learnt a lot about how to talk about my work too. That has been very important for me. 

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

I have developed self-confidence, and been able to stretch my imagination. I’ve also learnt that design isn’t about showing off, or following a trend. Instead, you need the confidence to be able take it in a direction that you believe it should be heading. 

Have you faced any particular challenges while you have been here? 

One of the biggest challenges during these two years has been the Cultural and Historical Studies module. During the course, I have not only acquired knowledge and experience but have also enjoyed the process of developing my critical thinking; it has vastly expanded my reading!

What are your plans for this year, and what do you intend to do after you graduate?

Ideally, after graduating, I would like to stay here in London and work for a few years to gain some commercial and professional experience. Then I’d like to return to China and begin to influence the future of interior design over there.

"Studying here has also taught me that it is important for a designer to put something of their own spirit and emotion into their work"
Jiaji Shen
Jiaji Shen