I did my BFA in Graphic Design at the American University of Beirut. Most of my work was print or screen-based. When I then started working in design studios in New York and Beirut, I became interested in data visualisation and wanted to explore it beyond the 2D, so I started looking for a Master’s programme that tackled some of my questions.
When I came across the Information Experience Design programme at the Royal College of Art, I remember seeing some of the students’ work and, with no technical background nor making skills, I was amazed at some of the complexity and creativity of the projects, which I thought were also a bit intimidating. But now, I believe that my first year at the RCA allowed me to grow and change a lot as a designer.
I started at the RCA determined not to stick to what I knew, but rather to take advantage of the facilities and people around me in order to expand my technical abilities and my design knowledge. I greatly benefited from the fact that the course is multi-disciplinary, which enabled me to learn a variety of skills. Working in groups, for a change, was probably the most challenging thing for me, but I’ve learnt a lot from working with students from different design backgrounds.
My previous work didn’t include any interactivity; taking the experience as the starting point for generating ideas for some of my projects has definitely affected the way I think. For that, I have enjoyed experimenting with Arduino. Another way my process has changed is that I’ve reduced my conceptualisation phase to allow much more room for prototyping. When making things, I encountered lots of unexpected challenges, and learned from trial and error for the next time. Dealing with bigger scale projects towards the second half of the year pushed me to learn how to polish work to be showcased. Learning to use the workshop facilities allowed me to build things I had never done before, and finish them to a satisfying standard.
What I found interesting about the course is that it applies computational thinking to a variety of fields, touching on food, biology, security and privacy, and more, allowing me to explore design differently from before. Other projects were based on programming spaces, touching on the relationship between art and science, for which we thought about how to facilitate communication between scientists and non-scientists through art, giving the audience just enough to understand, while leaving room for their own interpretation and imagination.
I also worked on a project that involved data mining, investigating how one experiences the city in ways beyond the physical, focusing on the sonic environment in Oxford Circus. The glass installation I made, explores the contrast between the satellite or machine’s perspective on noise levels, and that of the human, which is more subjective and qualitative, through the use of hydrophobic sand. I was interested in translating mundane data into a visual installation that sheds light on something we encounter every day, but don’t pay attention to.
Throughout my first year, I collaborated with students from other programmes, such as Innovation Design Engineering, Design Products and Fashion, which exposed me to different ways of thinking about the design process. To me, it seemed that their focus towards aesthetics and the final polish, and ours on concept generation, allowed for an interesting balance where we learnt a lot from each other.
Overall, I believe that my experience at the RCA pushed me to become a more independent designer, and try to further challenge myself in the creative field.
"I was determined not to stick to what I knew, but rather to take advantage of the facilities and people around me in order to expand my technical abilities and my design knowledge."Joanne Harik