Inside

Shih-Yen Lo

MA Design Products, 2013–15

Before I came to the Royal College of Art, I did a BSc in naval architecture and an MSc in mechanical engineering. Actually, it was during the second year of my undergraduate degree that I took my first steps towards design.

At my previous school, National Taiwan University, I joined the solar vehicle racing team in 2006. We decided to build an electric sedan instead of another solar racer because it’s closer to an everyday car and the intention is to build green vehicles for everyone. It was a 40-person team of engineering students, led by a professor who had a big dream. I spent more than five years in the team and we built several vehicles: a battery powered electric sedan, a full cell scooter, a three-wheel electric personal vehicle and a foldable electric scooter slightly bigger than a Brompton bicycle.

The team found starting out on projects difficult. There was nobody who really understood the users, and so we lacked guidance in knowing what to build and how the specification and features of the vehicle should match the user experience. I soon learned that the difficulty was because we didn’t have any designers amongst us. I found out that designers are the direction of the vector, while engineers are the magnitude, and if I wanted to do something for the world, I should start from the direction. This is the reason I decided to study design.

I stayed on the team until 2011, when we were about to finish building the electric car (for which I worked on the exterior design) and I was lucky enough to do a one-year exchange programme at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden, to take the one-year Industrial Design Intensive programme (BA level) and build up my portfolio.

During the year in Sweden I decided to do an MA in design. The one-year course wasn’t enough and I wanted to develop further. I visited the RCA’s Final Show in 2012 and found the Design Products programme really interesting.

In the year prior to starting on Design Products, I spent a year doing an industrial design internship for ASUS Computer. I really enjoyed my experiences in Sweden but the Design Products programme takes a totally different approach, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to try.

Over the two years at the RCA, I learnt many different ways of doing design; I found that some of them don’t suit me, so I developed my own ways with the help of my tutors. This was extremely important to my practice and I feel that it’s a core value of the Design Products programme – to develop your own way of designing and your own point of view as a designer.

Unlike some other design programmes, sketches on papers don’t do the talking in Design Products – sketch models do. In my second year, I forced myself to refine my designs and build a new version of my product every week, and my engineering skills helped a lot here: not only the knowledge needed to realise the idea, but also a way of thinking. I see engineering as a useful tool to review ideas, to persuade others, if necessary, and to speed up the process of realising a product.

I got good feedback from the Final Show, got a place in the summer school hosted by InnovationRCA, and filed my own patent to protect my works. Now I’m starting up my own business developing projects I started at College. I’ve still got a lot to learn but I’m off to a good start.

"I got good feedback from the Final Show, got a place in the summer school hosted by InnovationRCA, and filed my own patent to protect my works. Now I’m starting up my own business developing projects I started at College. I’ve still got a lot to learn but I’m off to a good start."
Shig-Yen Lo
Shig-Yen Lo