This month we had the pleasure of speaking with Daniella McCarthy, a young and promising Industrial Designer from the UK. Keen to learn from her experiences and tackle new challenges, Daniella tells us what it has been like living in China for a year and shares some of her own design philosophies and inspirations.
Interview by Northern Beaches Websites – @embody3d Wednesday – 11/05/11
Hi Daniella, thanks for taking the time to speak with Embody today. To start us off, can you briefly tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first became interested in Industrial Design?
I’m an Industrial Designer from the UK with an interest in how images and form can communicate with people; I explore this interest with graphics and photography. My path into design was fairly ordinary. From a young age I was fascinated with the construction of objects and the process behind the construction. I knew someone had made decisions regarding this but at that age I did not know who. When I got into school I was first introduced to industrial design as a happy medium between art and engineering, whilst in high school I took a GNVQ in design and manufacturing and from that moment I didn’t look back.
Can you tell us who and what inspires you as a designer? Is there someone whose work and philosophy you greatly admire?
Wow that’s a tough one. I find my design inspiration comes from a many number of places. In design terms I’m really interested in the work of Ross Lovegrove. He has a truly unique design philosophy based around the crafting of intelligent form. Lovegrove’s work has the intelligence of beauty as well as the intelligence of functionality. On top of this he is a pioneer in his use of new materials for his products. This combination of form, materials and innovation is what makes him, in my opinion, one of the best designers in the world today.
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time in your career? As a designer, what do you hope to achieve?
I got into design to create items that can benefit people’s lives on a daily basis, this is something I aim for on every project I undertake and will always do so. In 5 years time I hope to have a job that will enable me to continue this methodology and give me the creative freedom to create objects that are aesthetically functional and have a timeless beauty.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them? What do you believe to be your strengths as a designer?
When starting out in design the biggest challenge is confidence in your work and confidence in yourself as a designer. I think in a way this never really goes away and this is what drives you to constantly improve. My other challenge was the level of quality in my sketch work. During my degree I picked up CAD packages pretty early on and got good quick, this led me down a path of not sketching and just doing entirely CAD projects. This approach led my sketching to remain unimproved to that point where I was embarrassed about it. Moving to China really turned this around as I found myself cut of from CAD and having no real choice but to improve. Now I am seeing improvement and will continue to build on this momentum. I think it is important for design students not to lose sight of traditional skills such as sketching in favor of new technological solutions; these traditional skills still play a vital role in the design process. This is the mistake I made at first and for a while my work suffered because of it.
Great hand sketching skills are definitely one of the greatest tools for designers! I hope many heed your advice and start sketching!
Recently, you moved to China and are currently living there to teach English and art to school students. Where in China do you currently reside, and can you tell us a little bit about your experience so far?
I’m currently living in Hunan province, which is situated in the south of China. Hunan is a largely un-westernized province and this was my reason for coming to this area, I wanted to experience ‘real’ China and embrace authentic culture.
It sounds like a massive change from your previous life in the UK and one can only imagine what that the experience is like! Can you tell us what led you toward this lifestyle change? How have you been able to deal with the language barriers?
The reason behind my yearlong relocation is that after spending most of my life in a classroom I wanted to get out and see the big picture. I feel as a designer it is important to constantly observe the world around and experience new cultures. Good ideas do not come from sitting behind a desk; personal experiences and observations in the real world are how the seeds of a good idea are planted. The lifestyle change is even bigger than I expected. When you first step off the plane in China you might as well be an infant again. The obvious change is the language; I have found this quite an easy adjustment to make. I picked up the basic words and phrases, the majority of the time this has been enough to enable me to go about my daily routine.
Many are aware of China’s growth in manufacturing but not so much about design. Can you tell us a little bit about the design industry in China which you’ve so far observed/experienced?
I cannot speak for the whole of China but in Hunan the attitude towards design is largely that functionality is paramount and aesthetics are not important. There seems to be no desire to fix problems with high quality solutions, as a result design is deemed as somewhat disposable here, everything is done for the short term rather than the long term. I think this way of thinking is slowly changing in time I think a more quality led way of design thinking will emerge and overtake the current cheap and cheerful approach. There are some fantastic ways of thinking over here and with the finances and right mindset China could transform itself into a key player for design and innovation in Asia and possibly the rest of the world.
Your project, the Jetson, for your MA is a folding guitar with a single aluminum playing surface. Can you tell us of any future plans you have for the Jetson? Do you hope to commercialize it in the near future?
After I left the country I had to put the Jetson project on hold, as it was simply not feasible to carry on the project abroad. Since finishing the prototype Jetson has gained some interest and been featured in online articles receiving positive feedback. There are now a couple of minor adjustments I would like to make to the existing design as well as maybe develop a custom case to hold the guitar during transit. I would love to take Jetson to market, as that was always the aim. I hope in the future I can work alongside an organization to make this happen.
You’ve worked on variety of projects over the years. What has been the most memorable for you? Can you tell us why?
It would be a close call between Jetson and Solus, but I think that Solus would take the title. Mainly because it was the first design that got me recognition and was at one point nearly taken to market, until the recession hit and the project put on hold. Solus was presented at a kitchen design trade show in 2010 as a forecast of the modular revolution. Seeing my design up alongside work from some of the biggest brands on the market today is something I will never forget.
Apart from Product Design, your interests also include graphic design, in particular, typography and photography. From your experience, how important do you believe it is for designers to be multi-disciplinary? How, do you believe, has your interests in typography and photography helped you in your own creative pursuits?
My interests outside of design come from a fascination with the power of imagery. The way in which a graphic or font conveys emotion to people is something that I am deeply interested in. I am not a graphic artist or a typographer and am only now starting to understand the discipline. I enjoy these projects as it gives me a break from routine and allows to me develop new skills that I can implement into my own design work. Multi disciplinary collaboration in my opinion is the key to good design, to have a team of varying skills and interest combine their knowledge into a project will ensure it is well rounded. I am always on the look out for collaborative work both inside and outside of my field. Collaboration has only been made easier by the advances in the Internet; I could now collaborate on a project with someone on the other side of the world. It’s exciting!
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re excited about? What do you have planned after China?
I have just finished a piece that is more conceptual than my normal work. It is a device aimed at improving the lives of people suffering with diabetes. Utilizing new technology that should be commercially viable within ten years, it will enable people to check blood sugar levels with a beam of light rather than a jab. The whole blood testing device has been redesigned to make it more modern and aesthetic. One point that was raised during my research was that people with diabetes have to carry this device possibly for the rest of their lives but can be conscious about how it looks to other people. I hope to change this by changing the entire aesthetic of the product. I have made something that is minimal and has a more humanistic feel, thanks to its use of an elastomeric material for the body. I have three months left in China so now my focus is starting to shift towards landing a job when I get back to England so I’ve also revamped my portfolio in preparation of getting back home; I hope to secure a design job ASAP.
Can you tell us what the Industrial Design course was like in Swansea Metropolitan University, or in the UK in general?
I studied for a BSc. as I felt the best way to design an object would be to first understand how it worked and was manufactured. I think there is a problem with design schools in the UK not putting enough emphasis into materials and manufacturing. The result is graduates that have little if any technical insight. Knowing manufacturing methods and materials has helped me a great deal. This was the reason I chose to Study at SMU. It was a smaller school, which meant a tighter relationship with both lecturers and fellow students, and the school had a reputation for its BSc. course and strong engineering background. I have fond memories of Swansea and still talk to lecturers and fellow classmates to this day.
How well, do you believe, your course has prepared or not prepared you for the ‘real world’ after graduation?
In terms of preparation for the real world I think SMU was a solid starting block but I felt personally that I wanted that little bit extra, this is in no way a reflection on the school as the program was fantastic. I just wanted to have a complete understanding of design from both an arts and engineering perspective.
What were the most valuable lessons you learnt while as a Design student whilst completing your Bachelors and Masters? What general advice can you give others who are interested in starting an Industrial Design course? What are some of the challenges can they expect?
The first thing I realized when starting my design degree was that there’s a lot more to design that people think. I like to think of industrial design as collection of skills used together to create something new and innovative. The design process has a varied skill set; research, creative thinking, sketching, rapid ideation, rendering, prototyping, graphics and presentation techniques are just some of the skills you will learn to use on a daily basis. It is important to have a wide range of skills and to constantly learn new skills and improve existing ones.
In 2010 you completed your MA at Nottingham Trent University. Can you tell us why you decided to do your masters on Computer Aided Product Design? How has it influenced you so far?
Coming out of my degree in Swansea I felt more of an engineer than a designer, which was not be a bad thing. For me personally I felt it was hampering my work, as I would always design around manufacture. I wanted to have the creative flair to design items around aesthetic and style and then adjust for manufacture later. This was my purpose for doing the MA. The change of city was also a factor as I felt doing my MA in SMU would have been kind of like repeating the year, so I decided new course, new city, new atmosphere. In the UK there is a lot of debate about the Masters degrees only being worthwhile if you aim to go into teaching. I have to disagree with this statement as when I left Swansea I felt like a design graduate, but when I left Nottingham I felt like a design professional. Doing the MA helped me to make the jump.
Thank you for your time Daniella McCarthy! Do you have any last words of advice for the Northern Beaches readers?
Be brave. Be innovative. Stick to your ideals.