Chelsea Carter and Natalie Sowa are both second year Design for Publishing students at Norwich University of the Arts. Both students applied to take part in Design Academy, our new programme offering strategic design learning for undergraduates. Here they share their impressions and discuss how it has changed the trajectory of their future careers as designers.  

I study design because... 

Chelsea:  I have a great appreciation for editorial design, print and processes. I collect magazines and books for this reason. There is something beautiful and nostalgic about the printed object. My deepest passion in design is typography. I love type design, formation, the history of type and type setting.  To be working with creatives in industry is something I love doing and really enjoy observing them and being a part of the process. 

Natalie: I've always been passionate about graphic design in editorial and print and long ago decided this is the realm in which I would immerse myself. However, in light of Design Academy, I’ve now a keen interest in moving my career toward strategic design. Using primary research, actually speaking with end users and understanding their needs, wants, and motivations, was an invigorating way to approach a task.  I now want to work with primary research and strategic design every day in my career as a designer.

I had no idea that strategic design existed until I attended Design Academy, and learning about it was a significant turning point in my career as a designer.

Natalie Sowa, Norwich University of the Arts

When I signed up for Design Academy...

Chelsea: I wanted to learn others ways to research and to think about themes in a different way than I have through my degree. I hoped I would finish the course with new perspectives, confidence in my own work, and a sense of achievement. I wanted to expand my group work skills, as the course meant working in multidisciplinary groups, which I had never done before. Collaboration seemed so daunting before, but after this course feels so natural.

Natalie: I was interested in the potential to help and to improve lives, which the Design Academy's Design for Care brief offered. Many of the briefs I’ve worked on previously were geared toward selling to healthy, younger audiences and I'm intrigued by the challenge of designing for elder care. I also hoped that working with other students from different disciplines would give me a taste of working professionally as a designer. 

Collaboration seemed so daunting before, but after this course feels so natural.

Chelsea Carter, Norwich University of the Arts

When tackling the 'Design for Care' challenge...

Chelsea: We focused on the mental health and wellbeing of students at our university. We chose this because to us it is a very prominent issue. There is a lot of stigma associated with mental health and we personally felt the need to make a difference in this area. By having our care brief focus around our university we were able to get involved and really immerse ourselves in the brief.  

Natalie: We chose to focus on supporting people who provide care for their loved ones. This seemed straightforward at first, until we started considering the types of informal carers that exist today. We refined our initial area of focus to “Supporting Sandwich Generation Carers” because we found that the Sandwich Generation were a growing subset of carers, and that they had unique challenges to face in caring for two radically different groups of people (children and elderly loved ones).

I now want to work with primary research and strategic design every day in my career as a designer.

Natalie Sowa, Norwich University of the Arts

The design tools were invaluable because... 

Chelsea: We really needed to refine how we would conduct our research, and the design tools and methodologies that we had learnt in the course were instrumental in helping us achieve this. We applied a few different tools such as: personas, emotional journey mapping with students, online surveys, and an interview with the student wellbeing service at NUA. We also involved the Student Union president who provided direction for sourcing information and statistics. We initially planned to explore how to help people with care needs manage their own condition, but we reframed this as 'how to help people at NUA manage their own mental wellbeing'. Mental wellbeing is a more positive and less stigmatising way to phrase the health issues we were addressing.   

Natalie: The tools helped us find the best way to conduct primary research.  As we only had two weeks, we decided that individual interviews with Sandwich Generation Carers  was our best primary research method. We also published a brief online survey, to which we received 72 responses. For our individual interviews, we devised more in-depth questions around key problems, concerns, and rewards of Sandwich Generations members. We recorded each interview for accountability, and discussed the results alongside the online survey responses. We isolated common issues, or concerns, and then applied several of the Design Academy’s exercises (e.g. Double Diamond) to flesh out possibilities for solutions.

I have improved my thinking and am better at communicating with others because of this course.

Chelsea Carter, Norwich University of the Arts

When I think back on Design Academy...

Chelsea: I'm grateful for the influence that this programme has had on my work in terms of thinking, reasoning and research skills. I have developed a much deeper appreciation and awareness of the user. I have discovered a new passion for innovation, strategic thinking and analysing content. I continue to be inspired by the course, particularly the feedback that we received on our presentation from the industry professionals, and I intend to embark upon more opportunities like this in the future.  The course finished with a sense of achievement and I felt enlightened, having learnt a great deal of knowledge that I can apply to my own practice. I have improved my thinking and am better at communicating with others because of this course.

Natalie: I'll always remember Neil Gridley (Design Council Design Associate) talking about learning to be 'comfortable in the fog’. This is about not jumping to work on a solution or idea just to have a sense of clarity. This really resonated with the way that I work as a designer. So much of what was said was revelatory to me.  I had no idea that strategic design existed until I attended Design Academy, and learning about it was a significant turning point in my career as a designer. I took away three things that I now intend to focus on throughout my career: how people use / interact with my design, maximizing the potentials of visual communication, and approaching problems in new and better ways.  I think this will change the trajectory of my entire career, which is a huge and very exciting prospect.  All my life I’ve been asking people questions, and now I feel that this inherent curiosity has a real place in my design practice. 

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