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Curtin the only Australian university at prestigious Beijing workshop

News story

Twenty-eight students from Curtin’s School of Design and the Built Environment recently travelled to Beijing for the international Design Day Marathon, which required participants to design a new technology or internet experience for the elderly.

The marathon consisted of four intense days involving lectures from tutors and industry representatives, and workshopping. It culminated in the students presenting their ideas to the event sponsors and industry leaders, including the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Chinese tech giant Tencent and Swedish furniture retailer Ikea.

The Curtin students represented the largest cohort of the more than 150 participating tertiary students at the marathon, as well as the only Australian and predominantly English-speaking group – with the other students from China, South Korea and Taiwan.

At least one Curtin student was present in every group that won an award.

First-year fashion student Stephanie Jones was thrilled to be part of the group that won second place for creating a technologically enhanced memory box to help relieve any feelings of anxiety experienced by elderly citizens who suffer episodic memory loss.

“Our group created a memory box that could include precious memories, such as photos and videos displayed on an in-built digital screen, and speakers to play music as a form of therapy. The box was covered with a ‘memory quilt’ that had panels with images of individuals dyed into the fabric,” says Jones.

“The final presentation was in Chinese so we were unsure how the judges received it, but we did get a great applause. We were over the moon to be placed second. Our hard work paid off!”

Except for the presentations, the language barrier proved to be minimal, with most of the communication between students and staff who could not speak each other’s languages conducted over Chinese social media app WeChat, using its reliable auto translate function.

Third-year architectural science student Jai Mehra, who was part of the same group as Jones, says the final design benefitted from each student’s unique perspectives and skillsets.

“Our group consisted of two fashion students, an online design student and two Chinese students. We shared our ideas and worked together quite well, understanding that each team member held a level of value towards the design process,” Mehra says.

“Being from an architecture background, I was able to contribute and showcase my ideas physically and through numerous sketches, which helped to bring the idea to a physical form.

“The marathon has opened my mindset to different design processes and altered the way I approach my workload.”

Students workshopping at the design day marathon.

Curtin Major Coordinator of Fashion Design Dr Anne Farren, who organised the study tour and was one of the international design project mentors at the marathon, was very pleased to see the Curtin students building cross-cultural connections and working on projects that were outside of their discipline.

“Some of the students were worried about being allocated to projects that were not directly related to their course. But we kept reinforcing how valuable it was that they’re not just fashion designers or graphic designers: they’re designers – they’re problem solvers,” Farren says.

In fact, the Curtin students made a significant impression on the other institutions, adds Major Coordinator of Digital Design Jarrad Gittos, who helped supervise the students on the tour.

“Some of the international professors were very impressed at how good our students were at communicating a message. They knew how to emote, showcase empathy, focus on the selling points and stick to a strict schedule,” he says.

“Even in their designs, they were thinking globally in terms of accessibility and the foundations of their ideas.”

Curtin student presenting at the marathon.

The study tour also included free-time activities, with Farren and Gittos providing opportunities for the students to visit locations such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the trendy Wudaoying Hutong alleyway.

Following the design day marathon, the students had the chance to attend exhibitions at the 2018 Beijing Design Week, such as the opening of Invisible Light Garden, an immersive and interactive light installation by Sydney-based Mosster Studio.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think it will make me more employable in the future and seeing the patterns and colours in China will help inspire my future designs,” Jones says.

“I am so grateful to have been a part of it and I hope other students will get the same opportunities that we did.”

Curtin students at the Great Wall of China.

The study tour was supported by Curtin International and Curtin’s Faculty of Humanities.

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