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  • Writer's picturePelin Özbalcı

First Hand Experience Festival

Today was the first time I made a public appearance and spoke about my experience with design so far, at Medipol University’s First Hand Experience Festival. I was very lucky to be approached by Korcan Bacaksiz, the festival director, to talk about my experiences, my design process, my inspirations, and many things related to design. It was great to talk to people going through a similar path, hoping to inspire them even a bit.

Can you tell us about your design or production process? What emotions do you want to awaken?

When I start designing, I drown myself in that project, making the subject something daily in my life. My first step is to internalize the subject and not leave any room for myself to escape. Then, of course, come the classic steps of design, academic research, benchmarking, mood board and etc. I like to be inspired by completely unrelated categories when designing. For example, when I was designing my TABS table, I was inspired by the tabs in browsers.

And for the emotions I want to awaken, although I do not define the emotion I want to create with one word, I would like to explain it with a quote that I fell in love with the first time I heard it. Philipp Starck's "Joy is a function." The quote has changed my perspective on the design since I first came across it. After our lecturers always asked us to make something never seen or thought of before, so to speak, I realized that it was okay to design to give joy and joy only.

What inspires you in the design process? What is your motivation when designing?

Generally, my biggest motivation is the hope to make the design satisfy me above anyone else. Even though I haven't done a lot of design in the past year, the motivation of being one step more experienced, and better at designing than I was the previous one with each of my projects motivates me to continue to produce. My favorite part of the design is definitely the visualization part, and in the process, I always get excited thinking about how the design will actually look when it's finished and how I can present it. I also love the moment I look back and share my take on that product, leaving my unique mark! It always sparks conversations with other great designers.

Can you tell us a little about an interesting experience you had during the design process?

I still was in college and desperately trying to get an internship. I applied to over 150 studios globally and managed to get 3 failed interviews. But one of the studios rejected me more than 6 times in 3 weeks, which was one of my favorite studios in the EU.

I messaged directly to the founder of the studio asking for feedback on my application and portfolio, to understand what was the problem and how to fix it. He was kind enough to look at my portfolio and gave me some guidance. I was shocked that none of the things he mentioned was told me before.

He essentially told me that the general design language of my projects are not aligned with global standards, they were too colorful, too ornate, and finally too south European.

Needless to say, I felt hopeless that this was the end of my journey as a designer, and that I will never be able to understand and design like the rest of the world. But sitting and doing nothing was no good either. I started by following the right pages, training my eye, and closely observing the designs get featured on top pages like Yanko Design, Design Wanted, and Behance Product Design Gallery. I studied their CMF, forms, presentations, renders, and even how the designers chose to describe them.

I spent the following 3 weeks making short design sprints to understand the essence of European-Scandinavian design. I re-designed my school project coffee machine first. My first attempt at European design, my new coffee machine was posted by Yanko Design not long after.

Left: The first coffee machine Right: Revised coffee machine "MONO"

I never stopped studying the designs in the media I mentioned hence I'm very far from being content with my works. Even though satisfying myself is the hardest thing I'm trying to achieve, I sometimes feel happy where I stand. I came a long way looking back a year and had many sleepless nights trying to understand what was wrong with the project I'm working on.

What has the pandemic changed in your practice?

In addition to making it incredibly easy to work during the pandemic and turning me into a happier person with the extra time, I can spare for myself, I can say that I actually understood the place of communication in design much better and started using it effectively. I did my graduation project during the pandemic, and if it was a normal period, I would get information from 20-30 people I could meet face-to-face in Turkey and call it a day, but with all those lockdowns had me I realize that I could actually communicate with the whole world! It was an ironic awakening actually, no one prevented me from messaging designers from overseas but for me, it wasn’t even an option. It was indeed a very simple awareness but the things I learned from them were absolutely priceless. I contacted the engineers, chief designers, and founders of many leading companies in the industry I was working in at that time. We often forget how open people are to help and don’t even consider reaching out to them. I’ve met many exceptional people in places that I couldn’t even dream of back then, and still am grateful for the hope they gave me.

I still try to continue starting a conversation by sending a message to the designers of the relevant industry when I finish a personal project to have their thoughts on it.

What advice would you give if you were to go back in time and meet with yourself at university or a newcomer to the profession?

I've been asking myself this question for a long time. First of all, I would like to underline very clearly that the education we receive at school is not perfect, nor are the lecturers. In my opinion, the fact that one-size-fits-it-all approach in design education is causing the premature death of creativity. Not everyone can be great at visualization, modeling, drawing, technical problem-solving, and innovation development at the same time, and that's normal. We are not super humans that are capable of everything related to design and is expected to be one while we are in process of grasping design as a concept is straight-out absurd.

I don't know if that’s because any of my projects at school have contributed to any of my current success, but if I were talking to my first-year self, I would probably say, "Do whatever the teachers say, get as much information as necessary and give a lot more weight to personal work". After all, even the design rights of the designs we made at school do not belong to us.

If I went back, from the first moment I set foot in a design faculty, I would have immersed myself in global design values. Of course, we all make mood boards from Behance and Pinterest, not limited to Turkey, but if the drawings, projects, and renders of even first-year industrial design students from other countries can be our inspiration even in our senior year, why can’t we be the ones who inspire?

A great design that is presented badly is unfortunately often overshadowed by a bad design that is presented great. If I were to start from the beginning, I would definitely try to present myself and my projects in the best possible way. I would have learned to use body language effectively, and learn to sell anything.

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