Last year, not so long after I’ve celebrated my 34 years old birthday, I’ve decided to do something I’ve planned to do 10 years before that. I’ve made the decision to pursue my bachelor degree in art and design. You see, sometimes life takes you to places you never thought you’ll end up at. My original plan was to travel from my home town in Israel to Asia for two months, and then come back to study design. But that never happened, and instead, I’ve found myself living and working as a ui ux designer in Bangkok Thailand.
Looking back, I can honestly say that this was sort of escape for me. It’s not that I had a bad time in Israel, but I needed this break from everything that I knew before and was familiar to me. I needed to explore who I am, and what I wanted to do in life, and this had to happen in a place far away. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but as I have matured, I’ve learned to realize it.
The Passion for Creation
When I was 18 years old, I’ve dreamed about being a successful electronic music producer and famous DJ. I’ve spent my days working at all kinds of works, from being salesperson at a local toy store, to a pool-boy in a 5 star hotel on the beach, while working as a DJ at nights with my older brother. I would then spend all the money I’ve earned on music gadgets and electronic instruments. Samplers, drum machines, synthesizers and anything else I could fit into my small studio at my parents home. The thing I loved most about it, is the challenge to figure out and learn on my own how each of the device works, and what I could do with that.
While music was my main passion, anything that involved the act of creating stuff made me feel complete. Such was digital art, which I discovered when I’ve bought my very own first personal computer. I’ve started playing with Photoshop, making weird and ridiculous photo montages and collages. It was fun, and I still do that here and there, but at some point I’ve developed more passion towards design. Something about the act of solving problems has fascinated me. It was comparable to the feelings I had while exploring the features of my electronic instruments. I was curious to understand how specific things in the mechanic of design works.
My First Job as a Designer
When I first arrived to Bangkok in 2006, I was completely amazed by the sights, colors and smells of this city. It was like something I’ve never experienced before. I knew I wanted to stay here, but I had no idea it was an option for me. Somehow I’ve heard about a travel agency who were looking for a designer to do their menu and signage. I had enough knowledge in Photoshop to jump on this opportunity, and decided to offer my help. When I saw for the first time in my life something I’ve created with a computer being printed on a 4*2.5 meter billboard in the middle of the famous Kaosan road, it completely blew my mind. It was a terrible and the most horrible design I’ve ever created, but I didn’t see it that way back then. In the magic of that moment I’ve felt so proud. I still do every time I see my ideas go live. It is that exact same enthusiasm that keeps my engine running.
From Graphic Design to Web Design
My design process felt broken and somehow I knew I was lacking the basic knowledge needed to take my career path to the next level, though I couldn’t really explain what or why. As time went by, however, I was fortunate enough to meet great people along the way who inspired me to be a better version of myself, both in my professional and personal life. Working and collaborating with great designers, developers, and business people, I slowly started to see how in its most simplified definition, design is basically a method to solve communication problems.
Discovering this was a big deal for me, and changed the way I’ve looked at the problems I sought to solve for my employers and clients as a ui and ux designer. The most significant change was that I’ve started developing a real empathy for the obstacles of the business and the users. I wanted to understand the challenge from their side, not from mine. My mission was to help them to achieve mutual goals and objectives. Their goal, on the other hand, was to communicate and simplify processes. Every design problem is of course unique and include much more to it, but in my experience, the essence of it most often is a communication problem.
As my journey into the design world continued, I’ve began to practice and learn more and more about the methods and process of user experience design (UX). Much of it was common sense and familiar to me, nonetheless, understanding the connections between user behaviors, psychology theories and users mental models had a profound impact on my skills to better understand and solve design challenges.
Back to Basic
And now, almost ten years after I first arrived here to Bangkok and initiated my career and profession as a
designer problem solver, I’m back to school, learning the basics once again.
But I didn’t make this decision because I think that having a design degree is important. As far as my concern, successfully completing my studies and getting one will be just a bonus. I care more about the actual learning, because this is where most of my passion is coming from, the curiosity and thirst for knowledge that could potentially help me be a better problem solver. I’ve also decided to do it online and part time, so I could progress on it in my own pace.
I won’t lie to you. Working and studying is not that simple or easy, matter of fact, it’s quite hard. Especially on days when you had a rough and busy day at work, and now you need to focus on your homeworks. Not to talk about what it can do to your social life. But if you are willing to take that extra mile, it is definitely rewarding. I am in my first year, and I can already tell the difference in the way I work now and how I start new projects compared to my pre-studies period.
Research First, Solve After
One thing that I find very helpful and made a significant impact on the way I work, though extremely hard, is the academic research approach. Taking the time to conduct a thorough and comprehensive research first and before trying to find solutions to a design problem can be very beneficial and could really make the difference between mediocre and awesome results.
I’ve encountered the benefits of the academic research when I worked on my essay about the brilliant Russian avant garde designer and polymath, El (Lazar Markovich) Lissitzky (1890–1941). I had to go through and read an extensive body of work and articles. It wasn’t that easy for me (specially because English is not my first language). But the results had profoundly inspired me and left such a big impact on the way I start any project now.
“From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign myself ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’”
― Hokusai Katsushika
If all goes according to my plan, I will finish my studies and get my bachelor degree in art and design sometime around 2018. I’ll be 38 then. That is not the normal and standard age to get your first degree. But who care about the normal and standard? And who says there is only one right way to do things in life? The way I see it, we are always in a constant journey of learning and discovering things about ourselves and about the world surrounding us, no matter what we do. But it is our choice to decide whatever we want to do with our life, where do we want to take them, and how we want to spend this short time we have here on earth.