It had been a while since I last woke up at 9 am, but I was excited because today was the day the FACT programme on Design Thinking & Innovation with Universitas Prasetiya Mulya (UPM) started. Turning on my laptop and rubbing the remaining sleep out of my eyes, I was greeted with the morning cheer of ‘Uptown Funk’ playing via the Zoom session. I think that set the mood for the next eight days. The virtual FACT programme, although in the comfort of our homes, was an enlightening and fun experience.
During the Opening Address by SUTD Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies and SUTD Academy, Prof Pey Kin Leong, he mentioned Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” and I felt that resounding as we progressed. The first half of the day was spent introducing UPM and SUTD to the participants. It was fascinating to learn about the lives of UPM students and their University, what made us similar yet so different. Interestingly, the SUTD introduction also brought to light some things I didn’t know, including the fascinating and brilliant robots being created in the ROAR labs. We also had a brief introduction towards what the next few days would be like and our ultimate goal as well; to make a submission for the IDA awards.
After lunch, we got to meet our teammates for the next eight days. Following a round of awkward introductions, we decided to get to work. Slowly, that awkwardness ebbed away as we began conversing about life in Indonesia and Singapore; how different it was and how our childhoods and lifestyles were so unique. Our discussions led us in many different directions before we finally stumbled upon our problem statement, which gave us a lot of insight into what life is like in Indonesia and how certain aspects of our life we take for granted may not always be present everywhere.
There were many interesting lectures by Indonesian furniture designer Mr Abie Abdillah which were quite inspiring. He talked about his use of Rattan to make products and gave us a lot of inspiration to work with. We even had a session talking about our object of interest for the next seven days – the chair; and we even tackled what is the very definition of a chair. Going into the breakout room sessions on Day 2 however, had none of the awkwardness from Day 1. We spent our time examining precedents together, cracking jokes, having fun and talking to each other. We learnt a lot from each other and from our precedents, which we found from previous IDA award winners, google patents and just some google searches. Finding many interesting ideas to take away, we started coming up with an idea of what we want in our product.
The day started with a progress sharing session by two of the teams, where we got to see what each other had taken as precedents. While there were many overlaps, what each team took away from those precedents was completely different. After a short session on ideation guidelines by Bhagya, a Research Assistant from Prof Mohan’s lab we proceeded to our breakout rooms to do one of the most fun activities of our programme – idea sketching. All of us spent a few hours sketching as we tried to bring our idea to life with a few lines. While we were sharing our ideas, it amazed me how much creativity each of us had and how all of us viewed the same problem in different lights.
We later headed back to the main room where we had another sharing session for our sketches and let me tell you, I was blown away by how different people saw different chairs such as strollers, exercise chairs, park benches, work chairs, study chairs.. Who knew chairs were so versatile?
Later, we had an amazing experience where we gave the UPM students a robot-guided tour of the SUTD campus. They got to control the robots themselves remotely and we explored many parts of SUTD including an exclusive tour of the ROAR lab.
It was a rainy morning and the blues were strong, but soon it was blown away by the first session of our day – a guide to generative design on Fusion 360. Excited to try it out for myself, I immediately set out to work on it during our mini breakout room sessions. We also worked on our Pugh charts and presented them to everyone, before picking out which sketch we would be continuing with.
The rest of our day was spent brainstorming as we tried to figure out what exactly we wanted from our final product and how we were going to add elements to make the design what we wanted it to be.
Today was a day completely spent in collaboration. We spent time talking to each other, discussing our ideas and modifying certain aspects of our design. We also went through some research looking at different safety standards all over the world for playground structures, and what materials we would need to make them safe and durable. During this entire process, I found myself extremely grateful for collaborative platforms like Google Docs and Google Slides, which made working together much easier. Even though most of our Zoom call was silent, conversations were ongoing across the Google Docs as we clarified doubts with each other and decided on the important elements. There was no single way of communication as we worked together while conversing through our mics, the Zoom chat, our Telegram chat and Google Docs. We spent the whole day working together as a team, before gathering back in the main Zoom room for a sharing session on our progress with our Cadding and research.
The day started with another round of lectures by Indonesian furniture designer Mr Abie Abdillah, who shared about different materials he used for furniture manufacturing and gave us a lot of insight into natural materials like wood and bamboo.
As the days progressed, I kept getting surprised by how our team worked seamlessly even though we were not meeting face to face. We were all working in tandem with each other to create something we would be proud of. As we finalised our design, we had a session on rendering both in Fusion 360 and Rhino conducted by SUTD Research Assistants Selva and Chris. Fuelled by inspiration, we got to work on creating our own renders.
As the virtual FACT programme was drawing to a close soon, our team went full steam ahead with refining our product. Creating slides, giving comments on our renders, writing out the entry description of our IDA submission, we were all busy on our own parts working together to create a great submission. The day was spent absorbed in our idea and creating the best presentation we could make out of it. This easily brought up a lot of queries but our ever ready facilitators answered them promptly, helping us out immensely. The day ended with a review session where we were given some pointers about our renders and guidelines on what more needs to be done.
It was the final day of our virtual FACT programme, which left me feeling slightly melancholy because my time with my new friends was starting to draw to a close. We started with a product development session where we got to have our final discussions and prepare our submission for the IDA awards. Our project was cool in that it fits into both the ‘architectural’ and ‘product design’ categories. Finally, we sent in our submissions with trepidation but also with the satisfaction that we had done our best.
After our lunch break, we proceeded with a final presentation to all participants of this joint programme.
Saying that I was awe-struck after the presentation would be an understatement. Seeing the fantastic and absolutely beautiful design different teams came up with, within just the span of a week was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Beautiful shapes, patterns and incredibly realistic renders were abundant and every idea shined in its own unique way. It was really amazing how much all of us had managed to achieve remotely and in such a short span of time.
As our presentations wound to an end and closing remarks were delivered by representatives from both UPM and SUTD, the jubilant feeling of a job well done was joined by the sadness of the fact that the programme was indeed drawing to a close.
We had a short final breakout room session, where we took a team picture and said our final goodbyes to the new friends we made. It was a bittersweet ending to our 8-day journey.
The FACT programme in itself was a rollercoaster of a week, with a lot that was done, a lot that was learnt and even more that was enjoyed. It was truly a cross-cultural exchange where we got to know more about our newfound Indonesian friends and made amazing memories and friendships. Like some of the participants had mentioned in a sharing session, I too have now gained a better understanding of Fusion 360 and other cadding software. I truly enjoyed the experience and I would recommend it to anyone else who wants a taste of a beautiful cross-cultural experience.