Design Educator Profiles: Hannah Park

What are your strategies to incorporate cultural awareness in your work, in your academic, professional, or scholarship career?

I think one thing that I always try to emphasize in my career trajectory is that I try to blur the boundaries across teaching, research and service as much as possible. What I experience with my students directly impacts my research and service and vice versa. I try to facilitate a lot of conversations or discussions on cultural and social issues in my classroom even if it is not perfectly aligned from a traditional perspective. I try my best to slide them into class projects so my students can be exposed to those matters. For example, mental health is a topic that I’ve recently found very interesting because it can be a sensitive topic to address. Everybody knows about it but not everybody talks about it, especially in a university. I want to have more open conversations about mental health. When I was teaching a design research course, at first glance it didn’t seem like the course had anything to do with mental health, however, I tried to integrate the two together so students could learn about design research methods through the lens of mental health issues.

Do you also connect with professionals like psychologists to find out additional information or resources for your students as they do their research?  

Absolutely. Besides mental health, I’m actually teaching UI/UX to industrial design students and what they are doing right now is designing the UI/UX for an IoT (Internet of Things) device, that provides pervasive healthcare for people with disabilities. An example of pervasive healthcare, would be if you fell on the floor, the floor will detect that you’ve fallen and then deliver that information to the healthcare provider. 

As a part of our research phase, we have invited people from industry, like an architect who designed a smart home for elderly populations. His research was very similar to what my students were doing so he came to our class and explained his perspective. I have also invited community members from the telemedicine departments at Kansas University Medical Centers to my class so they can provide their perspectives as well. It is important to make sure we’re designing not just for design sake, but rather designing towards something that can actually have an impact. Its also important know how we can validate or evaluate the effectiveness of our design within that process.

Given that process, its likely the professionals have particular methods to measure the impact of your design work?

Right, that’s one of the roles we expect from them. As designers, we have our own ways to evaluate our design which can traditionally be very focused on the aesthetics, but what’s the point of spending all this time designing this app if it’s not working? Our stakeholders are the ones that can integrate their knowledge into the process and allow us to evaluate in every possible way.

Where is design education going?

I think one of the things we should think about is, “How do we elevate or evolve our value of design?” I think we’ve been trying our very best to educate our students to respect their professions. This includes encouraging them to not do spec work or unpaid internships, but I don’t think we are doing enough to educate the community. I think it should happen at the same time. This is something that I would suggest the community to work on. I also think we need to do more evidence-based design making processes. We are doing a great job at raising awareness but a lot of design studies or design work do not have any follow-up. For example, once we make this campaign project, so what? I think that kind of evaluating, follow-up or validating the effectiveness of design is very critical in order to argue that “Hey design matters.”

How do you continue to grow as a design educator?

Due to being an immigrant and having been an international student, I have been trained to make cold calls. I am not afraid to approach somebody who doesn’t really know me and ask for help or try to engage in a collaboration. I think that really helped me to grow as a designer because when I find topics I’m interested in, I am not afraid to contact people in those fields and invite them to my class. This process allows me to broaden my perspectives within my research and it’s a process I want to deliver to my students as well. I know a lot of my students are really comfortable with their Mac books sitting at their desks not trying to reach out, or they’re afraid to reach out and get rejected. I think that failure is beautiful. Teaching how to fail in both small and big ways are important aspects of design education.

Do you have any books or resources of the top of your head?

I actually tend to read more non-design books for my inspiration for design projects because I often find that design books tend to tell you “This is design” and “This is design”, but non-design books tell me “This can be design” and “This can be design” and I really celebrate that. Two books I can think of are Tony Fry’s, Design Futuring and Design as Politics. I also enjoyed reading Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky. Justice by Michael Sandel has also inspired me as well. Going back to your previous question about design education, I think ethics and morality should be at the base of every discipline of design. We shouldn’t just make design programs that are about social consciousness or social design because it may give the impression that social consciousness doesn’t need to be integrated other design programs. We don’t hear ‘ethical healthcare,’ as every healthcare should be ethical. In that sense, Michael Sandel’s book made me think: what is the essence of design and what the key value of design is? These outlooks allowed me to think more radically about what is going to shift and how morality and ethics should be integrated into design education.

What was the moment you decided to be an educator and how has your involvement in education impacted your practice?

I was very fortunate to have many great art and design educators in my life who really inspired me to become one of them. I think the very first moment was when I was an 5th grader. I was very rebellious and considered a bit of a smarty pants. I remember my mom brought me to see this art tutor when I was in 5th grade and the tutor asked me, “Can you draw me an apple?” I started to draw the apple and he stopped me and said, “How are you going to draw the apple if you don’t know what kind of apple I want you to draw? It can be a rotten apple or it can be a small apple or it can be an apple in slices. You need to really know what you’re doing and observe things before you do anything about it.” That really stuck with me because that aligned with the human centered approach I continue to use in my work today. 

Hannah designs, teaches and researches. She is a design educator who is obsessed with socially conscious, trans-disciplinary and UI/UX design. Before Hannah joined the University of Kansas, she worked at Texas State University and Memphis College of Art. As a Service Learning Fellow at TXState, she facilitated funded design opportunities with Frost Bank and Upstream. Her UI/UX design course projects had been presented at the SXSW Interactive Festival from 2016 to 2018. In MCA, Hannah founded The Design Laboratory in Memphis College of Art to provide real-world design experiences to her students. Through The Design Lab, she directed a wide range of partnered projects with profit and non-profit organizations including Make A Wish Foundation, Audubon National Society, Loeb Properties, Mayor’s Innovation Team, and SRVS Disability Support Memphis. She received her BFA at Parsons the New School for Design and her MDes at York University, and has worked with various companies and institutions in NYC, Plano and Toronto. Her sustainable dinnerware design for Verterra was exhibited at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. One of her ongoing research projects, ‘Project Lemonaid: Mobile Outreach Hub for Mental Wellness’ was selected as a finalist at the ‘Learn by Design’ competition, 2019 SXSW EDU. Park’s research has been presented and published internationally including AIGA, CAA, Cumulus, E&PDE, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, SXSW EDU, and TEDx. 

This interview was led by AIGA DEC Steering Committee member Natacha Poggio, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Houston – Downtown. The text was transcribed by Graham McClanahan and edited by Kelly Walters.

By Natacha Poggio
Published October 8, 2019
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