Three questions with BFA Interaction Design student Colin Chan

The senior in the BFA Interaction Design program discusses what belonging feels like as an international student, holding on to hope in times of rapid change, and how he grounds his design practice.

The CCA Design division’s Q&A series “3 Questions” gives us a glimpse into the ideas, philosophies, and stories of people in our community, including faculty, students, alumni, and staff. We invite you to get to know senior Interaction Design student and Chimera student ambassador Colin Chan.

A headshot of the student smiling and in front of a bright yellow backdrop.

Colin Chan (Interaction Design 2024).

What do you look for in a work community? What does belonging look like to you?

My ideal community is one that has a sense of inclusion and openness towards diversity—not just diversity in the sense of identity, but also different ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

Before I moved to the U.S. from Singapore (where I grew up), I had mixed feelings because I didn’t know what to expect. Without knowing anyone in a foreign environment, making a solo journey like this can feel quite isolating, especially when you experience struggle. To my surprise and delight during my time at CCA, I’ve been tremendously welcomed by people from many different majors and practices, and I felt part of a larger CCA spirit. Funny enough, most of the people I interact with today are actually from other majors.

Connection and belonging to me is not always about what we share in practice or in our chosen profession but what’s beneath that. And this applies, whether it is our first time in a new school, workplace, city or country, etc. If we look closer, we will often realize we’re much more similar than we originally thought. No matter where we come from or who we choose to be, we can look beyond the arbitrary labels that our systems place on us and connect with each other through our hearts and our shared humanity. We can acknowledge others’ truths, their stories, and their struggles, and we can support one another by the simplest idea that we are all humans. That’s the kind of belonging that makes me really happy.

What do you think students need right now?

Looking out at the world right now, I see a lot of unprecedented change. Just in the past 3–5 years, we’ve faced events such as political divisiveness, economic instability, a global pandemic, war and climate change, you name it. And the effects of such change continue to persist today. Similarly, the broader industry today is shifting rapidly, be it in new tools, changing methods, or concerns with the widespread adoption of AI. While not forgetting that change is a mark of progress, change can also create mixed emotions like fear, uneasiness, and agitation toward both our career outlook and our worldview. Many of us who are just now planning our futures face a lot of uncertainty. We are challenged with our sense of relevance, and we can be overwhelmed and unsure of how to engage or move forward, or perhaps find that sense of belonging.

What I think we should recognize during these periods is what constructive change could mean for us—and this takes different forms individually. I am trying to adopt a positive growth mindset, to have the confidence and courage to try things and let myself fail so that I can engage again, and better. I’m trying to hold true to my core values and develop a sense of self that is open to change and growth. I think we should pay attention and make room for second chances and the space to “practice” and “try again.” The search for perfection can be overwhelming and often not constructive, especially if we focus on the outcome rather than the process.

I hope that students at CCA, as a collective and unified community, can hold on to a sense of hope that allows them to acknowledge their vulnerabilities, move with humble growth, and support each other wherever we are in the process.

I strongly believe that every individual marks their path differently. Each one of us comes from different backgrounds and experiences, and what we can expect from ourselves need not be the same as others. In the same way we extend our acknowledgment of others, I hope that we can learn to appreciate individuals based on their potential for growth rather than their mere capability to deliver perfect outputs.

What values and philosophies ground your design practice?

There was a famous TED Talk by Simon Sinek (“How great leaders inspire action,” 2009), and he mentioned that organizations and leaders succeed because they “start with the why.” Before I started learning how to design, I never quite thought about “the why.” Why did I want to choose the path of Interaction Design and UX? My younger self would have thought this practice was fun and cool as it continually evolves, even today. Yet, I increasingly see that our lives are short and unpredictable, and every moment is a chance to do something good for people (those we design for).

Now, “why” is an essential element in my practice and aspirations. It helps me recognize my innate sense of purpose, goals and ambitions. It fosters an honest and humble relationship between my intentions and my actions. It’s a driving force in my daily routine.

I describe my design practice in this way: I design as I live, seek, and create because I have a belief in this paradoxical idea that I am ordinary, and I am also not. I am learning to be a designer who centers others in my designs in service of compassion, empathy, and kindness in an increasingly designed and interaction-driven world. It’s important for me to recognize that I’m at the core, human like everybody else, and I need to be present to connect, to be open and curious and to be willing to change.

Published on March 6, 2024