Design Assembly profiles MDS grad Lauren Chalk

Each summer Design Assembly profiles a selection of the top design graduates coming out of NZ's tertiary institutions. They welcome these talented emerging professionals to their industry, learn about their passions, final projects and dreams for the future. Read on for their interview with our recent Bachelor of Media Design Graduate, Lauren Chalk:

Was there someone (or something) that inspired you to pick design as a career path?

I originally grew up wanting to be an architect. However, it was only when I was in my high school design class when I realised I wanted to do something a bit more creative. I have always been a problem solver, and what attracted me to a career in design is that it is the perfect combination of creativity and critical thinking. In that same class, I was lucky enough to have a few teachers who recognised my potential and encouraged me to pursue what was quickly becoming my passion.

You completed your full time studies at the end of 2019. Can you tell us what your final year’s project focused on?

My final design project was a response to a problem that New Zealand has been facing for a long time. In the 2017 General Election, 31% of all 18-25 year olds did not vote – over 185,000 young people are not having their say. This is something that has always bothered me – even when I was 16 or 17 I felt frustrated that I couldn’t have my say on the issues facing New Zealand. After all, as young people, it is our future we are voting for; we are the ones that will be living in it. Thus my research project began – I looked into various ways of increasing political engagement for New Zealand’s youth and ran many workshops to user test my prototypes.

My final outcome, The Civic Voice Toolkit, is an educational resource that helps connect young people to the issues they care about the most. It serves as a discussion facilitator, combining both information and interaction to create active learning. The classroom is the perfect environment for Year Thirteen students – future first time voters – to explore the things they care about in a safe space. After using the toolkit, 17 & 18 year-old New Zealanders will gain political awareness in their final year of high school so that when they go out into the world they will be more sure of themselves, and their political voices.

What were some of your most exciting or unexpected discoveries to come out of your project?

I learned so much about myself as a designer through this project! Designing for an audience younger than myself proved to be at first daunting, but very rewarding. I also did a lot of primary research – going out into the wider Auckland community to attend events and talk to students – like myself – that have a passion for inspiring more young people to use their civic voice.

What did you love doing most?

It was definitely a surprise to me that I loved the research stage of the project. Delving deep into the topic of politics seemed rather scary at first, but after a while I found myself enjoying it more and more. I also found that I really enjoyed running workshops for my peers, and getting people to participate in what I was working on.

What was your biggest challenge while studying and how did you overcome it?

I definitely had a difficult time balancing part-time jobs and my assignments throughout the degree. This became even more challenging when I was working as a design intern at different agencies in both year 1 and year 2. Time-management is something I had to get good at, purely out of necessity – setting aside the time I did have free to work on assignments enabled me to be as efficient as possible.

How has your ability and confidence progressed since the beginning of your studies?

It sounds very dramatic, but I do feel like I’ve come out of this degree a completely different person. I’ve been very humbled to have met so many talented designers (lecturers, faculty and students) who have influenced me in different ways. I’ve been surrounded by these people every single day, and that alone inspired me to improve. Not only my technical skills as a designer, but also soft skills such as communication and collaboration.This is something I see continuing on into my future career in design.

How do you see your work and practice developing, and what are your main aspirations?

In terms of my work, I’d like to develop a more refined design style. I would also like to upskill in areas of design that I am less experienced in, such as animation and video editing. I suppose my main aspirations would be to find a job in which I am constantly learning, improving and developing my design skills.

Which piece in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?

Clarity Audiology was a project I worked on in my second year of my degree. As a young person suffering from hearing loss, I was well aware of the difficulties it brings to day to day life. Despite my hearing aids, I felt isolated and self-conscious. Through research I discovered that I was not alone – many young people with hearing loss don’t wear their hearing aids due to social stigma that surrounds hearing loss, and disability in general. I wanted young people to wear their hearing aids in the same way they carry their phone in their back pocket.

I created Clarity Audiology to be a hearing aid company that integrates technology to give users a better hearing experience. By creating a concept wristband that works with the user’s hearing aids, I communicated to young people that hearing aids are simply another device that can make your life easier, and there is no need to shy away from addressing hearing loss. This project went on to win Gold at the 2018 Best Awards in the Student Public Good category. I am immensely proud, not only because of this achievement, but because it was a project that addressed something so close to my heart.

What does your dream job look like?

My dream job would be one that challenges me, and allows me to be constantly learning, constantly improving. It would be in an environment in which I wouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.

Why did you choose to study at your design school, and what do you feel you can take away now that you’ve completed your course?

Media Design School has completely changed the way I see and think about design. The small class sizes meant I got to know the lecturers really well, and them me – once they saw what I was capable of, I worked hard to make them proud. And although it is a very technical course, I’ve gained so many soft skills; public speaking, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. I was also lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to study in Milan for the first semester of my final year – that alone taught me so much! More than anything though, it’s been an incredible place to be for three years. I’ve met so many like-minded friends and I’m definitely sad to say goodbye to my MDS family.

Where to next for you? What does 2020 hold?​

After my graduate exhibition, I’m off to the UK for six weeks, to travel and visit family and friends. I’m hoping to start a job when I come back in mid-January. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to moving on from student life and heading into the industry.


Follow Lauren's journey or get in contact:

Instagram: @lauren.chalk


View the orginal article on Design Assembly's website here. 

Lauren Chalk
Civic Voice
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