An information designer and renowned sculptor, our 2016 DesignSingapore Council Scholarship holder Qixuan Lim talks to us about her different creative pursuits, her enriching learning experiences in The Netherlands, and breaking new ground with user-experience design.
Qixuan has always been described as the ‘creative oddball’ of the family, experimenting with a multitude of art forms from drawing, to painting and sculpting. It was unsurprising when she chose to venture into design and the arts, taking Art for her ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, before moving on to graduate from the NTU School of Art, Design, and Media. She credits her supportive family for her ability to explore various creative pursuits from such a young age, gaining invaluable guidance early on. She had the privilege of attending piano, ballet, and art classes in her childhood, which allowed her to expand her creative capabilities. Qixuan’s parents were supportive of her choice to pursue design from early on; they were even prepared to support her pursuit of design without aid from the Dsg Scholarship. Thankfully, they did not have to. As our 2016 DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) Scholar, Qixuan has since gone above and beyond to break new ground into uncharted territory, expanding her range of work and pushing the boundaries of relevant design.
After working for several years as a graphic designer, Qixuan went on to pursue her Masters in Information Design at Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Feeling like something was missing from her graphic design practice, which focused more on aesthetics than designing for a practical purpose, she moved on to studying how design can practically solve real world problems. She finds her current practice as an Information Designer very fulfilling.
At the core of user-centred design is the ability to address an issue from someone else’s perspective.
Qixuan was drawn to service design because of its accessibility and communicative quality that was made to benefit everyone, instead of being only for those who can afford expensive technology. Exemplifying this ethos would be an editorial project titled “The Book About the Syrian Boy in the Ambulance”, a project Qixuan conceived to critique the nature of digital media and journalism in the age of Post-Truth – an age where facts are often distorted and sensationalised for clicks. The project compiled every headline reported that famous news image, and plotted it as data in chronological order. From this project, Qixuan pointed to the evolving patterns in which we consume news and stories today, making us question our unconscious biases and the nature of sensational media trends. She finds meaning in relevant and eye-opening projects like this, using her knowledge in design to create effective narratives by making sense of the information around us. Getting to pursue Information Design made her more conscious of what design can and should achieve, to aid people in practical and concrete ways.
Currently, Qixuan is living this ethos by delving into User-Experience (UX) design with UK-based company Foolproof. Transitioning into a UX designer remains a learning experience for her. However, she’s no stranger to diving into unfamiliar territory. Much of this tenacity had been fortified with her experience studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
Studying design in The Netherlands was an eye opening and challenging experience, learning how schools and countries can teach and approach design differently. A signature Dutch design ethos that has stuck with her is an affinity for the rawness of the design process to be honestly reflected in a piece, contrary to her conditioned compulsion to make designs sleek. She recounts watching a classmate present a kinetic installation, and apologising for not building a case to cover up the messy wiring – when her tutor simply retorted it was better they were exposed – for how else would we understand how the design worked? Adopting this quirky, experimental, and modest aesthetic in her own works, Qixuan has learnt to be braver with her designs, more articulate, and less afraid to fail. Her education there gave her a springboard to broaden her skills and horizons, and gaining the support of the Dsg Scholarship granted her confidence to take the leap. Living in The Netherlands was also an enriching experience that exposed her to a vibrant, quirky culture, with a thriving design scene. She was able to bring back lifestyle values of sustainability, openness, and equality, which strengthened her character and is incorporated into her design practice.
Apart from her extensive design portfolio, Qixuan has gained a cult following on Instagram under the moniker qimmyshimmy. Her detailed clay sculptures of babies and miniature body parts have elicited a wide range of reactions from morbid fascination, to fawning, and to pure disgust. Not one fazed by negative comments, Qixuan emphasized that sculpting is a personal creative practice that she does regardless of its perceived returns, and forms a large part of her identity as a creative. She sculpts for the love of the process, and as an expression of everything that fascinates her.
Qixuan’s famous sculptures have been featured in The Straits Times and Vulcan Post, alongside international publications like Italian online publication Urban Contest Magazine and Taiwanese site ETtoday. Her works have also been exhibited in The ArtScience Museum and at Deck, amongst others. In contrast to her work in design, Qixuan explains how her work in sculpting gives her a creative outlet and a personal voice that her design does not allow – and yet, she values both her sculpting and information design work equally, as two vital parts of herself that offers different things. In contrast to the more abstract and personal nature of her sculpting works, her work with Foolproof gives her a sense of purpose and will benefit a great number of people. With Foolproof, she currently works on solutions that will affect almost every household in the nation.
In this increasingly digital era, Qixuan sees many exciting new technologies emerging around us – big data technologies, cognitive technology, and new forms of digital realities, amongst others. She perceives it’s an exciting time for creatives, innovators, and designer-hybrids leaning into this space. The first hurdle one might face is in keeping up with all these emergent technologies, however the second hurdle is asking how we can adopt them mindfully – a much harder task. As a digital designer in the Information Age, Qixuan sees her role as shifting from generating visuals and information, to being responsible for understanding, organising, and categorising information responsibly. Designers today need to learn to deal with the complexity that comes with having more information about a nuanced world, and not be afraid of it.
She encourages young people to step forward and not be afraid to break new ground. However, one should also not underestimate the value of kindness and empathy. As a UX designer, she’s learning how being considerate and listening to users can push the design process forward in the right direction, which is much more than just coming up with quick solutions. At the core of user-centred design is the ability to address an issue from someone else’s perspective. One may be trained for years as a designer, but without these traits, one may not always provide the right solution.
To find out more about the DesignSingapore Scholarship, click here.