After graduating from college with a bachelor degree in industrial design in 2014, I’ve had three full-time jobs in very different fields. I have been doing user experience design in big tech, partner in a lodging service startup, and project management and graphic design in a design agency. After quitting my last job and starting to prepare for grad school, I also did a few VJ performances part time. I have so many interests and feel like I can never settle down. To think of my past working experience, there was one thing in particular that drove me forward no matter what kind of job I was doing, and that is experience. I was trying to study, to speculate, and to improve some kind of human experience, and the way to achieve that is through communication.
I’m an introverted person, at least not very expressive. That of course is partly because of the implicit Chinese culture which I was growing up in. Direct expression of feeling can be awkward in East Asian culture, and we are so used to taking hints and reading between the lines. Even though sometimes communication could be inefficient, unclear or exhausting, we still appreciate this art of subtlety. Throughout Chinese history, the greatest artists are all masters of metaphors. What matters most has always been the unsaid. As people are more transparent with the emergence of technology and social media, I still appreciate the old manners of communication and expression. In life, I’ve been trying to convey beautifully; in art and design, I’ve been learning how to speak the loudest in the quietest way.
Aside from my own cultural background, the recent world crises has also inspired me to think a lot. Understanding seems impossible to be achieved in front of crucial challenges. Voices and opinions are everywhere but rightfulness is being distorted and manipulated. I was drowned by the explosive information but felt even more alone. The world is both connected and divided more than ever before. Is communication failing? Is it really possible for people to really understand each other, especially across cultural borders?
I’ve always been curious about the reason behind certain behavior, or questioning the rightfulness of some ideology. In my first year of DT, I examined loneliness in an eating and audio-visual experience. I created an interactive installation to explore how people are getting lost in a collective imagination in the post-truth era. I shifted my approach from more literal storytelling to an abstract exchange of conversation. Building on top of all that, my current thesis pitch is as follows:
Topic: I am studying empathy in non-verbal human communication.
Question: because I want to find out how is human understanding and misunderstanding the world and each other.
Significance: in order to help my participant experience the power of understanding/misunderstanding critically in a situation of non-verbal communication.
The three research questions I’ll be asking are:
How do people communicate effectively without words?
Is it possible to create empathy across culture?
How to engage people in non-verbal communication?
My research will be relying on some knowledge and case study of psychology and anthropology. The starting point and end goal of my project is always to understand the way people think, feel and behave, and to critically examine how the connection and interaction between people work or fail. The challenges I’m seeing now are how to study and test communication when everything is going virtual now, and as always, how to translate an opinion, a research study to an artistic and understandable work.