Interview with Students from the School of Visual Arts | United States

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Jacey Chen, Nigel Keen & Shun Cheng Hsieh (From left to right) | Students from School of Visual Arts

Students from the School of Visual Arts

Shun Cheng, Jacey Chen, and Nigel Keen are a trio of students from the School of Visual Arts with a range of experiences among themselves. With a collective experience and multi-disciplinary designing background, they strive for excellence in the field of design.

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your design background.

Shun Cheng: I'm Shun Cheng, a footwear designer with a background in industrial design and product development.

Jacey Chen: I’m Jacey. I’m a multi-disciplinary designer with a focus on communication and user experience design.

Nigel Keen: I’m Nigel Keen, I’m a multi-disciplinary designer with a focus on health, wellness, and sustainability.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a designer/artist?

Shun Cheng: I have always been fascinated by the field of design, and fortunately to have grown up in an environment brimming with toys and physical products. My interest in footwear design deepened during my high school years, which naturally led me to pursue industrial design. After studying industrial design in my undergraduate program, I discovered my true passion lies in footwear design.

Jacey Chen: While growing up, I was influenced by my uncle who is a communication designer for an industrial company. He is one of the major reasons that I got into fine arts during my high school years. After entering college, I began to spend a lot of time learning about typography and visual identity, and I fell in love with this area.

Nigel Keen: My love of design comes from growing up playing soccer and obsessing over cleats as well as skateboarding shoes, and graphics. In my notebooks and art classes, I would constantly be drawing logos and shoes. After years of working a typical sales job and drawing doodles rather than taking real notes, I knew I had to do something more creative.

3What does “design” mean to you?

Shun Cheng: To me, design is about delivering solutions through aesthetics, research, and experience.

Jacey Chen: To me, prototyping conceptual ideas into detailed reality is the definition of design.

Nigel Keen: Design to me is the practice of carefully crafting a product, service, or experience, to improve upon an existing situation that is suboptimal for a certain group of people.

4What’s your favorite kind of design and why?

Shun Cheng: I'm a big advocate for the form-follows-function design philosophy. Additionally, I have a keen interest in exploring the limits of forms and the effective combination of colors and materials in design.

Jacey Chen: Swiss design is my favorite kind of design (I love using grids), as well as vintage, and Riso printing.

Nigel Keen: Personally, I love furniture design and sports products. The fusion of utility and unexpected or novel forms gets me excited to make new things and be creative.

5To you, what makes a “good” design?

Shun Cheng: For me, good design is rooted in empathy, considering the user's needs and potential scenarios they might encounter. I also believe that great functionality and quality materials are essential criteria for identifying a superior design.

Jacey Chen: What makes a “good” design is when both aesthetics and functions come together well - sometimes we tend to ignore one area for another, which could lead to an imbalance in the final design/product.

Nigel Keen: I think “good” design can mean different things to different people, but personally, I love it when things work really well. Being able to function for the intended user and solve a real problem is what I value most, and then the aesthetics come into play. Ideally, design should also create an emotional connection with the user.

6Describe your design style and its main characteristics.

Shun Cheng: I'm quite old-school and enjoy sketching, always drawn to exploring line weight and forms.

Jacey Chen: When it comes to design, I pay attention to the use of typefaces, textures, and Y2K elements.

Nigel Keen: I tend to focus on shape & form, and I like to use nature and the built environment for references in my work.

7Tell us about your design process.

Shun Cheng: I typically begin by observing products, scenarios, and their real-world applications. After observing, I sketch several initial ideas, allowing for creative freedom. I then review these sketches to identify the designs with the most potential, focusing on those that best meet user needs.

Jacey Chen: For me, I would start by speed-running through drafts (making around 10-20 drafts), next back to the drafts I make, I would pick out the ones that have the most potential and continue to work on those.

Nigel Keen: I like to start with finding out the problem and understanding the context, objects, environments, and actions that users face in that ecosystem. Then I begin by sketching ideas and building simple prototypes. I would next test things for functionality and form as I try to bring them into a higher fidelity, constantly looking for things to add or subtract that are essential and non-essential.

8Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your design process?

Shun Cheng: Yes, I agree with that perspective. As a Taiwanese, my design aesthetic has been significantly influenced by both Chinese and Japanese cultures. However, my design process is more shaped by my educational background and work experiences rather than only these cultural heritages.

Jacey Chen: I would say the design (commercial posters and ads) style from my home country (China) is very good at conveying messages directly to the audience, while utilizing urban vocabulary to not only appeal to younger generations but also be catchy enough to grab the attention of older generations.

Nigel Keen: Absolutely. I think being an East Coast native, I see the world through the lens of an East Coast urbanite. As a child, I drove across the country many times with my parents, so the vastness of an open road in the Midwest or the Americana has an imprint on my brain, although I don’t typically reference them in my work.

9Congratulations! As the winner of the 2024 MUSE Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

Shun Cheng: To me, being selected as a winner is always an honor. It signifies that our team's effort and perspective have been successfully communicated in a professional setting.

Jacey Chen: It is a recognition of our team’s effort and skills and this makes me feel proud.

Nigel Keen: It’s such an honor to be chosen as a winner for the MUSE Design Awards, and to be recognized for the hard work our team put in. I’m proud of the collaborative effort we all put into making the project a successful one.

10Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2024 MUSE Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Shun Cheng: I’m thrilled to contribute my professional experience in the footwear industry to this project. Despite the tight timeframe, our team collaborated effectively to articulate our vision. Footwear is my passion, and I continue to strive for excellence in this field.

Jacey Chen: Contributing my branding skills to the project is something that excited me. My teammates were very knowledgeable about the industry- and seeing our work going into production is very exciting.

Nigel Keen: Being a skateboarder for 20+ years, it was really exciting to work on something that I hold so dear. This also made it very difficult, as I hold a lot of strong opinions about the industry. So, I’m really happy with the concept we presented and would love to work on a project that actually goes into production.

11What was the biggest challenge with this project?

Shun Cheng: I believe that successfully delivering complete projects without deviating from the plan is crucial. Presenting is inherently strategic, and it becomes particularly challenging when a project includes multiple objectives.

Jacey Chen: The biggest challenge for me was the limited time that we had (same as Nigel) and I feel like if we had more time it would be great to see the product being made in person.

Nigel Keen: The biggest challenge for me was choosing which concepts and design elements to prioritize and move forward with. If we had more time and resources, I would love to be able to test working prototypes that would help guide this process better.

12How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

Shun Cheng: Receiving an award is always a valuable addition to your resume. It serves as proof of trust from experts beyond the academic environment.

Jacey Chen: The award is a form of validation of our skills and a great milestone in our design journey.

Nigel Keen: Being a design student, I hope this award will help me stand out as I begin my job search. I would love to be able to work on footwear projects, so having someone validate the work is really special for me.

13What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

Shun Cheng: First, prototyping and evolving the concept throughout the design process. Next, the choice of materials and colors can significantly impact the final product, and finally, collaborate on ideation with peers who share a similar passion in the same field.

Jacey Chen: Start with concept development. Then I began to research the current trends in the market, which is fun for me. Lastly, looking at different cultural expressions from other regions and countries, as it is also something interesting to me in terms of broadening my vision of the creative process.

Nigel Keen: Firstly, having an idea and seeing it come to reality is exciting and rewarding. Secondly, everyone I have met in design is thoughtful, interesting, and kind. So being able to work with folks like this is always a pleasure. Lastly, being creative is challenging but rewarding, and reminding myself that I have the pleasure and fortune to be doing this work is something I value a lot.

14What makes your country specifically, unique in the design industry?

Shun Cheng: Taiwan offers a fascinating landscape for designers, thanks to its rich manufacturing legacy. In Taipei and nearby areas, wood shops and metal shops are readily accessible, making it easy to prototype and gain insights from seasoned experts. This accessibility provides designers with a practical understanding of how to create tangible products.

Jacey Chen: The conglomerate of cultures and creative expressions in China influence each other, and in turn, it results in many disciplines that challenge what the norm of design can be. Since I have been influenced heavily by these expressions even after moving overseas, it serves as a huge inspiration to my design process.

Nigel Keen: The United States, and New York specifically, is one of the most culturally diverse in the world. When that comes together with design, I believe that makes for better and more interesting work. So I’ve really enjoyed getting to soak in the culture and energy of the city since I moved here.

15Where do you see the evolution of design industry going over the next 5-10 years?

Shun Cheng: In the next 5 to 10 years, I anticipate that AI will significantly influence design. This could be both a blessing and a curse. While young designers will benefit from easy access to sophisticated rendering tools and a wealth of innovative forms and ideas, true aesthetic development requires time, experience, and practice. Consequently, we may see products that are visually appealing but lack thoughtful design.

Jacey Chen: I anticipate that the field will become more user-centric and lean more towards user experience research. As Shun said, while many young designers tend to go heavy for aesthetics in design, it is also very important to make sure that the intention of design “makes sense” and has a purpose.

Nigel Keen: I think over the next 5-10 years design will increasingly become better at championing the user experience. I hope that sustainability becomes a much bigger area of focus and we can all work together to solve the big, hairy challenges we face as an industry. Especially in regards to planetary health, but also the social and mental effects of social media platforms.

16If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Shun Cheng: Focus on enjoying the journey, not just the destination.

Jacey Chen: Just enjoy the designing process! Don’t stress out too much and focus on giving your best work.

Nigel Keen: Create works that you are proud of and focus on telling the best story possible. I think the work can always be improved by telling a clear and compelling story.

17What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the design industry?

Shun Cheng: If you have a certain direction you want to go. It’s ok to find some programs related to passion. I truly appreciate my experience in Pensole. They delivered industry-level skills through their curriculum and guided their students with respect and patience.

Jacey Chen: I would say finding internships and programs that provide the knowledge to your direction - they are very helpful and provide a lot of industry-related insights (not only about design but also other things like networking etc).

Nigel Keen: Youtube is a great place to learn new skills, and understand some theory. I would also recommend reading design books and just reading in general to enhance your vocabulary and ability to focus.

18Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

Shun Cheng: The Sweet Potato Ball from Taiwanese night markets is my favorite treat.

Jacey Chen: I built my current PC by myself.

Nigel Keen: Rubber chickens make the best hot fudge sundaes.

19What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Shun Cheng: Take action, and the momentum will follow. Remember to work smart, not just hard.

Jacey Chen: Keep making things; don’t let your hesitation hold you back from making drafts because these can be revised later - but if you don’t start making things you won’t get anywhere.

Nigel Keen: Don’t let the inner critic win. Half the battle is just making something. Keep on making, reflecting, and improving.

Winning Entry

Surge - professional skateboard footwear for emerging athlete | MUSE Design Awards

Skateboarding is unlike other traditional sports when it comes to footwear. There has not been a design approach from the ground up aimed at the unique needs of elite performance....(read more here.)

Students from the School of Visual Arts

Shun Cheng, Jacey Chen, and Nigel Keen are a trio of students from the School of Visual Arts with a range of experiences among themselves. With a collective experience and multi-disciplinary designing background, they strive for excellence in the field of design.

Read more about the interview with Naixin Shi of Patch Design here.