Why I chose to study Product Design - BA (Hons)
I chose to study at Edinburgh College of Art because of its unique position within the University of Edinburgh. When I applied, ECA felt like it had its own independent identity while being firmly embedded within the wider university. I think the push and pull between the stalwart and traditional university and the more avant-garde art school was exciting.
In addition to that, I think the city of Edinburgh also appealed to me a lot. It has all the benefits of being a capital city – top class museums and galleries, diverse nightlife, good travel links – without the sheer sprawl and expense of a city like London. And of course, it goes without saying that the city is beautiful to look at too.
My time at ECA
I had a bit of a rocky start at ECA, but once I found my footing, the whole experience was incredible. In short, I originally applied to ECA to study Architecture but during the first week I realised the subject wasn’t right for me. I started looking for another programme to swap to and I found Product Design, who kindly accepted my transfer request.
Once on the Product Design course, I really began to fly. I found particular interest in the weird and conceptual areas of design that cross over with other disciplines like synthetic biology and computer science. In this space, design methods can be used as tools to unpack and discuss the social and political implications of emerging technologies. For example, in my graduation project Memento Cosmos, I designed data-driven pet robots to explore the existential effects of smart devices in the home.
A pivotal experience during my studies was taking part in the 2017 BioDesign Challenge. Working as a team with MA Design Informatics students Eva Auer and Sean Greaves, we developed the project UK 2029 which presented three fictional scenarios in which organisms had been genetically modified for political reasons. We were honoured to present the project at the MoMA, NY for the competition finals – and even more honoured to be awarded the runners-up trophy!
I was also selected to take part in the Talbot Rice Gallery’s 2018 student exhibition, “Trading Zone”. I worked with MA Fine Art student Jack Handscombe on Fruiting Body a living sculpture out of clay that was inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. Working with Jack was a great experience and I got to explore how techniques I was developing within a design space could be applied within the world of contemporary art.
My experiences since graduating
During my course I found that I was most interested in the theory-driven, academic edge of design. So, after my graduation in 2018 I had the long-term goal of continuing my studies with a master’s degree. However, in the short term, I needed a bit of a break from studying.
In search of work, I approached the Centre for Design Informatics (a University of Edinburgh research where many of my course tutors worked) to see if there were any jobs available. Luckily, there were, and I got a small contract to fabricate a series of blockchain hairdryers for an exhibition. After that I got another contract at Design Informatics, and then another, and soon I was a resident “design technician” at the centre.
I worked at Design Informatics for two years and over that time I worked primarily on two research projects: GeoPact, a blockchain-backed courier service; and Data Round Table, a tabletop workshop toolkit for conversations about data privacy. A stand-out moment from this time was having the opportunity to exhibit the work I had done for GeoPact at the Tate Modern as part of their “Living With The Internet Of Things” event.
In September of this year, I moved to London to study MA Material Futures at Central Saint Martins. With the pandemic and everything it’s been a strange time to go back to studying, but I’m enjoying having some space to explore my personal practice again. Alongside my studies I am working as a freelance designer, mainly working on app development for academic research projects and the occasional start-up. You can find my contact details at joerevans.com if this interview has inspired you to hire me.
My advice to new and current students
To those starting their time at ECA in September I would say: Get involved in the ECA community. I’m quite introverted and found it quite difficult to break the ice, so I volunteered to help build decorations for the Revel (the annual summer party) through which I got to know students from across the college.
To those graduating this year: Creativity is a transferable skill – it’s useful and valuable even if your career path takes you away from ‘the creative industries’.