On Being An Information Design Student

Three years ago, when I was filling up my application form for The Ateneo, I had to make a very difficult decision. My parents wanted me to take up Management Engineering or the Health Sciences, but I wanted to take up BFA ID, and coming from a Chinese family, I knew that choosing a course that isn’t business, law, or medicine is a big no no.

But as I was imagining (or reflecting) how exciting my life would turn out if I were to choose a fine arts course, as I was imagining myself working in a design studio and designing for hundreds of clients, a voice suddenly told me: Become a designer. Take up BFA ID. And I followed that voice. However, my family wasn’t so happy about that. They would say things like “there’s no money in art,” “it’s a course for stupid people,” “tamad ka lang kaya yan pinili mo,” “magshift ka na.” It even came to a point wherein they would ostracize me and compare me to my cousins who took up math and science courses during their college days.

This experience then made me arrive at an insight, which is seeing with the mind. It is the analysis of concepts from my own experiences, bringing it back to my own lived experience, and using my understanding to further understand my lived experience. In my case, after recalling at that had happened to me, I asked myself, if I truly have to abide by what my family tells me to do, as a person living in the 20th century, am i still free? Is freedom relative to one’s situation? Is everything that you do predetermined? From there, I was able to form an insight, an insight as to why I truly chose BFA ID — because i do not want my freedom to be used by others, because I want to choosing something much more resonant with your identity, because I want to own my decisions, and by you’re not owning my decisions, I am choosing your way of life. 

This then brings me to my understanding of philosophy this semester — that philosophy is going beyond the defaults, the preconceived notions and examining what it means to live out a truly human experience. i think that this tends to be a problem for several people nowadays. With the 20th century bringing about numerous advancements in technology, medicine, business, and the like, people tend to become pettifoggers who are always in a hurry and do not take their time. People tend to only become prospective, to become interested in growth, habit, proficiency, and productivity. However, the task of philosophy on the level of everyday life teaches us to recognize and appreciate the other important things in life such as being responsible for others and maintaining our relationships with them. The task of philosophy, on the other hand, on the level of scientific life is to show that philosophy isn’t here to fight with the sciences but to collaborate with it and become effective through a limitation in focus. Finally, the task of philosophy on the meditative life is to answer the questions who am I? what must I do? what must I hope for? Here, I will be expounding more on the question what must I do. 

This brings into light Levinas’ philosophy, the central idea of the ethical relationship and responsibility with the other. In his magnum opus, totality and infinity, an essay on exteriority, Levinas would define totality as the relation of the I which goes out to the other, which returns back to the I and infinity as the reaching out of the I to what is other to this other being, understanding the person in its own alterity as they are in themselves. Hence, as an ID major, how can I embody Levinas’ philosophies in my daily life? 

In my design thinking class last semester, I was taught that design should be human-centric. When we design, we shouldn’t create something based on our own understanding of how our design would benefit others because that would be totality in a way. Instead, we have to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus group discussions in order to know the context of our consumers — their pains, gains, likes and dislikes. That’s the best way to get to know our consumers more and by designing based on the consumers’ needs, we allow them to flourish because they are able to benefit from the designs we designers make for them. 

Another things which I learned from my Fine Arts Majors was that whenever we designers design for clients, we must always remember that above anything else, we design to help others and to make their lives easier. We aren’t here to design for the money, the fame, or the connections that our clients have. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, what good can we do for our clients? In what ways can we help them?

I think that this is also similar to Levinas’ philosophy, specifically the experience of the face, wherein we should not just see the objective traits of the face. Rather, we must see the other’s subjectivity, which is seeing the other not as something for our own nourishment or benefit but as someone to go out of ourselves for.

In conclusion, philosophy has helped me better understand and appreciate my course and my role as an Information Design student. It has taught me to exist in this world more creatively through my own capabilities and by not letting myself being bugged by convention. Although I know that I still have a long way to go and that there will be more challenges along the way, whether I fail or succeed, that is still my decision, and that is what makes me even more genuinely human.

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