Adventure in Vietnam

Difficult challenges and unexpected opportunities are classical building blocks of any adventure. Karina Simane (30) experienced this herself during her Strategic Product Design master graduation project, for which Simane travelled to Vietnam to study the practice of industrial design in the designated area.

Not so much her research findings, but the research experience itself turned out to be most memorable. Simane: “Just doing the research on my own, finding the path, deciding which way to go… I guess you can only grow if you face some challenges.”

Educated in the faculty of Industrial Design, Karina Simane was presented with the opportunity to do her project in Vietnam. She was allowed to define her own direction, and she felt inspired to look beyond the typical prejudices that Europeans have about Asian designers – not creative and copycats. What was interesting to her is how Vietnamese designers ‘really are’: “What do they think and what kind of barriers are they facing”

In order to find out what their way of working out comprises, Simane began conducting interviews with local designers. This, however, presented some unexpected difficulties. In addition to their lack of the English language, cultural factors played a role as well. The Vietnamese designers felt they were required to satisfy Simane with their answers, but not necessarily to be honest. One example is that one cannot ask negative questions. If Simane asked about problems, the designer would answer that there are no problems. Simane: “You have to phrase the questions differently. Maybe: what kind of challenges do you face?”

The cultural differences also provided some other surprises. Getting the interviews was not easy, due to the fact that Simane did not previously know the designers. Personal relationships are important and must be built up over time, only then would the local designers start to feel comfortable. Simane: “You cannot just go there, take the interview, and then just say ‘thank you and goodbye’. It’s better to keep in contact and write an email once in a while. This relationship is very important.” She is still in contact with the designers today.

After the research, Simane devised three solutions to improve difficulties in the working situation of Vietnamese designers. These concepts seemed to

successfully address the needs that are actually present with the designers. But once again, cultural differences proved to be an obstruction, and even though the concepts were appreciated, there were still some difficulties with implementation. She concluded that collaboration with the locals is indispensable. Nevertheless, she was positive about her adventure in Vietnam: “Difference in culture is challenging, but a lot of things can also be learned from that. I learned a lot of things.”

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