Storyboard: Jessica Muljadi

The benefits of culture shock and keeping your finger on the pulse

For me, growing up was like a never-ending series of culture shocks.

My upbringing was not unique in the slightest, but I did do a lot of bouncing around between different habitats as a kid – it often felt like I was bridging the gap between separate worlds.

Half of my childhood was spent in Singapore, and the other half in Jakarta, Indonesia. As both a designer and a person, I find that I am constantly in flux. My opinions are changing frequently because I’m still very much “in it”: always learning, always asking questions, consistently figuring things out.

I saw an immense gap between these separate worlds, both culturally and behaviorally. It was the difference between a carefully tended garden and a thriving, untapped forest.

Oddly enough, when I came to America for my studies I experienced very little culture shock. Maybe it was because I had grown up on a lot of the same music and TV shows as American kids. The sense of culture shock didn’t settle in until I returned home to Singapore, where I realized how far I had traveled in such a short period of time.

I guess culture shock has its benefits. In a way, it’s like a weird kind of superpower. I was able to see how different environments affect the behaviors of different people.

From a designer’s perspective, there is an intersection to explore between human beings and their fundamental needs in any environment. This is why there will always be a place for design thinking – even in a place like Singapore, which one could argue is almost over-designed.

A big part of my role as a designer involves thinking about the bigger picture of humanity. To create products that have value, I have to find commonality with other people. This often involves meeting in the middle and attempting to speak a (creative) language that is not entirely my own.

All things considered, my path to ArtCenter was fairly straightforward. My mom was responsible for putting the concept of design and “the joy of making” in my head at a young age. She never studied design in any official capacity, but her hobby was furniture/interior design, and she was passionate about the craft.

My mother was also largely responsible for my childhood obsession with the idea of crafting an environment. I used to joke that I had creativity in my genes – after all, so many other members of my family, old and young, have branched off into miscellaneous creative fields. Why shouldn’t I follow in their footsteps?

At ArtCenter, I found myself accepted by a community of innovators who were fueled by a strong-minded sense of competition. I fed off of it and soon came to discover that one of the most valuable traits an artist or designer can possess is malleability.

Our job as creatives is to identify the direction of life in the community we live in: where it is at present, and where it could go in the future. A designer should always be able to follow the flow of life in their community and have their finger on the pulse of the culture. We must make ourselves malleable in order to meet the constantly changing demands of the world we inhabit.

What’s the point of doing this whole crazy creative dance if you’re not going to be constantly working on evolving your skill set?

I see relocation as another means of exploration. The reverse culture shock that I experienced traveling back to Singapore from America ultimately molded a lot of my philosophy regarding exactly what design means to me. Because designers thrive on challenges. In fact, it’s integral to the process.

Jessica Muljadi
BFA 15 Graphic Design
Experience Designer

A designer should always be able to follow the flow of life in their community and have their finger on the pulse of the culture.

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