Convocation Feature: Clare Huang

October 03, 2023

Clare Huang graduates this week with a Bachelor of Science in Interactive Arts & Technology with a concentration in design. During her time as an IAT student, Clare completed several co-op semesters working as a UX researcher and designer. Clare shares her experiences in SIAT and offers up her advice to future and current students!

About Clare

My time in SIAT has been a rollercoaster of unforgettable experiences, food and lots of late nights spent working together and chatting. Throughout this program I enjoyed the design focused courses the most, to the point that I took all the upper year classes in the design stream and declared a concentration in it. I also think that design naturally connects to my other interests such as cooking, baking, gaming, mechanical keyboards, drawing, and music, so it becomes easy to see and be immersed in design everywhere I go.

Like many others probably have said before, I wish I had gotten more involved in the community and school scene in my earlier years. The highlight of my first year was definitely Frosh, it was a great way to get to know my peers entering the program that same year and to familiarize myself with upper years, who would later come to help me along my academic journey. After having such a great experience, I volunteered for Frosh in the following years and had a lot of fun helping organize and run activities.

In my second year, those same upper years who later became friends urged me to join the Graphic Design team for the club, SFU Esports Association. This opened the door to learning how to use and collaborate on Figma (at the time it was not as widely used) and was my first introduction to design systems.

At the beginning of this year, one of my friends, Rishabh Johri, asked if I wanted to provide a little help with something he was working on. This ended up quickly developing into a full-fledged role as a communications and research lead for the design hackathon, Eunoia UX.

I think what’s so unique about this program at its core is the SIAT community and how so many people are willing to lend a helping hand and go above and beyond by reaching out with awesome, cool, and interesting opportunities.

Why did you choose SIAT for your studies?

In 11th grade, I was taking a Java coding elective while simultaneously taking a graphic design elective and I found myself really struggling in the coding class while having so much more fun learning graphic design.

At the end of the semester, I swore I wouldn’t take coding again in Grade 12 and expressed this sentiment to my coding teacher. He was super understanding and recommended that I check out the SIAT program as I made my way into my final year of high school and would start doing post-secondary applications. My teacher advised that the program would allow me to explore more on the design side but still try coding again if I decided to come back to it.

When I went into 12th grade, I kept my teacher’s suggestion in the back of my head as I took Graphic Design 12 and became a part of the yearbook team. That was when I really discovered that design was something I could dedicate myself to pouring hours and hours into and decided to apply for SIAT. After all these years I’m really grateful that my teacher pointed me in this direction, and I do think that SIAT lives up to its promise of providing a wide range of topics and skills to learn in a single major. 

What was your favourite SIAT course?

There were many SIAT courses I enjoyed, but I don’t think I had a favourite. If I were to name a class, I found the most challenging and saw the most growth as a designer, it would be User Experience Design (IAT 438).

As I was enrolled in the design concentration, taking this course seemed like a natural part of the journey in growing my skills as a UX/UI Designer. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle or feel like I was challenged in other courses, however this particular class was situated in an area I felt the most confident and experienced in. With that being said, being in IAT 438 created an environment to re-evaluate the foundations of my design and teamwork skills, identify and rework my weaknesses and strengths and complete two portfolio quality projects within the span of just 13 weeks, which is a lot to do with so little time!

Working so closely with my teammates for an extended period of time has also created tight bonds between us from our shared experiences. This class isn’t for everyone, but I still recommend that students who are interested keep an open mind and if you do choose to enroll, make the experience what you want it to be!

Shayla Pal in the process of drawing.

What was the highlight of your undergraduate career?

What I find really valuable about the SIAT program are the chances to work with, design for, and impact clients in the real world with the safety net of a class environment. The first time I got to collaborate with a real client was through Interaction Design Methods (IAT 333) where my team worked with a local coffee shop, Caffe Mira.

The teaching team didn’t push us in any particular direction, instead encouraging us to investigate and unearth issues that our client was facing, and propose a digital intervention. This led us to develop our own project outcome goals, milestones and questions while receiving guidance and support from the teaching team.

As my team was working with Caffe Mira, we discovered their unique employee demographic composed of Japanese and Korean working visa holders. Additionally, we found that new staff in training could take up to three months to become fully capable and independent, as the training process required staff to learn on the job, which would be impacted by each trainee’s own learning speed and scenarios they encountered.

My team spoke with and conducted workshops with the owner and employees of the cafe in order to create a design that would be well-matched with a busy cafe environment, resulting in an iPad-based training app. The decision to create a learning management system for iPad was due to the fact that these devices were already in use in the cafe, allowing for training materials to be easily accessible in the workplace. The prototype showcased a roadmap for trainees to progress from beginning to the end of training documenting each completed task, a space for trainers to provide feedback and trainees to ask for assistance and a recipe database.

Although there are other upper year classes with the opportunity to work with clients, IAT 333 was the most memorable to me as the first time I had created a design from start to finish alongside a client. 

How did your experiences with co-op internships help you?

Firstly, shoutout to the SIAT Co-op team, because they were really helpful as I navigated the co-op requirements, prepared my job seeking documents and eventually landed my first co-op. Doing co-op helped me figure out how different workplaces operated and the kinds of team dynamics that I could potentially experience in a full-time position. I tried working in different sectors, such as corporate vs agency and I was surprised that I enjoyed the agency work environment as much as I did.

My first co-op was a UX research and design position in the land title and survey industry. I didn’t know anything about this field so I had to quickly acclimate to all the domain specific jargon to conduct research and work with the other teams, but it was such a cool experience where I was able to apply the skills I had gained from school. I also was exposed to a number of new software that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. With the Railyard Lab program at Dossier Creative, I learned so much about business and design, branding, and taking a project from the consultation stage to final production.

Working as a co-op student helped me figure out what I wanted to do once I graduated and also provided me with networking opportunities such as through the alumni network from Railyard.

I would highly recommend that every student do at least one co-op, it’s a great way to try out how you want to work before being launched into job seeking as a new graduate.

Any advice for incoming students considering SIAT?

My biggest piece of advice for those entering SIAT is to try as many things as you can to see what you keep being motivated by and coming back to. This program doesn’t box you into any particular stream when you’re starting out, so you have the opportunity to see what aligns best with your own interests.

I’m probably not the first to say this either, but you’ll want to fail fast and often as well. Fail as many times as it takes to surface those great ideas! Every class will encourage you to ideate a lot, so when you have lots of ideas in front of you, that’s when you can be selective and move forward to make your best work.

You’ll also receive a lot more advice as you make your way through SIAT so inevitably when lots of people give you the same advice, it may be hard to follow it without experiencing the same thing for yourself. If you come to the same conclusion as those before you much later, don’t worry, it’s all part of the process!

Most of all, SIAT is heavily group project oriented, so you’ll be seeing and working with your classmates a lot. Get comfy working with your peers, get to know each other, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of making friends!