Zheng Zhihan Clement
Zheng Zhihan Clement graduated in 2012 and is an Instructor at DID, currently pursuing the Georgia Tech Master of Science programme in Human-Computer Interaction







What is your biggest take-away from studying at DID?
As a practising designer, I think the biggest take-away would be the exposure towards technology and design. Picking up digital interaction design during my exchange at Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (TU/e) in my third year, and subsequently algorithmic design in the fourth year design platform has shaped my interest and focus within industrial design. Combined with the programme’s pursuit of digital fabrication as a prototyping tool, these factors launched me in the direction I am pursuing now in my design practice. With regard to design education, my initial teaching assistantship in Ideas and Approaches to Design planted in me a passion for teaching design. The open studio environment in the programme also provided us with lots of opportunities to share skills and knowledge with our peers.
What is the most important thing you learnt from DID?
Beyond hard skills and theory, DID bred a rigour in me for every step of the design process. This is something that I really value; it is easy to lose sight of the importance of a robust design process, especially when rushing for a deadline, but the four years in DID really hammered in the importance of a holistic approach to design.
What are you currently doing?
I am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Georgia Institute of Technology, under NUS’s overseas graduate scholarship scheme. After my studies, I will return to NUS as a full-time teacher.
What kind of projects are you working on?
I am working on a few different research projects right now. One of the projects is a shirt embedded with textile circuits for children to learn and embody concepts about electricity and computing. In another project, I am working with a ceramic artist to explore means of embedding functional electronics in ceramic objects; reframing these handcrafted objects in this era of mass consumption. Lastly, for my master’s project, I am designing and evaluating interactive systems for digital fabrication that aim to bridge the gap between professional and amateur designers.
So what exactly are you specialising in?
You can say that my specialisation is in HCI with product design. In particular the two threads I am pursuing are: 1) Making digital interactions tangible, and 2) Using digital fabrication and craft to disrupt the mass production paradigm.
Why did you choose to specialise in this?
Technology has advanced to a level where it is becoming quite democratic. Yet, we see a “black box” paradigm in many product areas such as manufacturing and electronics, where the consumer purchases the end-product without any say or knowledge about what goes into the design process. This is happening in both physical and digital products. While this is efficient, I believe there is an opportunity for new interfaces between designers and consumers (should they choose to) to create new goods which have greater specificity to a community or culture. This idealism is really what drives me to the areas I specialise in.
Which was your favourite studio when you were a student?
Haha, trick question? I would say the first semester of my fourth year was a turning point for me. During that semester, I did Generative Design and Medical Design, which got me in touch with all the digital fabrication resources we had at DID, as well as introduced me to digital design tools like Grasshopper. That was the formative stage of my design life. My exchange at TU/e had a large part to play too. I believe my first encounter with designing digital interactions was during my exchange in the Netherlands, at TU/e. Even though it was an industrial design programme, a lot of the studios were centred on tangible interactions through the use of the Arduino platform. It was during that exchange that I realised I have an aptitude for creative programming, and (as clichés go) I have not looked back since.
How do you think industrial design relates to the digital field where you are very active in now?
In my opinion, industrial design has always been about designing with reference to the state of our industry and technology. I see the digital world as just another context for industrial design. Industrial designers are well equipped with the processes to tackle problems or opportunities in the digital context; we are perhaps only lacking in hard skills. One thing that people tend to forget is that the digital world exists within our physical world; as such, our digital experiences are inseparable from our physical experiences. As an industrial designer practising in the digital field, I see myself designing the bridges between physical and digital—that is the most holistic kind of user experience you can design for. As I am designing interfaces within a digital space, I ask the same questions as every industrial designer when prototyping a design concept: Will the user understand this? Will the user be able to use this?
How was the move into the space of designing digital interactions?
I would say it was both easy and difficult. It was easy for me to think about digital interactions, since it is a familiar context to me as a user. Conceptualising within this space was not a challenge as well given the ubiquity of our digital experiences today. The most challenging aspect was picking up the skills in order to prototype my ideas; that often involved programming and prototyping with developer tools. As they were mostly self-taught, you have to be good at finding the resources available. It took me a good two years to be fluent in my first programming language (which was Processing, a language designed for designers). Now, I am often required to pick up a new language or prototyping tool, and implement designs with it within weeks.
From all the master’s programmes out there, why Georgia Tech’s?
The HCI programme at Georgia Tech has by far the most diverse population, both in terms of faculty and students. The programme spans across four schools—Interactive Computing, Psychology, Industrial Design and Digital Media—and all students are required to take courses within these partner schools. This equipped me with the necessary skills to handle each step of a HCI product development process, from front-end user research, prototyping and implementation, to support and evaluation.
What is the best part about coming back to teach in DID?
I believe that you only know it if you can teach it, so the best part about teaching at DID is the chance I get to refine and develop my own research within design.