Nii An graduated from Foundation Diploma in Art and Design in 2007. She started as a diagnostic student and went on to specialise in spatial design. She is now an interior, urban and spatial designer working at Hawkins/Brown, an architectural practice based in London.
How did you hear about Central Saint Martins and why did you choose to study here?
The school has a high reputation for design, and my art teacher recommended it to me. I decided to study my foundation here as it offered the chance to encounter students from all over the world. I thought it was the perfect place for me to challenge myself, and find where my strength and true interest lies within art and design.
What curriculum area did you study on during your Foundation?
I started as a diagnostic student and after trying other areas I chose Spatial Design. It contained everything I enjoyed, and required both two-dimensional and three-dimensional skills in design.
I am quite greedy when it comes to gaining skills and knowledge, and I wanted to get as much out of it as possible. The fact that what we were designing is closely related to our living environment also interested me, and I think it brought me all the way to where I am now.
Tell us about a project you worked on while at Central Saint Martins.
For my final project, I was able to create a brief of my own, decide on the site, and plan how to showcase the work at the end of year exhibition. I would describe this as the defining project during my foundation. However, I enjoyed quite a lot of the short group projects we did during the diagnostic weeks – they were clumsy at times, but intuitive and fun.
What was the Foundation course like?
We had quite a lot of tutorials and design reviews during the course. Many of them were informal, but were the best place to train your communication skills in design and see what peers had been working on.
I treasured the advice given to my peer students, as well as to me. You are expected to be self-directed on a day-to-day basis and have to be able to work without being mentored by someone all the time.
Did you get involved with industry, exhibitions or external projects during the course?
I focused on the course, one year is a short period to try various curriculum areas and to discover where one’s true interest lies. I did visit many exhibitions and degree shows during this time. I think it was the right decision for me.
What sort of person would do well on the Foundation course?
You need to be open-minded and listen to the others. There’s a lot you can learn from your peer students as well as your tutors. You have to be willing to try something outside your comfort zone, especially during the diagnostic period – this is the only way you can discover something new about yourself.
Quite a lot of people worry about gaining real-life experience and making their portfolio look like it’s full of professional works early on. I think interviewers are experienced enough to tell someone who has good design skills and a good attitude to learning.
How has studying a Foundation at CSM helped in your chosen career path?
I have always known that I wanted to pursue an art and design-related job as my career, although I topped all subjects at school and teachers expected me to do something different.
I was very lucky to have parents who supported me to come and study at a boarding school in the UK, as the school had great art and design facility where I could focus my studies. I enjoyed almost everything related to art and design, but I could not decide what exactly I wanted to do.
There’s so much choice within what I called ‘art and design’, and the Foundation course at Central Saint Martins was the first time in my life when I had to think about narrowing it down.
What are you doing now and how did you get there?
I work as an interior designer at Hawkins/Brown, a London-based architectural practice. I have worked on various educational and commercial buildings, including designs of universities in London, Oxford and Cambridge.
Every project I get these days is different, and we have to be quite flexible to tailor the design to meet the brief. Sometimes we even create a brief from scratch to suit the design principles of the building or client needs. I think the basis of my design thinking and ability to be flexible is rooted in experience gained through the Foundation course.
What advice would you give a Foundation student starting the course now?
Work hard, have fun! I think you have to be determined to do well and work hard, but also leave space to enjoy it all. After all, it is the only time in your life when you have the freedom to think outside the box and challenge yourself without worrying about a contract, cost, clients and all sorts of day-to-day business management.
Read more about An Nii on the Hawkins/Brown website.